|Death: ||Jul. 2, 1863|
Civil War Union officer; he was born in Kentucky in 1837 and was the son of Simeon and Margaret Akers. He moved with his family to a farm at Ravenna, Dakota County, Minnesota in 1851 (located just south of Hastings). At 23 years of age, he was helping his father on the family farm. He had four brothers: Gideon (age 18), William (14), Franklin (8) and George (6).
Before the war, he was a surveyor and worked with Wilson Thing on surveying eastern Minnesota in the Hastings area and western Wisconsin near Prescott. He also worked as a river pilot. He enlisted in Company H, First Minnesota Infantry on April 29, 1861. His last name is spelled "Ackers" in company records because the clerk misspelled it when he was enrolled. He was 24 years of age and single when he enlisted.
Three of his brothers also enlisted for the Union during the Civil War:
Alfred H. Akers, a Pvt. in Co. F, Hatch's Battalion, Minn. Cavalry
Gideon Akers, a Pvt. in Co. F, Hatch's Battalion, Minn. Cavalry; promoted to Corporal.; Sgt. in Co. G, 1 Minn. Cavalry (Mounted Rangers)
Woodford Akers, Pvt. in Co. G, 1 Minn. Cavalry (Mounted Rangers; promoted to Corporal)
On July 21, 1861, James' regiment fought at the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) in Virginia. The Union was defeated in the battle, but unlike most regiments, the First Minnesota left the field in good order. By October 10, 1861, Private Akers had been promoted to 1st Sergeant. (A form that he signed on that date gives his rank as "orderly Sergeant" which is the same as 1st Sgt.) On October 21, after the Battle of Ball's Bluff in Virginia, the First Minnesota performed valuable service during withdrawal of Union troops across the Potomac River (another setback). Minnesotans manned the boats.
On May 31, 1862, the regiment participated in the Peninsula Campaign at Richmond as part of the Army of the Potomac. During the next few months, they held an important position at Fair Oaks, Virginia, fought in the Seven Days' Battle at Savage Station, fought in the Seven Days Battle at Glendale, and fought in the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, Maryland (September 17). On December 13, at Fredericksburg, Virginia, only two officers and 13 men in the First Minnesota were wounded while most regiments of the Second Corps engaged in senseless slaughter in one of the worst Union defeats of the war. Pvt. James Akers had survived it all. He camped with the regiment for the winter.
Then came the Battle of Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. On this day, the First Minnesota carried out a legendary charge that held off a disaster of immense proportions and opened the way to Union victory. The First Minnesota had marched all night to get to Gettysburg and was placed at the rear of the battlefield to rest. During Confederate General Longstreet's assault that day, the battling Union troops fell back in disarray as Longstreet's men pushed through the center of the Union line. Sixteen hundred Confederate troops pushed forward to overtake them, threatening to roll up the exposed Union lines. At the rear of the battlefield, Union General Winfield Scott Hancock quickly sized up the 262 men of the First Minnesota - the only soldiers in sight, for other Union reinforcements had not yet arrived. "My God," he exclaimed, "are these all the men we have here? What regiment is this?" "The First Minnesota," came the answer. "CHARGE THOSE LINES!" he bellowed. It was a desperate order to win time for more reinforcements to arrive.
The battle savvy First Minnesota knew it would be a suicide attack, but they fixed bayonets and plunged down the hill at top speed, charging with such intensity that they scattered the first assaulting Confederate line and slammed into the second. General Hancock knew they had to hold the Confederate troops back for 5 minutes or the battle could be lost. Reinforcements were on the way, if they could somehow hold the line for 5 minutes.
The First Minnesota gave him 15. By Plum Run Creek, they fought the enemy in bloody hand-to-hand combat, stabbing with bayonets, clubbing with rifles, firing at short range - buying enough time to bring thousands of fresh troops on to the battlefield.
On that day, the First Minnesota prevented a disaster and held the line, but the cost for any Union regiment during the entire war would never be greater. Of the 262 men who made the charge, only 47 were left standing - the highest casualty rate of the war. Every officer fell, as did five successive color bearers.
Pvt. Akers was killed in action during the assault. After learning of his son's death, Simeon Akers traveled to Gettysburg to bring his son's body home. Burial took place at Oakwood Cemetery in Hastings, Dakota County. Just a month before, his father had buried his youngest brother George, who had drowned at Hastings.
When General Hancock later spoke with Minnesota Senator Morton Wilkinson about the action of the First Minnesota at Gettysburg on July 2, he said:
I saw that in some way five minutes must be gained or we were lost. It was fortunate that I found there so grand a body of men as the First Minnesota. … The superb gallantry of those men saved our line from being broken. No soldiers on any field, in this or any other country, ever displayed grander heroism…. There is no more gallant a deed recorded in history.
Ancestry.com. (2009). U. S. Civil War Collection; Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, Civl War Soldiers 1861-1865. http://www.ancestry.com
Ancestry.com. (2009) U. S. Federal Census, Dakota County, Minnesota, 1860. http://www.ancestry.com
Carley, Kenneth. (1961, 2000). Minnesota in the Civil War - An Illustrated History, Pages 197-200.
Jorgenson, Wayne. (2009). Soldier's profile and photo, First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment web site.
Kersten, Katherine. (2008). "The last full measure of devotion" - for whom?, Think Again blog, Star Tribune, http://kerstenblog.startribune.com
National Park Service. (2009). Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System, http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/index.html
GPS (lat/lon): 44.74633, -92.88749
Created by: Cindy K. Coffin
Record added: Apr 19, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 36053392
God bless. Thank you.|
Added: Oct. 13, 2012
First Minnesota Infantry - "No more gallant a deed"|
Cindy K. Coffin
Added: Feb. 2, 2010