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1862 Sioux War


There were few men from Northern Dakota Territory who saw service in the Union and Confederate battles of the Civil War but the years from 1862 to 1864 constituted a significant military presence on the plains of Dakota. On the 18th of August, 1862 hostilities broke out at the Upper Sioux Agency on the Yellow Medicine River in Minnesota. The uprising gained momentum and the resultant carnage quickly spread throughout central Minnesota. By August 23rd , news of the events had reached as far west as Fort Abercrombie at which time preparations were made to defend the post and bring in outlying settlers and traders. A large body of Indians attacked the post on August 30th and for the next month Fort Abercrombie lay under siege.

Immediately after the Sioux War began, Major General John Pope assumed command of the Northwest Military Division and, as the reports came in from the various regions, he issued an order to Col. Henry H. Sibley that would set the tone for the campaigns of 1863 and 1864 and last for decades beyond. In his order to Sibley on September 28, 1862 he stated, "No treaty must be made with the Sioux...The horrible massacres of women and children and the outrageous abuse of female prisoners still alive, call for punishment beyond human power to inflict..... It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux if I have the power to do so and even if it requires a campaign lasting the whole of next year.... They are to be treated as maniacs or wild beasts, and by no means as people with whom treaties or compromises can be made."

Sibley had never served in the military and had been granted a commission on August 20, 1862 by Governor Alexander Ramsey. He was cautious and efficient in commanding the forces during the month of September and by early October was in control of the situation. On September 28,1862 , Col H. H. Sibley was appointed Brigadier General in command of the volunteers. Unlike Pope, Sibley was more tempered in his treatment of those responsible for the outbreak.

The siege at Fort Abercrombie ended on the 26th of September and the following year the post would come in to play in the expedition to the Missouri River led by Brig Gen Sibley. On this date in 1862, at 10:45 p.m., Major General John Pope penned a message to Major General H. W. Halleck stating, "The Sioux war may be considered at an end."

While the major conflict of 1862 may have been subdued, the smoldering embers of the conflict of 1862, with bitterness on both sides, white and Indian, would be rekindled in such events as the Battle of the Little Big Horn and culminate in the Battle of Wounded Knee almost thirty years later.

By Jim Davis


Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, Pioneer Press 1891

North Dakota History Journal of the Northern Plains, Volume 44, #3, 1977.