The memory of Company B lives on at Fort Ridgely

FAIRFAX – Fort Ridgley is once again quartering troops, at least for the weekend.

A group of Civil War re-enactors are camped out at the fort, as part of the Company B drill weekend.

Company B was the original company stationed at Fort Ridgley in 1862. The re-enactors attempting to recreate the the experience of a soldier’s life during the time of the US-Dakota War.

Site Manager Amber Bentler explained that in late June 1862, the average soldier stationed at Fort Ridgley would have been wondering why they were stationed in the middle of a prairie, instead fighting the Confederates in the south. It was not until the US-Dakota War that Fort Ridgley became an important outpost. Although the fort was capable of housing 400 soldiers, only 20 manned the fort prior to the hostilities.

As the frontier moved farther west, the fort’s strategic value lessened, and troops were withdrawn in May 1867. The fort and surrounding grounds were made into a state park in 1911.

Re-enactments serve to keep alive the memory of those who served. Many of the men taking part in the Company B drill weekend serve in other groups, including the First Minnesota Regiment and the New Ulm Battery. Ryan Kelly has served with the New Ulm Battery for 12 years. Kelly says it is something of a family tradition to serve with the battery, going back to his great-grandfather.

For many of the re-enactors, the events have become family affairs. Joel Laechel from Sleepy Eye has been participating in similar events for the last seven year, and while he drills, his wife Laura takes care of the camp and answers questions. Laura explained that during the fort’s early days, it was not unusual for an officer to bring his wife. The women would typically have the duty of washing and stitching uniforms. In addition, wives would often make and sell food to the other men stationed at the camp.

The drill weekend will continue through Sunday, beginning with Revielle at 7 a.m. The drill includes an infantry and artillery demonstration starting at 10:30 a.m. The drills are even open to the public. Marching instructions begin at 2:35 p.m. A recruitment tent will also be on grounds. Sgt. Jefferson Spileman explained: “We’re always happy to get new blood.”

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