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T.H. Pressnell

T.H. Pressnell

Federal (USV)


Thomas H. Pressnell

(1843 - 1915)

Home State: Minnesota

Branch of Service: Infantry

Unit: 1st Minnesota Infantry

Before Antietam

He came to America with his family as an infant, first to Monroe, MI, then Buffalo, NY, and finally, after his father John died in 1848, Pittsfield, IL. He began work for a newspaper there at age eight. His foreman was John Nicholay, later President Lincoln's private secretary. Ten year old Thomas was apprenticed as a printer's devil in 1853, and went with the paper's owner when he moved to Stillwater, MN two years later.

He was an 18 year old printer on the St. Paul Pioneer when he enlisted for 3 months in the original First Minnesota Infantry on 29 April 1861. He was ill in May and didn't sign up for 3 years with the rest of the regiment, and returned to work at the Pioneer. When recruiters came to town on 7 September 1861, he did reenlist, as Private, Company C, First Minnesota Infantry.

He was slightly wounded at Savage Station, VA on 29 June 1862 by an artillery round which broke a vial of oil in his pocket and imbedded glass in his groin, and was slightly injured - burned by gunpowder in the face and right eye - at Vienna, VA on 2 September 1862.

On the Campaign

He was in action at Antietam on 17 September 1862, was slightly wounded in the right wrist, and was promoted Corporal that day. He later wrote of it:

...when we were about half way up the slight rise of ground over which we were retreating [in the West Woods] the Colonel [Sully] gave the order to face and fire with the result that a solid volley from about 300 muskets poured into the following enemy caused a quite appreciable check on their oncoming.
Pressnell mistakenly concluded that the order to turn and fire was an order to stand and fight. As a result, he reloaded and fired a second round before he
discovered that the rest of the boys were several rods in my rear hastily retreating.
Sully was so impressed that he later promoted Pressnell to Corporal over the objections of Pressnell's company commander.
Had I realized that the boys turned back after they fired their volley, I would have been with them, and in the lead. So that foolish act of mine, under excitement, but misconstrued by Sully as bravery, that gave me my start in the line of promotion.

The rest of the War

He was in action on the third day at Gettysburg, PA, and was a witness to the death of Confederate General Armistead. When the First Minnesota mustered out in April 1864 Pressnell reenlisted, and he was appointed First (Orderly) Sergeant of Company A, 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Battalion on 5 May 1864. He was slightly wounded again at Deep Bottom, VA on 14 August 1864 and at Farmville on 7 April 1865. He had been commissioned 2nd Lieutenant 26 December 1864 and was promoted to First Lieutenant on 13 March. He was commissioned Captain, Company B on 24 April 1865 and served as Provost Marshal in the Army of the Tennessee at Louisville, KY from 3 May to 15 July 1865, when he and the rest of the Battalion mustered out.

After the War

He worked at newspapers in St. Paul, Northfield, and Stillwater before moving to Duluth in 1869. By 1872 he was editor of the Duluth Minnesotian and later bought and ran the paper. In 1878 he left the newspaper business and was appointed registrar in the US Land Office. By 1901, and to at least 1905, he was Deputy Clerk and US Commissioner for the Eighth Circuit Court in Duluth. He attended the 50th anniversary reunion of the First Minnesota in St. Paul in May 1911.

References & notes

Basic service from Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars.1 Details from Barden & Jorgenson2, the Official Register of the United States (1901, 1903, 1905), the St. Paul Daily Globe of 9 July 1878, Bryant's History of the Upper Mississippi Valley (1881), the Duluth Herald of 29 April 1911, and his grandson Thomas J. Larson's From Oxford to the Okavango (2003). His gravesite is on Findagrave.

Thanks to Tom Rice for the pointer to Pressnell and for his telling of the Antietam story quoted above, as well as an excellent copy of Pressnell's 1864 photograph; the original is in the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) collection, St. Paul. Tom's source was Wayne Jorgenson's Every Man Did His Duty: Pictures and Stories of the Men of the First Minnesota (2012).

Pressnell married Cora E. Parker (1853-1927) in 1870 - the first marriage ceremony in Duluth - and they had 4 children together.

More on the Web

His war reminiscences, which he delivered to Duluth Grand Army of the Republic meetings in 1908 and 1909, are among the Gale Family Library Manuscripts at the MHS [finding aid].

His "buffalo rifle" is in the gun collection of the Smith Zimmermann Museum in Madison, SD.


02/08/1843; Shipton, Oxfordshire, ENGLAND


12/10/1915; Duluth, MN; burial in Forest Hill Cemetery, Duluth, MN


1   State of Minnesota, Board of Commissioners, Minnesota in the Civil War and Indian Wars 1861-1865, 2 volumes, St. Paul: Pioneer Press Company, 1890-93, Vol. 1, pp. 47, 54  [AotW citation 21329]

2   Barden, Chuck, and Wayne D. Jorgenson, The First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment , Published 2000, first accessed 01 January 2002, <>, Source page: /#/soldier/324  [AotW citation 21330]