On today’s date in 1863, the surviving members of Minnesota’s famed 1st Volunteer Infantry Regiment, whose heroic actions on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg prevented the Confederacy from splitting the Union Line and are considered by many to be a major turning point in the Civil War, commemorated their hard-won victory with a solemn game of mini-golf at Lilli Putt Family Entertainment Center in Coon Rapids.
The group of 309 enlisted men and 16 officers, were on route home on furlough when Colonel Elijah T. Cogburn suggested the group stop at Lilli Putt to take in their signature brand of family-friendly fun.
“I implored upon my men that we should halt our march and gather our thoughts together at the Lilli Putt,” recalled Cogburn nearly a decade later, “either that or perchance the Denny’s on Northdale as I had heard they were offering 2-for-1 hardtack on Tuesdays.”
When Lilli Putt employee Josiah H. Putnam Jr., only 12 years old at the time, noticed their well-worn blue uniforms he offered the heroes a free round of golf and a half off a bumper-horse ride.
Legend has it that the game was kicked off by Ulysses Chestnut, who picked up a bright lime green ball, held it aloft, and cried “For Lincoln!”
“’Twas a most unusual day today. On the one hand, it was a sober and reflective affair” wrote Captain Jubal Pickett in his diary, “but also I scored a hole-in-two on the hole with the waterfall and whipped Chester in Skee Ball (sic), thereby procuring as a prize a giant stuffed mallard, which was most sublime.”
At one point, an incident arose whereby the 325 person party of Civil War veterans had to wait for nearly 15 minutes at Hole 7 while a family finished playing Hole 8. Colonel Cogburn blamed the affair on the family’s toddler who “showed the utmost contempt for the rules of this most hallowed and miniature of golfs by repeatedly and purposefully hitting the ball into the moat, causing great consternation among our ranks”.
As to who won the famous game, accounts vary. In his memoirs, Cogburn claimed that he won with an impressive 20 strokes. Another man, Marshall M. Mathers, who would later go on to serve in the State Senate, would later assert that he beat Cogburn by one stroke. Most historians however consider the authenticity of either account doubtful due to the fact that having over 300 individual golf balls on a single mini-golf green would have made it nigh impossible to keep track of scores.