Minnesota in the Civil War

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Minnesota in the American Civil War

Minnesota and the Civil War (1861-1865)

Minnesota (1861-1865)

The history of Minnesota in relation to the war is in many
ways interesting, and in every way creditable. It was the
first state to tender troops for putting down the rebellion.
Gov. Ramsey was in Washington the day of Sumter's fall.
The next morning he went to Sec. of War Cameron and tendered
1,000 men for the defense of the government. The tender
was accepted and the following day the call for 75,000 troops
was made. Gov. Ramsey telegraphed Lieut.-Gov. Ignatius
Donnelly of the offer and its acceptance. In the evening,
at a meeting in the armory at St. Paul, several signed a paper
agreeing to enlist, Josias R. King being the first to put down
his name and therefore claimed to have been the first to volunteer
for the Civil war. He was afterwards commissioned captain
of Company G, 1st Minn, infantry.
Minnesota furnished the first three years regiment that
reached the seat of hostilities. The 1st Minn, lost the great-
est number of men at Gettysburg, in proportion to the number
engaged, of any regiment in any single battle fought during
the war. With 262 officers and men engaged, this regiment
lost 50 killed and 174 wounded, a total of 224, leaving but
38 capable of duty. Of the wounded 25 died of their injuries,
making over 28 percent. of those engaged, a percentage unequalled
in military statistics, if massacres, where all or nearly all lose
their lives, be excepted.
With a population in 1860 of but 172,023, Minnesota's offer-
ing was 26,717, including citizen soldiery during the Indian
war, and after deducting reenlistments her contribution com-
pared favorably with the number furnished by any state in
the Union, being 22,970 net. Intense patriotism was felt,
with none of the disaffection so prevalent in some states being
There were a few within the state whose sympathies were
with the South, but they made no trouble. Maj. Pemberton,
who was in command at Fort Ridgely in 1861, was ordered to
Washington for field service, but en route resigned his com-
mission, took up arms for the South and surrendered Vicksburg
to Grant.
The work of recruiting was carried on under great disad-
vantages at times, the population being largely agricultural,
financial resources weak, communities poor, and a most dis-
tressing Indian outbreak to contend with
The history of war times in this young commonwealth is
so inextricably interwoven with the Indian massacres of 1862-63,
that the latter must naturally become a part of it. Coming
at a time so trying, the state was compelled to put forth her
greatest efforts to protect her citizens and perform her part
in the affairs of the times. Fortunately Gov. Alexander Ramsey
was a man of great capacity, closely connected with public
men who ably assisted him, and he kept a firm hand at the
helm of state. With such men as Ignatius Donnelly, then
lieutenant-governor, Charles E. Flandrau, Ex-Gov. Henry H.
Sibley, Col. John B. Sanborn (adjutant-general), and others
equally capable, he met every emergency promptly and efficiently.
The call for 75,000 men was made April 15, 1861. As noted
above Gov. Ramsey had tendered 1,000 men the day before,
the tender had been accepted, and several had enlisted on the
evening of the 14th. The call did not include Minnesota,
but having been authorized to muster a regiment, the gov-
ernor pushed the work rapidly. A proclamation was issued
by Lieut.-Gov. Donnelly on the 16th. Adjt.-Gen. William
H. Acker resigned, and Col. John B. Sanborn was appointed
in his place on the 24th. The regiment was in readiness for
action on the 30th.
The call had met with ready response; public meetings were
addressed by men of all shades of political opinion; Fort Snell-
ing, which had been in disuse for several years, was renovated;
and the Stars and Stripes were run up on the 29th. The men
of the regiment were fine specimens of physical manhood and
of good education and ability in most cases. On May 4, two
companies were ordered to Fort Ripley, two to Fort Ridgely
and two to Fort Abercrombie, to relieve the regulars stationed
there. This was not the service contemplated and served
to dampen the ardor of the regiment. But to their credit
be it said, they accepted the work assigned them gracefully
and performed well their part. On May 7 the regiment was
mustered in for three years, the senior three years regiment
in the service. It was presented by the ladies of St. Paul
with a state flag, which was carried through the war. On
May 29 the ladies of Winona presented the regimental flag,
which came back after the battle of Bull Run torn with bullets
and shells. On June 14 came the longed-for word to go to the
front and on the 22nd the regiment left to make for itself a
record of which the state became justly proud.
Gov. Ramsey telegraphed the president on May 3, tender-
ing a second regiment and proceeded to Washington to ascer-
tain what could be expected in the way of equipment. The
only arms in the state were a miscellaneous lot of Springfields,
Mississippi rifles with sword bayonets, and a few each of several
patterns at the state arsenal. These had been used for drill-
ing the 1st regiment, and those having the Springfield rifles
were allowed to keep them, the others having been supplied
with the 69-caliber musket.
A telegram from the governor on May 10 suggested that
all enlistments were desired for three years. The same day
he requested the war department to send 1,000 stands of arms
to the state at once. On May 23 he made a second tender of
another regiment and also tendered a company of cavalry.
On June 14 he received the desired order for forming the 2nd
regiment and this was organized by companies which replaced
those of the 1st on garrison duty during June. The last com-
pany was organized in August, the detached companies came
together in September, and the regiment left for Washington
Oct. 14.
Considerable trouble was experienced with the question of
clothing and general equipment, but by persistence it was
secured from the government. Owing to unfortunate enact-
ments just previous to the war, the state found itself burdened
with a railroad debt of $2,000,000 and its credit was seriously
impaired, so that the general government was forced to pro-
vide for the care of these troops, though itself harassed for
funds. The state arsenal contained some supplies and these
were dealt out as long as any remained. Considerable com-
plaint came from the individual members of the 1st with refer-
ence to their condition but this was speedily hushed by the
appearance of full supplies of clothing and the regular army
Minnesota's part in the battle of Bull Run and at Ball's
bluff had attracted the attention of Gen. H. S. Sanford, who
had been a pioneer tourist in Minnesota, and who at that time
was this country's minister to Brussels. He purchased a battery
of 3 rifled 6-pounder cannon with suitable ammunition, and
in the early summer of 1862 presented them to the 1st regiment
as a "tribute to patriotism and valor," a gift which was appre-
ciated beyond expression.
On Oct. 13, Governor Ramsey announced that the state had
furnished more than the quota, but expressed the hope that
she would "continue to offer to the nation company after com-
pany of the best and bravest of her sons," and on the 23d he
was authorized by the war department to organize the 5th
regiment, which was accomplished during the fall and win-
At the close of the year 1861 the state had furnished 4,400
men in its own regiments and companies, as well as several
hundred who had joined the regiments of other states. Her
quota was 4,180. The aggregate amount of all expenditures,
not including items of transportation and clerk hire during the
year, was $108,621.91, of which $74,982.21 was paid or adjusted.
Of the remainder, the amount of claims for goods purchased
upon credit of the general government and not adjusted was
$23,733.89, leaving the state's indebtedness to the amount of
$9,875.89. Adjt.-Gen. John B. Sanborn, having accepted the
appointment of colonel of the 4th regiment, resigned his office
and he was succeeded by Col. Oscar Malmros.
Word was received from the war department on May 21,
requesting another regiment, and the call was at once issued
for the organization of the 6th. On July 8 another regi-
ment was called for and the 7th was quickly organized. In
Jime came the first intimation of possible trouble with the
Indians and a small detachment of troops was sent to the Indian
agent at Yellow Medicine agency to remain during the dis-
tribution of the annuity and goods. This was followed in August
by news of the uprising and massacre. In 1862 several tribes
of Indians roamed over the Minnesota prairies, the wildest
and most savage being the Sioux. Of this tribe there were
four bands — two known as the Upper and two as the Lower
Sioux. They were thus designated for the reason that at
the treaty with the tribe in 1851, a reservation was established,
consisting of a strip of land 10 miles wide, on each side of the
Minnesota river, beginning at a point a few miles below Fort
Ridgely and extending to the head waters of the river. The
reservation of the lower bands extended up to the Yellow
Medicine river, that of the upper bands including all above
that river. Agencies were established at Redwood for the
lower, and at Yellow Medicine for the upper bands. The Indians
subsisted largely upon the results of the chase visiting the
agency only when their annuity was due. Frequently these
payments were delayed, compelling the Indians to go into
debt with the traders. This, together with the realization
that they had given up a valuable territory to the white man,
who was rapidly settling it and crowding them back, aroused
bitter feelings which only required for them an excuse to take
up arms.
Payments in 1862 were delayed as usual. The Indians
had learned that the whites of the nation were at war with
each other and they had been informed that thousands of men
were leaving the state. A company of half-breeds had been
raised at the agency and sent with the white soldiers, and this
was a sign of weakness in the eyes of the Indian, who argued
that the government could not defeat its enemies without the
assistance of the red man. The Sioux was a war-like race
and some of their chiefs were ambitious. In early July the
Indians had gathered at the upper agency to receive their
annuity and goods, but the money did not arrive, and after
waiting until Aug. 7, Agent Galbraith made a proposition to
issue the annuity goods at once, the Indians to return to their
homes and remain until advised of the arrival of the money.
To this they agreed, but with bad grace. They had previously
made threatening demonstrations, being restrained from whole-
sale plunder only by the presence of Lieuts. Sheehan and Gere
with 100 men of Cos. B and C of the 5th regiment, who stood
in the midst of nearly 800 yelling red men on the 4th, with two
howitzers trained on the angry savages.
They were still angry when on the 17th a small party of Indians,
in a controversy with a white man at Acton, killed him and
three women. Returning to the agency they told what they
had done and urged that the only way out of the trouble was
to kill all the whites. A minority fought against it, but were
voted down and fled from the camp, later surrendering to the
troops. The following morning the massacre commenced.
The whites at the agencies were killed, after which small bands
attacked each house, killed the inmates, and continued their
work until the following day, when they had murdered 1,000
men, women and children, and captured a large number of
young women for their own purposes.
The first news of the outbreak reached Fort Ridgely on the
morning of the 18th, a number who had escaped from the Indi-
ans flocking there for protection. Capt. Marsh in command,
promptly despatched a messenger to Lieut. Sheehan, who
with his command was on his way to Fort Ripley from the
Yellow Medicine agency, where he had been during July. With
45 men he started for the Lower agency, 13 miles distant.
Capt. Marsh's party was caught in an ambuscade at the river
some 10 miles distant and all but 15 were murdered. Marsh
was drowned while attempting to escape.
Maj. Thomas Galbraith, agent for the Sioux, had left for
Fort Snelling with a company of enlisted men called the Ren-
ville Rangers. Reaching St. Peter on the evening of the
18th, he learned of the massacre and immediately retraced his
steps, his company, 50 in number, reaching Fort Ridgely on
the 19th.
Lieut. Sheehan was overtaken near Glencoe by the messenger
from Fort Ridgely, and with his command made a forced return
march, covering the 42 miles in less than 10 hours.
Lieut. Gere with 40 men had been left to garrison the fort
when Capt. Marsh set out for the agency. The numbers had been
increased by citizens and the arrival of the Sheehan and Gal-
braith forces gave the fort about 175 men capable of defense.
On receipt of the news at St. Peter, Judge Charles E. Flandrau
organized a party of 116 men and started for New Ulm, being
joined by a large number from Le Sueur under Capt. Townsley,
and he reached there on the 19th, just in time to aid in repel-
ling an attack after several citizens had been killed and a half
dozen houses burned. A squad from Swan Lake under Samuel
Coffin had reached there just ahead of the Flandrau party.
On the 20th a full company commanded by Capt. William
Bierbaur arrived from Mankato, another company from South
Bend reached there the following day, and numerous squads
of citizens arrived during the week. Judge Flandrau was
placed in command, a provost guard established, and barricades
thrown up.

In the meantime there had been serious trouble at Fort
Ridgely. It had been attacked by a large body of Indians
on the 20th, but was bravely defended. Two attacks were
made on the 21st and on the 22nd a force of almost 500
attacked the fort, determined to carry it at all hazards. But the
determined work of the infantry and the splendid handling of the
six 12 and 20-pounder cannon, under the direction of Sergt.
Jones, forced the assaulting party to retire with heavy loss.
They endeavored repeatedly to rush the fort, but each time
received shells from the big guns that scattered their forces
in every direction. Defeated in every attempt, the Indians
started for New Ulm, which was reached the following day.
On the morning of the 23d they attacked New Ulm with
a force of 650 well armed fighting men, drove in the line of
defenders, surrounded the place, and set fire to both sides
of the street in the lower part of the town. A squad of 50
men charged and drove the Indians out beyond the houses.
The defending force had been weakened to about 200. A
company of 75 which had been sent to guard the ferry was cut
off and forced to retreat towards St. Peter. On the way they
met reinforcements under Capt. Cox and returned, but were
too late to render assistance. The South Bend company had
returned home to protect their families and a wagon load had
gone down the river. The fighting continued all day and all
night and in a desultory manner during the forenoon of the
24th. About noon Capt. Cox with 50 men, and Lieut. Huey
with part of his detachment, arrived and the Indians disappeared.
The following day the entire party at New Ulm, 1,500 in number,
proceeded to Mankato.
The news of the outbreak reached Gov. Ramsey on the 19th.
He at once placed ex-Gov. Henry H. Sibley in command of
such forces as could be put into the field and gave him the rank
of colonel. Sibley, with four companies of the 6th regiment,
started on the 20th, accompanied by Lieut. -Col. William Crooks
of the 7th regiment, then forming. Col. A. D. Nelson of the
regular army, who had been appointed colonel of the 6th,
on learning that he was to report to Col. Sibley, made the objec-
tion that being of the regular army he could not report to an
officer of state militia of the same rank and resigned his com-
mand to Crooks, who was then appointed colonel of the 6th.
On the 24th Sibley's force was augmented by 200 mounted
men commanded by William J. Cullen, the remaining six com-
panies of the 6th, 100 mounted citizens and a number on foot,
his force thus numbering about 1,400. But they were poorly
armed and equipped, though brave and commanded by good
officers. Capt. Cox and a detachment was sent to New Ulm,
as already noted. The mounted men were placed under the
command of Col. Samuel McPhaill and the entire party started
for Fort Ridgely, McPhaill's command reaching there on the
27th. Fully half of Cullen's party returned home when they
found the fort was safe, but the remainder under Capt. Ander-
son remained. Sibley and the militia reached the fort on the
morning of the 28th. Soon after 47 men under Capt. Sterritt
joined them and on Sept. 1, Lieut. -Col. William R. Marshall
and a part of the 7th regiment arrived.
On Aug. 31, Sibley detailed Capt. Grant's company of infan-
try, 70 men of the Cullen guard under Capt. Anderson, and a
few others, 150 in all, under Maj. Joseph R. Brown, as a burial
and reconnoitering party. They buried many of the murdered
settlers during the two days and not having seen any Indians,
camped at Birch Coolie on the night of Sept. 1, without refer-
ence to its position as a point of defense. The Indians who
had been defeated at New Ulm had gone toward the Upper
agency, where they concentrated a large force and made arrange-
ments to divide and attack St. Peter and Mankato simultane-
ously. En route they discovered Brown's party at Birch
Coolie, surrounded the Coolie camp and attacked early on the
morning of the 2nd, sending a shower of bullets from all sides
and yelling like demons. For two days, with little to eat or
drink, their horses all killed but one, 23 men killed and 45
severely wounded, many injured slightly, the little band held,
off 400 Indians.
The firing was heard at the fort on Wednesday morning and
Sibley sent Col. McPhaill forward with 50 mounted men, Maj.
McLaren with 105 infantry, and Capt. Mark Hendricks with
a mountain howitzer. The party was attacked within 3 miles
of Birch Coolie and held back. Lieut. Sheehan, at the risk of
his life, carried a message to the fort. Sibley's entire command
was put in motion, joined McPhaill after dark and drove the
Indians from the field at daylight. Terrible as was this experi-
ence, it undoubtedly saved St. Peter and Mankato, both being
Everywhere preparations for defense were being made,
Co. B, of the 9th regiment, was sent to Forest City to reinforce
a local company of 53 men which had been hastily organized.
A fortification of saw-logs was constructed at Glencoe and
occupied by a company of volunteers, who were reinforced by
Cos. F and H of the 9th and also independent companies from
Hennepin and Goodhue counties. Numerous reconnaissances
were made from this point, refugees rescued, several skirmishes
had with the Indians, and as a result of the operations much
property and many lives saved.
Judge Flandrau received a commission from Gov. Ramsey
on Aug. 29, authorizing him to take command of the Blue
Earth country, from New Ulm to the Iowa line and west. He
located headquarters at South Bend, raised troops in addition
to those sent him from the regiments, and stationed detach-
ments at South Bend, Crisp's farm, Garden City, Chain lakes
and at various points along the Blue Earth river, as well as
at the Winnebago agency, covering a line of frontier of about
100 miles and holding hostile Indians from anything but small
skirmishes, except at Madelia, where a small body of Sioux
attacked but were repulsed. In September the government
ordered Maj. John Pope into the state to take charge of the
Indian warfare. Five companies of the 25th Wis. infantry,
and 500 cavalry from Iowa were also ordered to the scene of
operations, thus relieving the citizens of much of their arduous
In the meantime Col. Sibley was negotiating with Little
Crow, the leader of the Indians, for the surrender of captives
at the Indian camp, and in the hope of bringing about a cessa-
tion of hostilities. On Sept. 12, a council was held by the
Indians. Some favored continuing the war, others were in
favor of surrendering the prisoners and seeking peace. No
conclusion was reached and on the 18th, Sibley determined
to move against them. His force proceeded up the river with-
out being opposed until the morning of the 23d, when it was
attacked by a large force near Wood Lake. The Indians,
though concealed in favorable locations in the ravines, were
completely routed and demoralized in this battle.
In the meantime the little garrison at Fort Abercrombie
had endured its share of trouble. Attacks had been made on
Sept. 3, some property destroyed and a number of horses cap-
tured, and on the 6th, a second attack was made, which lasted
all day, but was finally repulsed. Several men were killed
in the two engagements. But one company from the 5th Minn,
under Capt. Vander Horck, had been sent to this point, and a
detachment from it had been sent to Georgetown, 50 miles
distant. This was called in on the fresh news of trouble. An
expedition consisting of several government commissioners,
accompanied by a train of 30 loaded wagons and a herd of 200
cattle, on the way to make a treaty with the Chippewa Indians,
sought the protection of the fort. Settlements were notified
and the people gathered in. A relief party of about 400 from
the 3d and 5th regiments reached Abercrombie on Sept. 23.
An attack upon a company at the river on the 26th proved
disastrous to the Indians and they were subsequently routed
in a skirmish, which brought the siege to an end.
At the conclusion of the battle at Wood Like, Sibley estab-
lished Camp Release, at a point in the vicinity of an Indian
camp of 150 tepees, composed of Upper and Lower Sioux,
who had been engaged in all the massacres since the outbreak.
The Indians held 250 prisoners. About Sept. 26, the Indians
surrendered their entire camp, including the prisoners. Inquiry
was at once instituted as to the participation of these Indians
in the massacre and the terrible outrages attending, and an
order for a court-martial was issued on the 28th. From this
time until Nov. 5, the court held sittings at Camp Release,
the Lower agency, Mankato, and finally at Fort Snelling. It
arraigned and tried 425 Indians and half-breeds, found 321
guilty, sentenced 303 to death and the remainder to imprison-
ment under heavy guard.
In the meantime all sorts of stories were afloat in the east,
and the outcry raised that Minnesota was about to enter into
a wholesale massacre of Indians. The high standing of those
composing the court makes such a charge seem uncalled for
at this date, but at the time there was little known of the people
of the frontier by the general eastern public. President Lincoln
was besieged by well meaning people to put a stop to the execu-
tions. The petitioners forgot the 1,000 men, women and children,
who were butchered in cold blood, their bodies horribly mutilated,
young women and girls brutally outraged and held for further
ill treatment, the burned and ruined homes, and so tremendous
was the pressure that finally the president commuted the
sentences of all but 39 to imprisonment, subsequently pardon-
ing 1 of these.
On Dec. 26, 1862, the 38 condemned Indians were hanged
on one gallows, nearly square in form, with a drop platform
extending around its four sides, the platform being suspended
by ropes brought together in the center of the frame and united
with a single rope. Each side was arranged for ten men, the
cutting of the single rope released the entire platform, and
dropped everyone of the condemned men at the same moment.
They marched to the places assigned them without apparent
fear, with the sound of the death song, chanted by their surviv-
ing brethren, the last to fall upon their ears. The remainder
were taken to Davenport, la., and confined for a time, but
were later sent west of the Missouri, to continue their depre-
This practically terminated the Indian war in Minnesota,
although during 1863-64 expeditions were made from within
its borders to various points in Dakota in a determined effort
to put a quietus on the threats of further massacre. The leader
of the Sioux, Little Crow, had escaped capture, but on July
3, 1863, he ventured near Hutchinson and was recognized by
a farmer named Lampson, who shot him. His scalp is in the
possession of the Historical society.
This war is entitled to rank with any in the history of Indian
warfare since America was settled. The number of Indians
engaged, their fighting qualities, the number of settlers killed,
the value of property destroyed, and the savagery shown,
are not surpassed in importance by any Indian war recorded.
Gov. Ramsey's term of office expired with the close of 1863,
and he retired only to receive promotion into the United States
senate and later to become a cabinet officer. In every position
he showed singular ability, and when he retired to private
life it was with honors full upon him, returning to his adopted
state of Minnesota, to pass his days among those with whom
he had associated during most of his maturer years, and where
he passed away in the summer of 1903, still the foremost figure
in the commonwealth.
Minnesota's new governor, Stephen Miller, had but just re-
turned from the battle-field, having gone out as lieutenant-
colonel of the 1st regiment and fought his way up until he became
a brigadier-general in Oct. 1863. Gov. Miller took up the work
of his office with vigor and with full knowledge of conditions
in the ranks gained through personal contact. Much was
done to alleviate the condition of the soldiers, both in the field
and in the hospitals. The general government did not find
it expedient to establish a general hospital within the state,
but Fort Snelling was made comfortable for many who were
furloughed home, and the hospital at Prairie du Chien, Wis.,
gave shelter to many a sick Minnesotan, giving him a breath
of air to which he had been accustomed and hastening his
No regiments were organized during 1863, except that those
that commenced organizing in the fall of 1862 completed fill-
ing their ranks. The regiments longer in service were strength-
ened by recruiting. The draft was also mildly applied, very
little trouble resulting. Several of the regiments were repre-
sented in the Indian campaigns and being in the climate to
which they were accustomed, the men enjoyed general good
The year 1864 was largely a duplicate of 1863. The 11nth
regiment was organized during the year and recruiting con-
tinued. In addition to the regimental and battalion organiza-
tions, there were many independent companies and squads
organized, with their own leaders, that cooperated with the
government in the suppression of the Indians. These did
not come within the term "enlisted," but they rendered most
effective service and were given full credit in the adjutant-
general's reports and roster, so far as it was possible.
Much sickness prevailed in the regiments stationed in Arkansas,
and the state was forced to take action for relieving the suffer-
ing. The government's medical service seemed inefficient or
lacking in supplies, and Gov. Miller forwarded medicine and
such medical service as could be supplied. Pressure was brought
to bear and finally the regiments suffering the most were moved
to more healthful points. The 3d, especially, had from 200
to 300 on the sick list daily, and few of those not reported were
able to perform anything in the nature of heavy duties, being
unable at one time to properly bury their own dead. This
regiment was moved to Devall's Bluff, supplied with vegetables,
and finally recovered in time to perform good service before
its muster out. (See Record of the Regiments.)
In the meantime, despite the serious frontier troubles, the
state had made material gain in population. Her broad prairies
were being rapidly peopled as the fear of the red man subsided,
and with the return of thousands from the war the state advanced
rapidly in development and growth.
While sorely tried, groaning under a burden of debt which
forbade loans for war purposes, Minnesota willingly furnished
more than her quota of men, joined in every movement for
the relief of the sick and suffering soldiers at home and abroad
and provided in many ways for the betterment of conditions
for her invalid soldiers.
Every regiment was provided with two surgeons on leaving
the state and in time of exigency others were sent temporarily
to such points as seemed to need their services.

See also
The Union Army, vol. 4.


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