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Cali Owings, Published July 03 2013

3 Clay County Civil War soldiers being honored

Moorhead - On July 4, 1863, three German immigrants who lived in what would later become Clay County were on a battlefield 1,200 miles away in Vicksburg, Miss.

There Union troops led by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant forced Confederate rebels to surrender – a major turning point in the Civil War coupled with the Battle of Gettysburg known as “the most glorious fourth.”

Now 150 years later, the Cultural and Historical Society of Clay County is honoring Adam Stein and Anthony and Justice Probstfield – the only soldiers from this area known to have joined Union forces and fight the rebellion in the South.

Many other local men enlisted, but their units were instead fighting the U.S. Dakota-War raging at home.

Markus Krueger, with the HCSCC, retraced their steps using records like unit histories – detailed day-by-day journals from each unit – for two articles in the HCSCC newsletter.

“Who was the common soldier that saved my country?” Krueger wanted to know as he set out to research the article.

He was surprised to find the three men from Clay County because at the time the western edge of Minnesota was scarcely populated. He was also interested in these men because their families are well-known early settlers of Clay County.

Anthony and Justice’s brother, Randolph Probstfield, and Stein claimed the first homesteads in Georgetown, Minn. – a precursor settlement to the Fargo-Moorhead area. Krueger said Randolph Probstfield’s living descendants will learn the details of their family’s Civil War involvement during their family reunion this week.

In the article, Krueger noted the importance of new German immigrants’ involvement in the war – some 180,000 Germans defended the Union, more than any other immigrant group.

Krueger said it was partly because of comparisons to Germany’s 1848 peasant rebellion – they wanted to defend the democracy they sought when they came to the U.S.

The Civil War is often remembered as a conflict over slavery, but Krueger said it was also a fight over a contentious election and a test of America’s democracy – one of the first in the world.

Though their paths to Vicksburg differed, all three men were there the day the South surrendered and paraded through Vicksburg wearing brand-new uniforms. Just a day earlier, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Gettysburg.

Both losses were a huge hit to the Confederate Army though the war would last almost two more years.

Both Justice and Anthony Probstfield died in October 1863 of either typhoid or dysentery, which ran rampant in military camps.

“This is how the majority of Civil War soldiers died, not in a heroic charge but in a hospital bed,” Krueger wrote in his forthcoming second article.

Only Stein returned to the Red River Valley after the war.

The Probstfield brothers are buried in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. A representative from the historical society already placed flowers on their graves this week to honor their service.

The HCSCC will recognize Stein and the 150th anniversary of “the most glorious fourth” today by visiting his Georgetown grave.

“Even if we don’t know the entire story, we can reconstruct it from what we can know and give people their due,” Krueger said.

For more information

The Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County’s newsletter details more about these men and their involvement in the Civil War. Copies are available at the Hjemkomst Center. The second part will be available in the next issue.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599