BELLE PRAIRIE -- Newbry Briggs stood in a recruiting office with his brother and lied about his age to join the Army.
The blue-eyed boy with light hair was not quite 18. His friends called him "Newb." Back at his home near Little Falls, his mother struggled to raise her children single-handedly. And years of hardship lay before him. His 20-year-old brother standing next to him would die and the teenager from Minnesota would be taken as a prisoner of war.
That was more than 140 years ago.
Sunday Newbry Briggs, who's grave in Holy Family Cemetery in Belle Prairie lay unmarked for 86 years, received a graveside dedication complete with cannon salute from men in Union Army uniforms. Women in hoop skirts and lace gloves laid flowers at his grave and turned back time.
About 20 people attended the dedication on a sunny, breezy afternoon listening to "Taps" with their hands pressed over their hearts. A sword with a bright red cord and an affixed bugle pierced the earth next to the newly placed stone on his grave. Pony-tailed girls covered their ears as the cannon fired three times.
Newbry joined the Union Army and served with the 2nd Minnesota Battery of Light Artillery when the Civil War threatened to tear the nation asunder. A nonprofit group, which portrays the 2nd Minnesota Battery for Civil War re-enactments, also took an interest in finding the men who served in the battery during the war between the states and making sure they had marked graves. The Veterans Administration provides a grave marker for every service veteran. In Briggs' case, the Little Falls American Legion donated money to have the grave marker set this spring.
Re-enactors of the 2nd Minnesota Light Artillery Battery members Lee Wendel of Minneapolis (left), Jay Overby of Spring Lake Park and John Cain of Red Wing fired their cannon at a ceremony at the Holy Family Cemetery in Belle Prairie near Little Falls Sunday.
The 2nd Minnesota Battery of Light Artillery Re-enactors, based in Red Wing, has dedicated seven markers. If they can find the grave sites, they expect they have about a dozen more to go. About 324 men served in the 2nd Minnesota Battery. The group began by trying to locate men from southern Minnesota. They went to the vast information housed in the National Archives in Washington D.C. to help their search. Enlistment papers include height, eye and hair color.
"You are actually handling papers these guys signed to join the Union Army in 1862," said group member Brian Tomashek, Winona.
Tomashek said it is a special project for many of the re-enactors group to get markers for those veterans. Standing near Briggs' marker, Tomashek said: "He won't be one of the unknown veterans buried in our country."
Briggs was discharged in 1865. He returned to the Little Falls area, married and farmed and even served as a police officer. He was said to have owned the finest racing mare in the area. He died in the Old Soldiers Home in Minneapolis in 1917. A mistake first put Briggs in the Alabama Artillery and a Confederate headstone was placed on his grave site. The mistake was quickly rectified and a new gravestone set.
Briggs' family descendants drove to the Holy Family Cemetery in Belle Prairie from Isanti and Cambridge. Briggs' wife, Barbara, was Patricia Olson's great-grandmother's sister.
"It's just kind of cool -- it's somebody that is your family," Olson said of making the connection with an ancestor.
Mandy Wendel layed a wreath at the new gravestone for Newbry Briggs in the Holy Family Cemetery in Belle Prairie Sunday. Wendel was part of a Civil War re-enactment group which dedicated the new stone on the Civil War veteran's grave.
Olson's cousin, Rosie Gaddis, said they had tried to find Briggs' grave when they were working on a genealogy but could not locate him. Then they saw his name in a newspaper noting Sunday's dedication.
Vickie Wendel, 2nd Minnesota Battery Reenactors, found the grave after searching about seven cemeteries. On her third trip to the area she saw a man working on a sign outside Holy Family Church in Belle Prairie. From there she was able to see the church records and located Briggs on a cemetery map.
"They deserve to be remembered," she said of the veterans. "Nobody deserves to be forgotten."
The Second Minnesota Battery Re-enactors are dedicated to preserving and interpreting Civil War history. The organization works with schools and historical societies among others.
Jan Warner, Morrison County Historical Society director, hoped others may be found to help put markers up for the nearby graves of Briggs' wife and daughter. She said the re-enactors and the dedication ceremony are the things that keep the legacy of history alive.
Mary Warner, Little Falls-based Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum manager, said: "It's nice to be able to see a stone -- to have something marked is really nice because sometimes it is the only record you will have of a person."
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