A Soldier's Rise in a State Divided “Massachusetts Men Passing Through Baltimore,” engraving by F.F. Walker, 1861. Newrepublic.com.
Minion F. Knott, sometimes referred to as Ninion F. Knott or M. F. Knott, was 23 or 24 years old at the Battle of Gettysburg, meaning he was born in 1838, 1839, or 1840. Unfortunately, almost nothing is known about his life prior to the Civil War; his name does not appear in any currently available birth or census records. This raises several questions. Could he have enlisted in the war under a pseudonym? What exact sort of background did he come from? What were his thoughts on the war’s causes, and what motivated him to fight? We may never know the specific answers to these questions. Instead, we must look to the broader context of Knott’s world to provide some information about his individual life.
Whatever the exact circumstances of his upbringing, Minion Knott grew up in a state very much divided on the eve of the Civil War. Slavery remained legal in Maryland at the outbreak of hostilities. Though supporters of the “peculiar institution” argued that it was practiced more humanely in the Old Line State than the Deep South, brutality against slaves in Maryland remained an open “secret.” Former Maryland slave Frederick Douglass, for example, pushed back strongly against the falsehood of humane slavery in his moving autobiography, and large swaths of the state utilized little to no slave labor. In the heated presidential election of 1860, Maryland’s electoral votes went to the Southern Democratic candidate, John C. Breckenridge, an ardent defender of slavery. However, his narrow margin of victory over centrist John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party demonstrated that many Marylanders felt uneasy about the possibility of war (Northern Democrat Stephen A. Douglas and Republican Abraham Lincoln received far smaller fractions of the total state vote). In the halls of the state government in 1861, ardent secessionists urged that the state join the Confederate States of America, but Governor Thomas Holliday Hicks blocked their efforts to hold a special convention. Thus, Maryland remained on the brink as war broke out. Soldiers enlisted to serve both the Union and the Confederacy, and pro-southern civilians of Baltimore clashed with Union troops in the infamous Pratt Street Riots of April 1861. Supporters of both sides felt that their way of life was under attack, whether from an oppressive “slave power” aiming to preserve the institution forever or from a tyrannical federal government. The future of Maryland appeared very much in doubt.
Minion Knott’s first appearance in the historical record stands out as particularly intriguing when considered in relation to his death wearing the Confederate gray at Gettysburg. According to military records, on April 16, 1861, Knott enlisted in Company C of the 6th Battalion, District of Columbia Militia Infantry. This unit served for three months as a Union force assigned to protect the capital city. Knott served his full term, mustering out on July 11 of that year. The only noted remark regarding his service states that he still needed to pay for his issued canteen and strap. Again, this document adds to the complexity of Minion Knott’s story. It indicates that he likely came from the area surrounding Washington, D.C. in modern-day Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. His motivations for this service, though, are a mystery. Why did Knott enlist in a Federal militia unit only to join the Confederates later? Perhaps his opinions on the war changed as it unfolded, and he did not support the federal government’s manner of conducting the conflict. Aggressive Union conduct towards southern civilians, such as the policies advocated by General John Pope in July and August of 1862, may have been particularly alienating for a man from a border state, or perhaps he may have disagreed with abolition and felt that President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation constituted a step too far. He may also have truly believed in either the Union or the Confederate cause and joined the opposite side against his will, potentially by coercion or encouragement from friends and acquaintances. Whatever the case, Knott’s apparently changing loyalties mirrored those of his home state, making his military service a fascinating microcosm of the deep divides in Maryland throughout the Civil War.
At some point, likely early in 1863, Minion Knott joined the 1st Maryland Battalion, CSA. This unit, renamed the 2nd Maryland Infantry in 1864, included many veterans of the former 1st Maryland Infantry, a regiment whose term of service had expired in 1862. According to Major W. W. Goldsborough, who served in both the old and new units, these survivors felt a clear sense of duty to their new nation that compelled them to reenlist. Recruits from southern-sympathizing parts of the state, including Minion Knott, filled out the battalion’s ranks. Knott joined Company F of the new battalion. The men of the unit took great pride in their home state and believed they were continuing the tradition of the Maryland Line that had fought bravely under George Washington, just as their Union foes believed they constituted the true upholders of Washington’s legacy through their defense of the nation he created. Though Knott’s personal thoughts remain unknown, he likely shared in this camaraderie. The battalion did not participate in the Chancellorsville campaign, but as Robert E. Lee’s army turned north in the summer of 1863, the Maryland men would play a key role in the action. Their unit cohesion would soon be solidified as they jointly faced the carnage of battle.
The 1st Maryland Battalion saw its first combat action at the Second Battle of Winchester, fought from June 13 to 15, 1863. This engagement sought to eliminate the Federal garrison at Winchester, Virginia, a key strategic town in the Shenandoah Valley. As part of the brigade commanded by George H. “Maryland” Steuart, a fellow native of the Old Line State, the battalion remained active throughout the battle. They primarily fought as skirmishers but played a key role in harassing Union defenses south and east of town, ultimately breaking through at the defensive bastion known as Star Fort. Second Winchester became a near-total Confederate victory, and Minion Knott and his comrades had done their part. The battalion suffered relatively light casualties: 9 men wounded (2 mortally) and 1 captured, but they had received a stark reminder of the horrors of battle that stood ahead of them. The path now lay open for the Maryland men to continue marching northward.
On June 18, the 1st Maryland Battalion crossed the Potomac River and reentered the state of Maryland. Many of the soldiers felt overcome by their emotions upon returning to their native soil, with some weeping tears of joy and others “act[ing] as though they had lost their reason.” Major Goldsborough also relayed an anecdote from Quartermaster John Howard about the exuberance expressed by their brigade commander. General Steuart allegedly “turned seventeen double somersaults before he ceased, and then stood on his head for five minutes, all the while whistling ‘Maryland, My Maryland.’” The men camped that evening on the fields around Sharpsburg, the scene of the horrific Battle of Antietam just nine months prior, likely providing a sobering topic of reflection as the Marylanders pondered the chaos and suffering of battle. The aims of the war had greatly changed since that horrible struggle, with the Emancipation Proclamation transforming the war into one that would decide the fate of slavery in America. The gravity of the situation likely hung heavy in their minds, as the stakes were now higher than ever before. Though their stay in Maryland proved short, with Lee’s army continuing north into Pennsylvania, Knott and his comrades would surely have felt a renewed sense of purpose from their time in their home state and departed with a tangible reminder of what they were fighting for. With spirits high, the 1st Maryland Battalion headed towards Gettysburg and the cataclysm of battle as the calendar turned into July.
Pain and Brotherhood on Culp's Hill The charge of the 1st Maryland Battalion depicted in paint. "Band of Brothers" by Don Troiani
Minion Knott and his Maryland comrades arrived in Gettysburg on the evening of July 1, 1863. Their division, under the command of General Edward “Allegheny” Johnson, had marched a significant distance to reach the town, and Knott surely felt the sore muscles and aching bones of a long campaign. Confederate troops had won a great victory that day, pushing Union troops off their defensive positions north and west of Gettysburg and driving them in disarray through the streets of the town, where the Federals rallied on Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill. In one of the most controversial episodes of the Battle of Gettysburg, the 1st Maryland Battalion’s corps commander, Richard Ewell, had permission from Robert E. Lee to launch an attack against Culp’s Hill using Johnson’s division that evening, but opted not to. Two of his three divisions had suffered greatly in the day’s fighting, while Johnson’s men were exhausted from their journey to the field and not in any shape for a major assault. Despite not seeing battle on July 1, Knott and his fellow Marylanders would have heard about the great Confederate successes of the day, motivating them to fight just as courageously when their time came in order to capitalize on the early successes of their comrades. The 1st Maryland Battalion’s first combat at Gettysburg would arrive the following day.
Robert E. Lee’s battle plan for July 2 put Minion Knott and the 1st Maryland Battalion in position to make a key impact on the course of the engagement. Lee’s main attack that day would strike the Union left flank, but the Maryland men had their own role to play in opposing the other end of the Federal line. Lee ordered Ewell to “make a simultaneous demonstration upon the enemy’s right, to be converted into a real attack should opportunity offer.” Due to a series of mishaps and errors, the assault on the Union left did not begin until the late afternoon, delaying Knott’s entrance into the battle. However, this attack enabled Ewell’s “demonstration” to become a true offensive. Union General George Meade had to pull most of the Union 12th Corps off Culp’s Hill to bolster his endangered left flank, abandoning earthworks they had dug and leaving behind only George S. Greene’s brigade of Federal soldiers. Thus, when Johnson’s division began their assault, Minion Knott and his fellow Marylanders initially met with almost no resistance. They easily captured empty Union earthworks on the lower portion of the hill and advanced to confront the remaining soldiers in blue, with the 1st Maryland Battalion in the middle of Steuart’s line. However, the defenders had the advantage of well-prepared breastworks. Though Knott and the Maryland men fought hard to dislodge them, the Union troops held firm as darkness fell. Minion Knott must have felt a mixture of emotions after the fighting ceased that night. The Confederates had come so close to a critical breakthrough, providing a sense of optimism that the next day would bring victory. However, the Marylanders were assaulting breastworks, an experience unfamiliar to many of them at this point in the war, and they understood the great challenge that lay between them and their goals. These varied thoughts likely raced through Knott’s mind as he and his comrades waited through a sleepless night.
The battle for Culp’s Hill resumed at around 4:30 in the morning on July 3. Union artillery opened the fighting as units of Gen. Henry Slocum’s 12th Corps, with men from Ohio and Pennsylvania in the lead, seized the initiative by launching their own counterattack against the Confederates who had claimed their earthworks on the lower hill the previous day. Major Goldsborough, commanding the battalion at this point, remembered that “the whole hillside seemed to be enveloped in a blaze.” In a cruel twist of fate, among the Union units who slammed into Minion Knott and his comrades was the 1st Regiment Eastern Shore Volunteer Maryland Infantry. The narrative of the Civil War as brother against brother rarely echoed more clearly than it did on Culp’s Hill. Knott and his comrades poured their fire into the ranks of their state’s loyal sons. The men from the divided state locked with one another in lethal combat as ever-growing numbers of Union troops filtered into the vicinity. This overwhelming opposition forced the Maryland Confederates from their initial position, sending them back down towards Spangler’s Spring. Minion Knott may have fallen with his mortal wound in this phase of the engagement, perhaps gunned down by one of his fellow Marylanders. If not, he certainly took his fatal bullet in the climactic final action of the 1st Maryland Battalion that occurred later on Culp’s Hill.
As the hours passed on the morning of July 3, 1863, the Confederates’ plight on Culp’s Hill grew increasingly dire. Multiple attacks and counterattacks had left thousands of men dead or wounded, and Johnson’s division had failed to break through the Union lines. If Knott was still in the fight at this point, simultaneous feelings of exhaustion from the hard fighting and frustration caused by the inability to achieve victory certainly weighed heavily upon him. Around 10:30 that morning, General Johnson ordered one final surge against the hill’s defenders. Steuart’s brigade would comprise the left flank of this push; Minion Knott’s brigade commander reportedly disagreed with the order, but had to send his men forward nonetheless. Goldsborough echoed Steuart’s concerns, arguing that “it was nothing less than murder to send men into that slaughter pen.” However, Steuart’s responsibilities as a leader required him to put aside his own misgivings and issue this difficult command. The Marylanders, perhaps including Knott, would make their assault across a clearing now known as Pardee Field. After some brief preparations, General Steuart gave the command “Attention! Forward, double-quick! March!” With this order, the 1st Maryland Battalion lurched grimly forward, heading for the stone wall lining the northeast sector of the field.
Almost as soon as they set off, though, Steuart’s brigade exposed itself to a horrific crossfire. Maryland blood spilled over the grass as men fell dead and wounded at every step; one survivor from the battalion wrote that “[T]he death shriek rends the air on every side.” The withering gunfire proved too much to overcome for the other units of Steuart’s brigade, who fell back, leaving the Maryland men isolated. Major Goldsborough recalled their withdrawal with disgust in his history of the battalion, remembering “[N]ever shall I forget the expressions of contempt on the faces of the men of the left companies of the [1st Battalion] as they cast a side glance upon their comrades who had proved recreant in this supreme moment.” The Maryland men must have felt that their comrades had shamefully abandoned them in a moment of great need, demonstrating the utmost cowardice – a great moral failing, coupled with a disregard of duty. Goldsborough himself fell wounded during the charge and, as historian Harry Pfanz stated, “watched his battalion shatter before his eyes.” Minion Knott may have fallen at this critical moment, as the 1st Maryland Battalion disintegrated amidst a hail of Union bullets. The Confederates fell back from the field, and ultimately, the battle for Culp’s Hill reached its end.
The fighting for Culp’s Hill devastated the 1st Maryland Battalion. The unit entered the battle with 400 men in the ranks; 192 of them fell dead or wounded, including Minion Knott. General Steuart, having watched his proud Maryland men fall to bits, was inconsolable in the wake of the attack, weeping and wringing his hands while exclaiming “My poor boys! My poor boys!” Despite everything that had happened, the bonds of a shared home persisted across enemy lines after the battle had ended. The victorious Union soldiers chose to take care of their stricken Maryland foes. Colonel James Wallace, commander of the 1st Maryland Eastern Shore, wrote that “[T]he 1st Maryland Confederate Regiment met us and were cut to pieces. We sorrowfully gathered up many of our old friends and acquaintances and had them carefully and tenderly cared for.” These Union soldiers must have felt a range of emotions as they tended to the enemy wounded. The men of both sides indeed shared Maryland roots, but the Federals must have looked upon their dead comrades and seethed at the thought that they had been slain by their state’s disloyal traitors. The stricken Confederates of the Old Line State, then, were at the mercy of a foe who could react with great compassion or with great cruelty, surely filling them with dread. These varying emotions complicated the more comforting and romantic scenes of brotherhood and camaraderie that played out on the slopes of Culp’s Hill after the fighting on July 3.
Minion Knott almost certainly was one of the “old friends and acquaintances” who received care from his fellow Marylanders as he lay with a bullet lodged in his body. It is impossible to know what thoughts must have run through his head as he considered the complexities of his situation. Perhaps he questioned whether he had made the right choice in joining the Confederate army, or he may have expressed contempt towards the Maryland men who had gone North. He must have felt great anxiety over how his fellow Marylanders would treat him as a prisoner; would they demonstrate the bonds of brotherhood of their shared home or force greater suffering upon him for his choice to take up arms for the Confederacy? In any case, Knott became a prisoner of war, and he faced the prospect of a future in which it was uncertain if he would live or die.
The Confederate in the Union Cemetery The contested legacy of the 1st Maryland Battalion appears on its monument. Photo by the author.
On July 5, 1863, Minion Knott became a patient in the massive Union field hospital complex known as Camp Letterman. The Confederate army’s retreat left Knott permanently in enemy hands. Men of the 1st Maryland Battalion received treatment and died at hospital sites all around the Gettysburg area, including the Bushman farm and Pennsylvania Hall, the central building of Pennsylvania (now Gettysburg) College. Crippled by a wound to his side, Knott’s senses would have been assaulted by all the terrible sights, sounds, and smells of a Civil War medical facility as he lay in his hospital bed. The cries of the wounded and dying and the constant footfalls of the harried, blood-soaked surgeons surely comprised a sobering scene for a stricken man. Minion Knott’s injuries were particularly severe. The bullet had entered his left side and lodged near his spine, evidently puncturing his large intestine in the process. This was a grievous and painful wound, and it ultimately proved a mortal one.
What might Knott have thought of as he lay dying? Perhaps he reflected on his personal journey from Unionist to Confederate and wondered what might become of divided Maryland. Perhaps he questioned his decision to fight in Lee’s army and worried that he would be remembered as a traitor. Conversely, he may have reaffirmed his confidence in his decision, resolving that he was struck down fighting for his home state and preserving the true legacy of the American Revolution by making war against an unjust government. Knott likely thought of family and friends at home and of God and the afterlife to come. He lay so close to his native state that the prospect of returning home must have provided a tantalizing prospect, offering him the ability to die the “Good Death” at home, surrounded by friends and family, yet it remained just out of his reach. While he received attention and comfort from members of the Sanitary Commission or U.S. Christian Commission, they could only attempt to ease his suffering. After more than a month of excruciating pain, Minion F. Knott died on August 24, 1863, within fifteen miles of his home state.
Union medical personnel buried Minion Knott in the cemetery established at Camp Letterman after his death. According to their records, he rested in grave number 23 of the fifth section. For most of Knott’s comrades, their story temporarily ended there until they could be returned to the South after the war. Many of these Confederates would lose their identities in the process. However, his story took a far different turn. Around the time of Knott’s death, a committee of local citizens, with the support of Andrew Curtin, Pennsylvania’s governor, began the process of creating a national cemetery to provide a final resting place for the hastily-buried dead of the Battle of Gettysburg. Reinterments began in late October and were overseen by Samuel Weaver, a local merchant. The cemetery was intended to house only the Federal dead, and the burial crews worked judiciously to uphold this principle. The establishment of a hallowed space to honor those who gave their lives for the cause of Union stood out as of the utmost importance throughout the process. Yet despite Samuel Weaver’s belief “that there has not been a single mistake made in the removal of soldiers to the cemetery by taking the body of a rebel for a Union soldier,” the Confederate Minion Knott now lies alongside his Federal foes. How could this have happened? The mistake likely stemmed from the confusion of three separate Maryland regiments with the designation “1st” all fighting within a relatively small area on Culp’s Hill. In addition to the 1st Maryland Battalion and 1st Maryland Eastern Shore, the 1st Maryland Potomac Home Brigade, USA also took part in the struggle for the hill. The additional confusion of the crowded Camp Letterman cemetery also likely threw off Weaver and his men, demonstrating just a small example of the administrative chaos which hobbled logistical efforts throughout the war. Ironically, many of the names of dead Confederate soldiers sent home for reburial after the war were lost to history through such mismanagement, while Knott’s has been preserved due to the mistake. Thus, Minion F. Knott, 1st Maryland Battalion, CSA became “M.F. Knott, Co. F Regt. 1,” the appellation which appears on his gravestone today. Knott’s remains now rest amid those of the men both he and his comrades sought to kill, a poignant bit of irony within the carefully constructed memorial landscape of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.
More than twenty years after the battle, the remaining survivors of the 1st Maryland Battalion returned to Culp’s Hill to dedicate their unit’s monument in 1884. This memorial produced a great deal of controversy. Before its construction, no Confederate monuments stood on the Gettysburg battlefield, and the Union veterans and members of the battlefield commission put up a strong resistance to any commemoration of the defeated South. The idea that their sacred landscape, the site of perhaps the Union’s greatest victory, could be polluted by Confederate monuments was anathema to many of them. Even long after the shooting had stopped, notions of regional pride and enmity endured, contradicting the common narrative of post-war reconciliation. Conflicts like this one played out on battlefields across the nation in the decades following the Civil War. Ultimately, though, the battalion received approval to dedicate their monument, under one condition: Its inscription had to label the regiment as the “2nd MD. Infantry, C.S.A.” in order to differentiate it from the two Maryland Union regiments designated “1st.” However, the Confederates had the last word, including a small inscription reading “1 MD. changed to” above the “2nd Maryland” designation. The memorial includes the Baltimore cross on all four sides, signifying the battalion’s roots in that area of Maryland. The 1st Maryland Battalion’s monument stands along Slocum Avenue near the top of the “lower hill” today, forever marking the area where Minion Knott and so many of his comrades from the Old Line State added themselves to the litany of casualties of the Civil War.
Minion Knott’s fascinating story carries continuing significance to this day. What does it mean for the legacy of the Civil War and of the cause of the Union, for example, to have a Confederate soldier buried among the Federal dead in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery? The vast majority of visitors to the site today have no idea of the complexities of his life and service, and simply assume that he fought and died for the Union just as those around him did. Those who do take an interest in his story often view him more as a battlefield curiosity or a tragic misfit than as a man with numerous complexities of character. Thus, in a strange sort of way, Minion Knott’s full identity has been lost to the general public over the years. His memory, except to the highly-motivated historian of Gettysburg, has been subsumed wholly with that of the Union, rather than the Confederacy, despite his having fought for both sides. Disentangling these complicated strands of history and memory, then, has become necessary to see Minion Knott as he truly lived. His story encapsulates so many themes that ran throughout the Civil War: The chaos and tragedy of battle, the development and altering of thoughts and ideas on the conflict, and the contradictions and evolution of a state and a nation deeply divided, both of which he took up arms to defend.
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Goldsborough, William Worthington. The Maryland Line in the Confederate Army, 1861-1865. 2nd ed. Gaithersburg, MD: Butternut Press, 1983.
Hawks, Steve A. “Monument to the 2nd Maryland Infantry at Gettysburg.” Stone Sentinels – Gettysburg. 2018.
Manakee, Harold R. Maryland in the Civil War. Baltimore, MD: Maryland Historical Society, 1961.
Military, Compiled Service Records. Civil War. Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations. Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1890–1912. National Archives, Washington, D.C.
Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg – Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill. Chapel Hill, NC: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1993.
Narrative and map by Ryan Bilger, Gettysburg College