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We've been very fortunate to have found some great artifacts over the years. I often refer to an item being "One of the Best" or "One of the Rarest'. I'll let you be the judge on this one but I'm not going to talk much about the sword as the fine artifact that it is, but of its illustrious history. It belonged to a man named John Peller. John Peller was born in Heidelberg, Germany on February 5, 1830. He probably arrived in America while a very young boy. By his excellent penmanship and command of the English language one would expect that his education was received in the United States. He came to Cannon City, (now Cannon Falls, MN) in 1855. He moved to Hastings in 1859. He worked as a merchant with Thorne, Norrish & Co until the beginning of the war, when he went to St Paul to enlist.

He enlisted in Company A, First Minnesota Infantry in October of 1861. He was 31 and stood 5' 8 1/2" tall mustering in as a sergeant. In 1862, he was discharged to receive a commission as 2nd lieutenant of Company A and on January 13, 1863 he was promoted to 1st lieutenant and adjutant of the regiment. As adjutant he was responsible for the official correspondence and monthly muster rolls of the regiment. His experience as a merchant served him well here. The documents of the regiment show his clear and careful penmanship.

Peller and the remnants of the First were in the ranks at Gettysburg. They were a veteran unit, losing nearly 200 in killed and wounded at Bull Run and another 200 at Antietam. They were hardened, with their ranks severely reduced in numbers. At a quarter before six on the morning of July 2nd they arrived on the battlefield at Gettysburg, and their Second Corps was placed in position on the line to the left of the cemetery, being joined on its left by Sickles’ Third Corps, which extended that line to the vicinity of the Little Round Top. For some reason the First Minnesota Regiment was not placed in this line, but apparently in reserve, a short distance to the rear. Some time after noon Sickles advanced the Third Corps half a mile or more, to a slight ridge near the Emmitsburg road, his left extending to Devil’s Den, in front of and near the base of Little Round Top. Company F of the First Minnesota was detached as skirmishers, and sent in that direction. Soon after, the remaining eight companies of the regiment, numbering two hundred and sixty-two men (Company C was also absent, being the provost guard of the division,) were sent to the centre of the line just vacated by Sickles' battle in the peach orchard half a mile to the front, and witnessed with eager anxiety as Sickles' men gave way before the heavier forces of Longstreet and Hill, coming back broken and in utter disorder, followed by a strong force - the large brigades of Wilcox and Barksdale - in regular lines, moving steadily in the flush of victory, and firing on the fugitives. They were headed directly for the First Minnesote.

When the two Confederate Brigades had reached the low ground in front of the Minnesota Regiment, it was evident that in a few minutes the Rebels would be upon both their front and on the rear of the left flank of their line. There was no organized force near to oppose them, except for the handful of two hundred and sixty-two men from Minnesota. Most soldiers, in the face of the near advance of such an overpowering force would have caught the panic and joined the retreating masses. But the First Minnesota had never yet deserted any post, had never retired without orders, and desperate as the situation seemed and as it was, the regiment stood firm against whatever might come. Just then Hancock, with a single aid, rode up at full speed and for a moment vainly endeavored to rally Sickles' retreating forces. Reserves had been sent for but were too far away to hope to reach the critical position until it would be occupied by the enemy, unless that enemy were stopped. The gap in the Union line was huge, with no troops left to prevent the Confederate forces from breaking through.

Quickly leaving the fugitives, Hancock spurred to the only available unit he could see, the small band of Minnesota Volunteers calling out as he reached them, "What regiment is this?" "First Minnesota," replied Col. Colvill of the First. "Charge those lines!" commanded Hancock. Every man realized in an instant what that order meant, - death or wounds to them all; the sacrifice of the regiment to gain a few minutes time and save the position and probably the battlefield, - and every man saw and accepted the necessity for the sacrifice. Responding to Colvill's rapid orders, the regiment, in perfect line, with arms at "right shoulder shift," was in a moment sweeping down the slope directly upon the enemy's centre. No hesitation, no stopping to fire, and the men fell fast at every stride before the concentrated fire of the whole Confederate force. Silently, without orders, and almost from the start, double-quick had changed to utmost speed. In an instant, every boy became a man and every man a hero. Death and destruction from massive rounds and volleys of lead blew apart the ranks of the First, with groups of men dropping with every step. With leveled bayonets and at full speed, the First rushed upon the massive Confederate force.

The first Confederate line and parts of their second broke in the front of the charging First, stopping the whole Confederate advance. The Minnesotans then poured in their first fire and took shelter at the low banks that a dry brook afforded and held the entire force at bay for a considerable time. Had the enemy rallied quickly to a counter charge, its great numbers would have crushed the First in a moment. But the ferocity of The First Minnesota seemed to paralyze them for the time, and although they poured upon them a terrible and continuous fire from the front and enveloping flanks, they kept at respectful distance. Shattered men and lives were strew about the area, with every officer killed or mortally wounded. As each commanding Officer fell in the onslaught, leadership eventually fell to John Peller, who, almost certainly carrying this very sword, commanded the Regiment until he nearly had his arm blown away at the shoulder. The Confederates were not without their losses as it has been claimed that Confederate General Barksdale was killed by Private William W. Brown of Company G while holding the Confederate force in check at the close of the charge. What Hancock had given them to do was done thoroughly. The regiment had stopped the enemy, and held back its mighty force and saved the position. It was however, a bloody and costly success. Every field officer was dead or lay weltering with bloody wounds. Of the two hundred and sixty-two men who made the charge, two hundred and fifteen lay upon the field, stricken down by rebel bullets, forty-seven were still in line, and not a man was missing. The annals of war contain no parallel to this charge. In its desperate valor, complete execution, successful result, and in its sacrifice of men in proportion to the number engaged, authentic history has no record with which it can be compared. Col. Fox, in his very carefully prepared work on "Regimental Losses in the American Civil War," says, at page 68, speaking of the Second Corps in this battle, "The fighting was deadly in the extreme, the percentage of loss in the First Minnesota, Gibbon's Division, being without an equal in the records of modern warfare." In another place (page 26) he notes that Gen. Hancock, in speaking of this charge, is reported to have said, "There is no more gallant deed recorded in history. I ordered these men in there because I saw I must gain five minutes time. Reinforcements were coming on the run, but I knew that before they could reach the threatened point the Confederate, unless checked, would seize the position. I would have ordered that regiment in if I had known that every man would be killed. It had to be done, and I was glad to find such a gallant body of men at hand willing to make the terrible sacrifice that the occasion demanded."

Our hero Peller, was in command during the charge on July 2nd, after all the senior officers had been wounded. A minnie ball fractured his left arm, three inches below the shoulder. He lay on the field until after dark, when Dr LeBlond found him, bandaged his wound and sent him to the Leitner house, where a regimental hospital had been set up. Later, he was admitted to the Seminary Hospital in Gettysburg. From there he was admitted to the Armory Square General Hospital in Baltimore, MD, and appears to have had a slow recovery. The bullet had created a deep hole and had greatly damaged his muscles. He suffered a partial paralysis of 3rd and 4th fingers of his left hand.

He was still unfit for duty in December 1863. He briefly returned home to Hastings to recover. In January he headed back east and on the 15th arrived back at the camp of the First Minnesota. Within a month they were given a farewell banquet in Washington DC and the regiment then returned to Fort Snelling. He was discharged with the regiment on May 4, 1864. That year, Governor Stephen Miller, who had been a lieutenant colonel in the First and had served with John, appointed him adjutant general of the state.
In 1865, he returned to Hastings and became a partner with a Mr Stroth in running a dry goods store. He was active in his community, serving as alderman, secretary of the Oakwood Cemetery and director of the Hastings Library Association. The men of the First began to hold reunions shortly after the war. On June 17, 1869, at their reunion in White Bear Lake, MN, he was elected Vice President of the First Minnesota Association.

John died under suspicious circumstances. He spent his free time playing cards at Nic Horn's Tavern. On September 5, 1878, he left Mr Horn's tavern and was last seen between eleven o'clock and midnight by a Mr. E L Rice, a night watchman. John had lived in one of the front rooms above his store and Mr. Rice saw him talking with his dog, then enter his building and light a lamp upstairs. Later, at about three o'clock in the morning, Mr Rice walked with a policeman by the name of Black up to the First National Bank building. Mr Rice saw a light carried from one front room to the other. He thought nothing of it because it was not unusual for John to read or write for a couple of hours after he came home at night. He thought also that John may have been a little intoxicated that evening. The next morning town officials came to his store and left a message that he had been selected as a member of the greeting committee for President Hayes's arrival. He could not be found and they assumed he had gone to the state fair in St Paul.

When he did not show up on Sunday a search was made but nothing was found until Monday when word came that a body had been found in the Mississippi River, at Diamond Bluff some ten to thirteen miles downstream. He had a bullet hole in the base of his ribcage but an autopsy found that he had drowned. The body was identified by the color of his hair and goatee (beard) and the old wound on his arm, since the body was otherwise unrecognizable. The general feeling in town was that he had no enemies. Having been a veteran of the war and seen death first hand, it is possible that he took on an intruder rather than submit to being robbed, and was killed for it. Again this is all conjecture and we may never know the true details. John was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. The Great Western Band played music while it accompanied the large procession to the cemetery. When a G. A. R. post was created in town it was named in his honor.

The sword is a deluxe, presentation grade Staff & Field Officers Sword made by H. Sauerbier. The sword shows fairly heavy use with small dings and dents to the hilt and scabbard. One of the ring mounts and the pommel cap are missing. This lends me to believe that this sword was undoubtedly carried in battle as Peller saw no additional action after Gettysburg. Its scabbard displays an unusually beautiful etched Patriotic Eagle and large "U. S." motif to its body, and the blade shows all of its etching to retail a small amount of original gold gilt. All in all it is in very good to near fine condition.

This is an outstanding and very rare historic piece of Gettysburg history and shows its presentation to Peller between the throat and top mount on the scabbard body as follows, "Presented to Lieut. John Peller, by his friends in Hastings, Minn.". It doesn't get much better than this as it has better history than most KIA Gettysburg material. If you collect Gettysburg items, this would be a great addition to any museum or personal collection.

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