On this date in 1860, United States Army Lt. Colonel John J. Abercrombie established a fort at the head of navigation on the west bank of the Red River of the North, in what is now Richland County. This became the first military post to be built in what was eventually to become North Dakota.
Usually when we picture in our minds a frontier fort, we envision an orderly group of buildings surrounded by a wooden stockade with elevated guard towers at the stockade corners. Unfortunately for the seventy-eight men of Company D, 5th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, this was not the case.
In 1862, an Indian Uprising in Minnesota was beginning to spread west into the area that Fort Abercrombie was charged with protecting. Instead of a stockade enclosed fort, Fort Abercrombie consisted of a drab looking collection of scattered wood and straw buildings.
Captain Vander Horck, commander of the fort, upon hearing of the uprising, immediately took action. He ordered thirty men stationed at Georgetown to come to Fort Abercrombie immediately. The Captain also ordered local settlers to the fort.
As expected, the first assault on the fort occurred at daybreak on September 3rd. A body of Indians attempted to assault the stables on the south front. After several hours of fighting, they were repulsed.
Three days later, another daybreak attack occurred. This time the howitzer cannons were used against the larger assemblies of Indians. It is unknown how many Indians were lost.
On September 23rd, three companies of reinforcements arrived from Fort Snelling in Minnesota to help relieve the beleaguered garrison. Despite the arrival of more troops, the Indians continued their siege. On the night of September 29th, the Indians attacked a horse-watering detail, wounding a teamster. Shells from the fort dispersed the attackers and this ended the nearly six-week long siege.
For several years afterward, Fort Abercrombie continued to play an important role the history of the Red River Valley. Eventually however, with the arrival of new settlers it outgrew its usefulness. Like many other military posts on the frontier, it was eventually abandoned in 1877.
Falling into disrepair, Fort Abercrombie, thanks to the Works Progress Administration, was reconstructed in the 1930’s, and is now a vibrant state park. Its fort and museum continue to give us insight into that part of our state’s history, which all began on this date in 1860.
Roehrick, Kaye L., Editor, “Brevet’s North Dakota Historical Markers and Sites”, Brevet Press, Inc., Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 1975. pg. 23-26.
http://www.nd.gov/hist/abercrombie/abercrombie2.html, Fort Abercrombie, State Historical Society of North Dakota, 612 East Boulevard, Avenue, Bismarck, ND 58505
Written by Dave Seifert