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April 26: The Civil War in North Dakota

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Although not yet a state during the Civil War, the region that became North Dakota had a great deal riding on the conflict. President Lincoln said the country could not exist half-slave and half-free. It would be one thing or the other.

Although far from the sites of legendary battles like Antietam and Gettysburg, Dakota Territory had its own conflicts, between native tribes and Euro-American settlers. In response to increasing hostilities, the United States pulled resources from the Civil War and send them to the frontier.

It is not widely known that there are five battlefields in North Dakota officially recognized by the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission as Civil War battlefields. They are Big Mound near Tappen, Dead Buffalo Lake near Dawson, Stoney Lake near Driscoll, Whitestone Hill near Kulm and Edgeley, and Killdeer Mountain at Killdeer. Other Civil War era sites in the state include Fort Abercrombie at Abercrombie, Fort Dilts near Bowman, and the Badlands south of Medora along the Custer Trail.

Although the Confederate surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865 is considered the end of the Civil War, sporadic fighting continued. On this date in 1865, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered the last Confederate army to General William T. Sherman.

Although these events happened far from Dakota Territory, they had an impact on the frontier. The Army now had more resources to send west. And the men sent were not raw recruits. They were seasoned and battle-tested soldiers, led by experienced officers. They were given a mission to confine tribes to reservations and put an end to tribal-settler conflict.

Just as the Civil War was traumatic to the entire country, the clashes between tribes and settlers were equally painful. The Historical Society of North Dakota maintains sites that continue to teach us about this troubling past.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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