09 December 2015

Minnesota Rises to Question Civil War Art in Capitol

"The Second Minnesota Regiment at Missionary Ridge, November 25, 1863" by Douglas Volk. SOURCE: Minnesota Historical Society
After Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton proposed moving or removing military art and artifacts depicting the state's American Civil War history to less-visible locations than the reception room outside his office, a state capitol preservation commission has opened the matter to public discussion. The governor reportedly questioned whether the five historical military-themed paintings best depicted the diversity of experiences in the state.

Rep. Dianne Loeffler, a Democrat who represents part of Minneapolis, was quoted as saying in support of the move, "We have enough battles in here that I think some rooms should not have as many victims visually portrayed."

The proposal takes place within the context of a multi-year building project. The Minnesota state capitol building, built in 1905, is currently closed to the public for renovation and restoration, and will not be re-opened to the public until early 2017. Legislative and executive branch business continues as scheduled in the building.

Maj. Gen. Richard C. Nash, adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, has fired back that "war is no less horrible now than what it was in 1861," and argued for the preservation of the artwork's current pride of place. The former commander of Minnesota's 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division has even gone on television and participated in a Dec. 7 public hearing on the topic.

The paintings in question include those titled "The Second Minnesota Regiment at Missionary Ridge, November 25th 1863” by Douglas Volk, and "The Battle of Nashville" by Howard Pyle. (More about the historical battles they each depict here and here.)

Minnesota's Civil War history runs early and deep. The First Minnesota Regiment was the first state unit to be offered to federal service in defense of the Union, sustained the highest casualties of any unit the war, and is much celebrated for its actions on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Although not displayed at the state capitol, the First Minnesota has been depicted in a "National Guard Heritage Series" painting and print by Don Troiani.

The historical lineage of the First Minnesota is maintained by the Minnesota National Guard's modern-day 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment, a unit that is aligned with the Iowa National Guard's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Inf. "Red Bull" Div. (2-34th BCT).

The public is invited to continue to comment until Dec. 18, 2015 regarding the Civil War paintings and the Minnesota capitol restoration by sending input via e-mail: capitol.art@state.mn.us; and/or by participating in an on-line survey here.

The Minnesota State Capitol Restoration Commission will incorporate all public input into a report due to be published in January 2016.

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