Minnesota’s Civil War Battles: The Battle of Wood Lake

When I think about it, the research for this Gettysburg trip began in earnest when Doug Ohman an I took a road trip down to SW Minnesota. Our main goal was to visit as many U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 sites as we could in part of a day.  We saw the Birch Coulee Battle site; the memorial towers; the Schwandt Memorial; the Upper Sioux Agency site; and the battlefield of the Battle of Wood Lake.

I learned that Wood Lake is one of two Official Civil War Battle Fields located in Minnesota. The other site being Fort Ridgely, and I will talk about that on a separate post another time.  Back in September of 1862, Henry Sibley began his march from Fort Ridgely accompanied by the following: 270 Infantrymen of The Third Minnesota;  nine companies of the Sixth regiment; five companies of the Seventh; a company of the Ninth Minnesota; thirty-eight Renville Rangers; twenty-eight mounted citizen guards, and some sixteen citizen artillerists – 1,619 men in all. Their group also included Reverend Riggs, Chaplain and interpreter; and the Wahpeton leader John Otherday as a scout.

They had four days of easy marching along the government road to the Upper Sioux Agency. The image shown with this post shows the area where they stopped one night, across the field from where the monument now stands.  Sibley thought the Dakota were farther up the valley and so he didn’t have pickets (or guards) stationed very far outside of camp. In reality there were somehwhere between 700 – 1,200 Dakota only a few miles away. Their leader, Little Crow had thought about a night time attack but then changed his mind and decided to ambush the soldiers the next morning when they were spread out along the road.  By the time time dawn arrived the Dakota were already in position for the ambush. Little Crow’s plan seemed to be working out until several men from the Third Minnesota decided that they would “sneak” out of camp early and run a wagon up to the Upper Sioux Agency and take potatoes from the gardens which were about 3 miles to the North. But they didn’t take the road..they drove right over the prairie and right where the Dakota were hiding in the tall grass. The soldiers came so close that the Dakota had to jump up and start the attack. A full fledged battle then broke out with the Dakota attacking the main camp and the soldiers fought back with their artillery and Infantry.  The Dakota ended up withdrawing unpursued after about two hours of fighting.  Chief Mankato was killed by a cannon ball and fourteen other braves were also killed. Among the soldiers seven were killed and thirty-five were wounded. This battle marked the end of organized warfare by the Dakota in Minnesota.

When we went to visit the battlefield, we were the only ones there.  We walked part of the battlefield and tried to imagine where the different groups were positioned.  We stood silently and listened to the sound of the wind blowing across the prairie…you could almost picture it.  We were able to create some images and have the really great experience of actually walking the battlefield and the prairie.

Knowing some details about the site before we went there really helped to try to imagine where things took place 150 years earlier.

(history and details are paraphrased from the book: “The Dakota War of 1862 – Minnesota’s Other Civil War” by Kenneth Carley.)

See images – http://jgrammondphotography.smugmug.com

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