Outstanding in appearance, discipline, and precision at drill, the Third Minnesota Volunteer Infantry was often mistaken for a regular army unit. Rebel Colonel Ponder described the regiment as “the hardest lot of men he’d ever run against.” Betrayed by its higher commanders, the Third Minnesota was surrendered to Nathan Bedford Forrest on July 13, 1862, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Through letters, personal accounts of the men, and other sources, author Joseph C. Fitzharris recounts how the Minnesotans, prisoners of war, broken in spirit and morale, went home and found redemption and renewed purpose fighting the Dakota Indians. They were then sent south to fight guerrillas along the Tennessee River. In the process, the regiment was forged anew as a superbly drilled and disciplined unit that participated in the siege of Vicksburg and in the Arkansas Expedition that took Little Rock. At Pine Bluff, Arkansas, sickness so reduced its numbers that the Third was twice unable to muster enough men to bury its own dead, but the men never wavered in battle. In both Tennessee and Arkansas, the Minnesotans actively supported the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) and provided many officers for USCT units.
The Hardest Lot of Men follows the Third through occupation to war’s end, when the returning men, deeming the citizens of St. Paul insufficiently appreciative, spurned a celebration in their honor. In this first full account of the regiment, Fitzharris brings to light the true story long obscured by the official histories illustrating aspects of a nineteenth-century soldier’s life—enlisted and commissioned alike—from recruitment and training to the rigors of active duty. The Hardest Lot of Men gives us an authentic picture of the Third Minnesota, at once both singular and representative of its historical moment.
“In The Hardest Lot of Men, Joseph C. Fitzharris vividly recounts the dramatic story of the Third Minnesota Infantry in very human terms. By describing the regiment’s trials and triumphs through the eyes of its men, he gives us an unusually revealing glimpse of Civil War soldiering.”—Daniel Sutherland, author of American Civil War Guerrillas: Changing the Rules of Warfare and A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War
“A comprehensive chronicle of the Third Minnesota's Civil War, Joseph Fitzharris's The Hardest Lot of Men also offers readers keen insights into how early-war surrender could have lasting negative effects on individual psyches and derail the vitally important development of unit cohesion."—Civil War Books and Authors
“The Hardest Lot of Men is a deeply researched and detailed account of the lives of the 19th-century men who made up this regiment…Readers of Minnesota Civil War history will find this book rich in detail, thorough in its description of the daily lives of Civil War soldiers, fulfilling in its depiction of a regiment that didn’t quite achieve glory, and a valuable addition to the state’s military history.”—Star Tribune
“The Hardest Lot of Men is clearly a labor of love and would be a welcome addition to the bookshelf of any student of Minnesota’s Civil War history.” - Minnesota History
“Based on his thorough research, Fitzharris paints a vivid story of regimental stamina and resilience in the face of betrayal, Native warfare, disease-ridden locations, Confederate guerillas, and continuous redeployments. Fitzharris successfully corrects historical “injustices” and effectively brings the inspiring service of the Third Minnesota to light.”— The Journal of Southern History