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Battle of Big Mound


If you've been listening in lately, you'll likely recall the hard days of travel General Henry H. Sibley and his army put in throughout the summer of 1863 as they pursued the Dakota warriors, also traveling hard, believed to have been responsible for the raids in Minnesota a year earlier. For over a month, Sibley's men struggled through the drought stricken plains, but their efforts met with little success as the US forces simply couldn't keep up with the Dakota. So, in mid-July Sibley shed his army of its excess baggage and wounded at Camp Atchison. Thus unencumbered, the General set off in pursuit of his American Indian rivals. Sibley and his lightened army made good time, only four days after leaving Atchison they caught up with the Dakota on this date in 1863.

It was shortly after noon on July 24 when Sibley was alerted by his scouts that Dakota encampments were only a few miles away to the south. One of the Dakota leaders was the Santee Inkpaduta, but more were Sisseton, with Chief Standing Bull. Sibley, not one to rush head-long into battle, decided to let the Dakota come to him and reveal their intentions. While Sibley prepared his defenses in case of an attack, he sent out messengers; hoping that the peaceful leaders among the Dakota's ranks might persuade the more belligerent to make peace. However, the talks quickly soured, as one of the Dakota warriors, thinking that the negotiation party meant to arrest him, shot and killed a member of the US party. Chaos soon erupted as both the soldiers and the Dakota panicked, fired a few volleys and retreated to their respective sides.

After the initial skirmish following the failed negotiations, the US Army quickly regrouped and worked to clear the nearby high ground of Dakota resistance. Greatly outgunning the American Indian forces, the Army made full use of its infantry, cavalry and single artillery piece and forced the Dakota south towards their encampment. Major Dakota resistance was finally ended with a devastating charge by Colonel McPhail's cavalry.

As the Dakota fled, the US cavalry stayed in hot pursuit and would have likely overrun the entire encampment. However, a communication error obliged the Army's forward forces to turn back and hook-up again with the main army group. Sibley, furious that his orders had been misunderstood and that the Dakota had escaped, was forced to wait and give his battle-weary men a chance to rest.

The Battle of Big Mound resulted in four US casualties and eighty Dakota dead or wounded. Though certainly a battlefield victory for the US Army, Sibley had failed to trap the Dakota and force them to surrender. One week later, with little prospect to reengage the Dakota forces, Sibley began the long journey back towards Minnesota.

Dakota Datebook written by Lane Sunwall


Clodfelter, Micheal. The Dakota War: The United States Army Versus the Sioux, 1862-1865: McFarland, 1998.

Snortland, J. Signe, ed. A Traveler's Companion to North Dakota State Historic Sites. Bismarck, ND: State Historical Society of North Dakota, 2002.