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The life of Civil War sharpshooter Halvor Halvorson Quie

Following the war Quie and other local Norwegian Americans sought to establish a Christian secondary school and founded St. Olaf’s School in 1874.

Halvor H. Quie, ca. 1910
St. Olaf College Archives
Halvor H. Quie, ca. 1910
Halvor Quie (originally spelled Kvi) was born on Aug. 11, 1834, in Flå, Buskerud, Norway. In 1845, at age 11, his family sold its small farm and immigrated to the United States, joining other Norwegian settler-colonists at the Muskego settlement near Milwaukee. As a farmhand, Quie hired himself out to neighboring New England transplants, learning to speak their tongue and, in due time, to read it.

By 1855, the Quies migrated to Wheeling Township, Rice County, Minnesota, acquiring 160 acres on three adjoining homesteads. With his English fluency, Quie served as an interpreter for fellow Norwegians in their newly established community. To further his formal education, Quie enrolled in the Hamline Institute (later Hamline University), then located in Red Wing.

Quie’s tenure at Hamline was short lived. When he had studied there for less than a term, his father demanded that he return to the farm to assist with the fall harvest. Back at home and somewhat dejected from leaving school, Quie immersed himself in reading, particularly Harriet Beecher’s Stowe’s national bestseller “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (1852). The anti-slavery novel moved him and proved to be “an epiphany moment” in his life, according to his grandson, Al Quie (Minnesota’s 35th governor). Afterward, young Quie viewed himself as an abolitionist and fully supported President Abraham Lincoln’s call to end slavery. When he spotted a recruiting advertisement placed by Captain William Russell in the Dec 25, 18.61, issue of the Northfield Telegraph, Quie answered the call.

The 27-year-old Quie recruited his relatives and neighbors to enlist with him. His cousins Truls (30) and Fingal (19) Fingalson, nephew Jens T. Dahle (22), and friends Arthur A. Flom (22), Christopher Hanson (25), and Andrew Lockrem (25) were mustered in between Jan. 20 and 22, 1862, at $13 per month. Their basic training took place at Fort Snelling. On May 3, 1862 they departed by train for Washington, D.C. as “Company L” of the First Regiment of United States Sharpshooters.

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Between the months of June and mid-September 1862, Quie engaged in 11 battles and skirmishes, including the Battle of Hanover Court House, the Battle of Fair Oaks, and the Siege of Richmond. At the Battle of Malvern Hill, Quie suffered sunstroke and narrowly avoided being captured.

In his last encounter with the Confederacy, at the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862 he was shot in the left heel. According to a published family history, “due to unsanitary conditions in the overcrowded wards, gangrene set in” once the bullet was removed. Doctors recommended amputation, but Quie flatly refused to comply. With patience, his foot healed over time. On Jan. 8, 1863, Quie, on crutches, mustered out and returned to Minnesota.

Unable to work his farm as a result of his wound, Quie was hired in the fall by the local school board to teach a term in District Number 43. The following spring, Quie, who no longer needed crutches, returned to farming. On Dec. 13, 1864, he married neighbor Anne Finseth. Together they had seven children.

By October 1874, Quie, the Rev. Bernt J. Muus, and other local Norwegian Americans sought to establish a Christian secondary school with the prospect of it becoming a college one day. St. Olaf’s School, founded on Nov. 6, 1874 opened in Northfield on Jan. 8, 1875, with 37 students enrolled. In the years to come, Quie’s continued financial contributions helped develop St. Olaf College (as it became known in 1889) into a growing and respected institution. He also served on the college’s Board of Trustees from 1896 to 1903.

Late in life, Quie’s eyesight and hearing failed, so he retired from farming. Wishing to be released from worldly cares and possessions, Quie divided his property among his children, save only his military pension. He died on Sept. 14, 1919, and was buried three days later at Valley Grove Lutheran Church in Nerstrand, Minnesota. Draped over his wood coffin was the American flag.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.