The Civil War in the Dakota Territory

The Agency of Indian affairs was dominated by the political spoils system and by corruption of the Indian agents. As a master of the art of pragmatic politics, Lincoln used the system as he needed to hold the Union together-resulting in tragedy for our country's Indian wards. A study of the Dakotas under the Lincoln Administration will show the results of a Federal totalitarian Government gone amuck. Lincoln not only had to deal with the Civil War, but he also had to deal with the Dakota Indians. Terms of the treaty had not been kept by the Lincoln Administration and greviances dated back to the earliest times. The Indian greviances were:

Annuity goods and cash that were promised to the tribe never arrived. The winter of 1861 62 was extra hard on the Dakota due to a dry fall and little crop harvested and they were near starvation. Settlers continued to move to Minnesota, pushing the tribe further and further to the west. Most of the military in Minnesota left to assist in the War efforts leaving Minnesota settlers without protection. On August 18, 1862 fighting broke out at the Redwood Agency in lower Minnesota. Casualties are unknown, but white women and children were attacked and buildings burned. A trader at the Agency, Andrew Myrick, who was hated the most by the Dakota for refusing to give them credit for supplies and for remarking "let them [Indians] eat grass, was found with grass in his mouth.

Requests for more horses, ammuniton, and men were sent to Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, by Governor Alexander Ramsey, but the requests were refused. On September 8, Ramsey wrote to President Abraham Lincoln and told him, "It is not our war; it is a national war . . . . Answer me at once. More than 500 whites have been murdered by the Indians. Lincoln responded to Ramsey's request immediately and by September 23 the Dakota uprising had ended.

By November 5, after being tried by a military court, a total of 303 Dakota Indians were sentenced to death. General Henry Hastings Sibley had the names and the involvements of those found guilty forwarded to President Lincoln. Lincoln reviewed the list and cut it down to 39 prisoners to be executed. This outraged many of the settlers in Minnesota and on December 5 a mob from Mankato made their way towards Camp Lincoln where the prisoners were being kept. Fortunately, the mob was stopped by troops. The following day the Indians were moved to a log structure at Mankato for safekeeping.

On December 26, the 38 (one prisoner died prior to the hanging) prisoners were executed in the largest mass execution in United States history.

A battalion of Cavalry was raised in the Dakota Territory in support of the Union. The roster of the 1st Battalion, Dakota Cavalry contains the names of 231 men.

REF: civil_war_and_native_americans
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Page last modified on December 17, 2021