Major Henning Von Minden

Fifth Iowa Volunteer Cavalry

Henning Von Minden was the senior officer of Company G of the Fifth Iowa Cavalry which was enlisted at St Paul and Fort Snelling, Minnesota. It was mustered into the service at Fort Snelling on October 9, 1861, and subsequently assigned to the Curtis Horse Regiment (which, of course, became part of the Fifth Iowa).

Von Minden was an aggressive commander and this was instrumental in his being captured not once, but twice, by larger Confederate forces. The selections below, from the Official Roster, describe the engagements in question. Following the first battle at Lockridge's Mill, Tennessee (during which he was wounded), he was paroled by the enemy. Following the engagement at Fort Donelson, Tennessee, he was exchanged.

On May 3rd [1862], in accordance with orders from Colonel Lowe, a detachment under command of Major Schaffer de Boernstein, consisting of Companies E, Captain Nott, F. Captain Haw, and G. Captain Von Minden, left Camp Lowe to reconnoiter beyond Paris and the neighborhood of the Obion River. On May 6th, at 5 o'clock pm, the detachment went into camp near Lockridge's Mill. Company F camping half a mile from the other two companies on the road towards Dresden. Pickets had been thrown out, and the usual precautions to guard against a surprise had been taken. Supper was being prepared, when the pickets were fired upon and driven back to the reserve, which, in turn, was driven to the camps, the rebel force making the attack upon both camps at the same time.

The men formed in line of battle and made a gallant resistance, but were soon overpowered by the greatly superior force of the enemy. Finding themselves so completely outnumbered that further resistance was useless--after twenty-four of their number had been killed and wounded and thirty-eight had cut their way out and escaped--the remainder of the detachment, hemmed in on every side, surrendered themselves as prisoners of war. Major Carl Schaffer de Boernstein was mortally wounded and died near the scene of the action on tine next day.

…Captain Von Minden was also wounded, and captured, with fourteen men of his company. The force of the enemy numbered over 2,000, under command of the rebel Colonel Clayborne. With such a great disparity in numbers, it is simply marvelous that any of the Union soldiers could have escaped being killed, wounded or captured. The prisoners were all sent to Jackson, Miss., and, with the exception of the officers, were shortly afterwards paroled, and rejoined the regiment on June 7th. They were subsequently exchanged. The officers captured--Captains Haw and Von Minden and Lieutenant Von Vredenburg--were held in captivity until October 16th, when they were paroled, and were exchanged in December. They had not sufficiently recovered from their wounds and the hardships to which they had been subjected in prison to be able to rejoin the regiment until in January, 1863.

On the 3d of February [1863], Captain Von Minden, of Company G. with twenty-eight of his men, while engaged in scouting near the Cumberland Iron Works, met the advance if the rebel General Forrest's command, then marching to attack Fort Donelson. The captain and his men fell into an ambush, which had been skillfully planned by the enemy, and the little detachment, being completely surrounded by a greatly superior force, had no alternative but to surrender. The rest of the regiment promptly marched from Fort Heiman to reinforce the garrison at Fort Donelson but, upon its arrival, found that the rebel force had failed in their attack upon the fort and had retreated. [Captain Von Minden would be exchanged on May 5th.]

Von Minden would return with the Company to Minnesota when the troopers were transferred back to their home state on February 25, 1864. He lived until 1871. The following is his obituary as it appeared in the January 6, 1872 issue of the Alexandria [Minnesota] Post. It includes some fascinating details not noted in his brief biographical entry in the regimental history.


It is with feelings of the deepest sorrow and regret that the writer hereof would inform his former comrades of the 5th Iowa Cavalry, and more particularly those of Co. 'G,' of that regiment, (of whom there is not a few in this vicinity), of the death of Major Henning von Minden, which occurred in St. Paul on Dec. 25th, at 11 o'clock, a.m. Knowing that the news of his sudden, and to us entirely unexpected death, will send a pang of deep sorrow through the hearts of his former soldiers, the writer hereof feels induced to make up this short biographical sketch of our departed friend and former commander.

Major H. von Minden was born Dec. 30, 1826, in Schleswig-Holstein. He received a very careful education as a civil engineer, and served as a volunteer in the famous Schleswig-Holstein war in 1853 and 1854. He came to the United States in the fall of 1855, landing in St. Paul somewhere about the 1st of November. His excellent acquirements and qualifications as an engineer at once got him into business, and in 1858 he was elected city surveyor. Shortly after the beginning of the war he took an active part in organizing the 1st Minnesota cavalry company, of which he was elected captain, and on the 1st day of November, 1861, left with his company for St. Louis. He was unfortunate enough to be made a prisoner twice by the rebels, and was in confinement the first time for over five months. Returning again after his second capture, he served on the staff of Gen. Crook as topographical engineer. After his company "veteranized," he went on the staff of Gen. Sully, and was in September, 1864, appointed major of the Independent Battalion Minnesota Cavalry (known as Hatch's Battalion), but he never served with that organization. It was while he held this commission that he commanded the post at Sauk Centre for a short time. During the summer of 1865, he again served on Sully's staff, and remained with that general until mustered out in May, 1866.

After the close of the war Major von Minden again settled down in St. Paul, and for some years was chief book keeper in Dawson & Co.'s bank, and had but a few months ago received the appointment of chief draughtsman in the Surveyor General's office.

The deceased leaves a wife and three children. His funeral took place Dec. 27th, at 2 o'clock p.m., from the German Lutheran Church on Wabashaw street, and was attended by company 'B,' 1st M.N.G., Capt. Sheffer, the three German societies, the members of his old company, residing in St. Paul, and a large concourse of friends.

Major von Minden was in all respects as exemplary man and citizen, and through his amiability and genial character had acquired a large circle of friends; and the writer hereof feels justified in expressing, in behalf of Major von Minden's former companions in arms and acquaintances in this vicinity, their deep felt sympathy for his wife and children in this their hour of trouble.

Alexandria, Jan. 2, 1872. G. A. F.

The Fifth Iowa Cavalry regimental website is grateful to Brigitte Steinmann-Riddle, great-great-granddaughter of von Minden, for the photograph. Thank you also to Joel Watne who transcribed the obituary cited above.

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