President Abraham Lincoln’s Involvement in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862

President Abraham Lincoln
President Abraham Lincoln
Governor Alexander Ramsey
Governor Alexander Ramsey
Edwin Stanton
Edwin Stanton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On August 21, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln learned about the start four days earlier of the U.S.-Dakota War in southern Minnesota. This was the news in a telegram from Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey to U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. It said, “The Sioux [Dakota] Indians on our western border have risen, and are murdering men, women, and children.” [1]

Another telegram came from Governor Ramsey four days later (August 25th). He said the War was worsening, and the “panic among the people has depopulated whole counties.” As a result, Ramsey requested an extension of the deadline for a U.S. draft of an additional 5,360 men for the Civil War.

This was not good news for Lincoln and his Administration. The Civil War was not going well for the North, which desperately needed more troops. Indeed, earlier that month the President had ordered the call up of 300,000 additional men. Although Minnesota’s quota of 5,360 was not large, such an extension could set a dangerous precedent for other states and thus the Union Army. In addition, the Administration needed the troops because of fear that the Confederate states were attempting to enlist Indians in the northwest as allies.

Therefore, Secretary Stanton denied Ramsey’s request, prompting the latter’s August 27th direct request to Lincoln for a month’s extension to cope with half of the state’s population being “refugees.” This time Lincoln responded the same day to Ramsey. Lincoln’s telegram said, “Attend to the Indians. If the draft can not proceed, of course, it will not proceed. Necessity knows no law. The government cannot extend the time.” (Emphases in original.) In other words, a de facto extension was granted.

General John Pope
General John Pope

In addition, on September 5th the Administration granted another Ramsey request, this one to create a new military Department of the Northwest. Its commander appointed that day by Lincoln was General John Pope, who had just suffered defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run (Second Manassas) and whom Lincoln wanted out of the Civil War.

Pope arrived in Minnesota on September 16th and immediately wired his superior in Washington, D.C. that there would be a loss of half the population of Minnesota and Wisconsin and “a general Indian war all along the frontier, unless immediate steps are taken to put a stop to it.”

Colonel Henry H. Sibley
Colonel Henry H. Sibley

Therefore, General Pope ordered Colonel Henry Hastings Sibley to destroy Indian farms and food. Pope said, “It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux [Dakota] 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.” (Emphasis added.)[2]

By the end of September, however, the U.S.-Dakota war was over with the surrender of many Dakota to the U.S. Army and the escape of the other Indians to the west. Military commissions were then established to try the captured Dakota men. These commission proceedings and President Lincoln’s review of its judgments will be subjects of future posts.

Another important issue was weighing on President Lincoln at this time was preparing the Emancipation Proclamation and deciding when to release it.

He did so in a preliminary version on September 22nd that declared he would order the emancipation of all slaves in any state of the Confederate States of America which had not returned to Union control by January 1, 1863. None returned.

Emancipation Proclamation
Emancipation Proclamation

Thus, the actual Proclamation, which was issued on January 1, 1863, proclaimed all those enslaved in Confederate territory to be forever free, and ordered the U.S. Army (and all segments of the Executive branch) to treat as free all those enslaved in that territory.


[1]  A prior post contained a brief account of the War. This post is based upon Chapter VII “Rebellion in Minnesota: ‘A Most Terrible and Exciting Indian War,'” in David A. Nichols, Lincoln and the Indians: Civil War Policy and Politics (Minn. Historical Soc’y Press; 1978, 2000, 2012). This enjoyable book is regarded as the definitive study of President Lincoln’s policies and actions regarding Native Americans, and a future post will rely upon its discussion of President Lincoln’s review of the U.S. military commission’s convictions and sentences of Dakota men after the War.

[2] General Pope’s statement along with a similar statement at the time by Governor Ramsey raise interesting legal issues that will be discussed in another post.

The U.S.-Dakota War Remembered by Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (Part III)

Westminster Presbyterian Church

Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church‘s October 7, 2012, worship service remembered the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. This post reviews the last of the three parts of that service–Responding to the Word.[1]

We first sang a Hymn that was new to me, “You know the Way” in the Dakota language. The words originally in German by martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer were translated into the English language in the bulletin: “God, gather and turn my thoughts to you. With you there is light. You do not forget me. With you there is help and patience. I do not understand your ways, but you know the way for me.”

Jon Romer

For the Offertory a traditional Ojibwe song, “Gegiwabimin mino waa” or “I will see you again another day” was played on the Native American flute by Jon Romer. Emphasizing there is no word or phrase for a final goodbye in their language, the song is sung by the Ojibwe women as the men leave the village to hunt with the expectation that the men will return and everyone will sit down to feast together. For us it says that when we leave this world, there is no final goodbye. We will one day all sit and feast together once again.

Rev. Dr. Stephen Robertson

For the Lord’s Table on World Communion Sunday,[2] the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving was offered by Westminster Associate Pastor, Rev. Dr. Stephen Robertson. It included these words:

  • “We give you thanks, O God, For you have made us in your image, female and male, black, brown, red and white, gay and straight. You set us in the world to love and serve you and to live in peace and justice with your whole creation. Although we have failed to live according to your way, you continue to call us back to you.”
  • “In Jesus, you showed us love for all, and you led the way to a new community in which the last would be first, justice would be realized, and peace would abound. Jesus proclaimed the good news of the reign of God. Yet we rebelled against his message.”
  • “But death cannot defeat life, nor can many waters quench love. You raised Christ from death, conquering the powers of this world, not through might, but through grace.”
  • “We pray that Christ’s Spirit will be in us as we feast at this, his table. Sacred and living Spirit, descend upon us. Fill us with your presence.”
  • “Move also upon these gifts of bread and cup, that they may become the bread of life and the cup of salvation. United forever through your Spirit and this table, may our feet walk the path of justice, May our hearts tear down the walls of division, and may our tongues cry out, ‘Peace on earth.’”

Rev. Robertson then led the congregation in the unison recitation of the Lord’s Prayer:[3]

  • “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Your name. Thy Kingdom come. They will be done. On earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever. Amen.”

As the church elders distributed the bread and grape juice of communion, the Choir’s Mary Monson, mezzo soprano, and J. D. Shaffer, tenor, sang “Morning Song,” which combines the melody of “Amazing Grace” with a Native American melody. It was sung in ancient Teehahnahmah and Cherokee languages, which was translated into English as follows: “I am of the great Spirit. It is so. God’s son paid for us. Then to heaven he went after paying for us. But he said, when he rose: ‘I’ll come again’ he said when he spoke. All the earth will end when he comes. All will see him all over the earth. All the good people living he will come after. Heaven always in peace they will live.” The piece was arranged by James E. Green, who has Cherokee heritage.

The Closing Hymn was “Many and Great, O God Are Thy Things” (No. 271 in the Presbyterian Hymnal). As Rev. Timothy Hart-Andersen had mentioned in his sermon, this hymn was written in the 1840’s by the Dakota congregation in Lac Qui Parle, Minnesota and was sung by the 38 Dakota men – Presbyterians, many of them –as they mounted the gallows in Mankato on December 26, 1862. The last verse is the following:

  • “Grant unto us communion with Thee,
    Thou star abiding One;
    Come unto us and dwell with us;
    With Thee are found the gifts of life,
    Bless us with life that has no end,
    Eternal life with Thee.”

The Postlude was the Choir’s repetition of “Heleluyan,” which was the Processional Hymn at the start of the service.

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[1] Other posts set forth the first two parts of the service: Preparing for the Word and Listening for the Word as well as the theological underpinnings for the order of worship. The following materials about this service are on the web: the bulletin, a video and the texts of the sermons. Another post provided a summary of the War.

[2] World Communion Sunday is celebrated on the first Sunday in October throughout the U.S. It is a project of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, which has been the leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in this country. The NCC’s member faith groups — from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches — include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.

[3] By the way, the front of the October 7th worship bulletin set forth the Lord’s Prayer in the Dakota language as translated in the 1830’s by Presbyterian brothers Gideon and Samuel Pond, who established the first Christian congregation in the Minnesota Territory on the shores of Lake Calhoun In today’s Minneapolis.

The U.S.-Dakota War Remembered by Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (Part I)

Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church at its October 7, 2012, worship service remembered the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.[1] This post will review the first part–Preparing for the Word– of this very moving three-part service.[2]

The service’s Prelude was the beautiful chant and melody “Lakota Wiyanki” (Beautiful Women) sung by the Westminster Choir and our Middle and High School Choirs. The English translation of the Dakota words goes as follows: “The voices of the four winds call, giving courage; courage, beautiful one, to walk forward, to walk forward with pride.”

The original Lakota words and melody of “Lakota Wiyanki” were “caught” or created by Cara Willowbrook and then given to her friend, Gail Woodside, an Apache Nation musician and artist. Gail then gave them to her friend, Judith Herrington, the Founder and Artistic Director of the Tacoma Youth Chorus, to be arranged, published and enjoyed by others.

Jon Romer

The Introit followed. It was a traditional Lakota gathering song, “The Waving Blanket,” played on a Native American Flute by Jon Romer, who became acquainted with the instrument and music while he taught at Leech Lake Tribal College in Minnesota.

The Call to Worship was “Prayer Song,” which was sung in the Dakota language by Dale Lohnes, a member of the Dakota Lakota tribes of the Sisseton Wapheton Nation.

The Processional Hymn was the haunting “Heleluyan” (No. 595 in the Presbyterian Hymnal).  “Heleluyan” is the Muscogee (Creek) word for “Alleluia.” The choir split into four sections and sang it once in unison from the four corners of the church after which the choir sang it as a four-part round with members of the congregation joining the section of the choir closest to them. The singing from the four corners of the church emphasized the Lakota belief that the loop or circle is sacred.

Elona Street-Stewart

Elona Street-Stewart, a Presbyterian elder from another church and a member of the Delaware Nanticoke tribe, gave the following Call to Confession followed by the Prayer of Confession (the Ojibway Prayer):

  • “Call us to repentance, to turn ourselves around to face the truth of our own sins and not just to feel sorry for trespasses committed by others; to turn around toward the light of Christ, and see you reflected in each other in the circle. Deepen our understanding of redemption and strengthen our ministry of reconciliation. We pray you mend the hoop of our hearts and let us live in the truth of the gospel and the loving acts of Jesus Christ.”
  • “Grandfather, look at our brokenness. We know that in all creation only the human family has strayed from the Sacred Way. We know that we are the ones who are divided and we are the ones who must come back together to walk in the Sacred Way. Grandfather, Sacred One, teach us love, compassion, and honor that we may heal the earth and heal each other.”

Ms. Street-Stewart then made the Declaration of God’s Forgiveness: “Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old life has gone; a new life has begun. Friends, hear the good news.” The congregation joined her in the conclusion: “In Jesus Christ we are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.”

This first part of the worship service concluded with the choir’s singing a verse of  Hymn No. 355 in The Presbyterian Hymnal, “Hear the Good News of Salvation,” in the Lakota language followed by the congregation’s joining them in singing the first two verses in English. The first verse goes as follows: “Hear the good news of salvation: Jesus died to show God’s love. Such great kindness! Such great mercy! Come to us from heaven above. Jesus Christ, how much I love you! Jesus Christ, You save from sin! How I love you ! Look upon me. Love me still and cleanse within.”


[1] Prior posts set forth a summary of the War, a contemporary white settler’s comments on the War and this year’s sesquicentennial commemoration of the War.

[2] Subsequent posts will discuss the other two parts of that service–Listening for the Word and Responding to the Word. The theological underpinnings for Westminster’s order of worship were reviewed in a prior post. The following materials about this service are online: a video, the bulletin and the texts of the sermons that were in the second-part of the service.

Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862

August 17, 2012, marked the sesquicentennial of the incident that started the U.S.-Dakota War in southwestern Minnesota in 1862. This dark side of U.S. and Minnesota history has been commemorated in various ways in Minnesota this year.

Governor Mark Dayton’s Proclamation

Governor Mark Dayton

Our current Governor, Mark Dayton, proclaimed August 17th a Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation in the State.

The Governor said that on August 17, 1862, the “first victims of the ‘U.S.-Dakota War of 1862’ lost their lives . . . . The ensuing attacks and counter-attacks killed hundreds more U.S. soldiers, Dakota braves, conniving traders, and innocent people. Tragically, those deaths started a vicious cycle of hate crimes, which continued long after the war was ended.”[1]

Moreover, he said, the “events leading to those atrocities actually began before 1862. The United States Government, through its agents in the new State of Minnesota,  . . . persuaded, deceived, or forced the state’s long-time inhabitants from Dakota and Ojibwe Indian tribes to give up their lands for promises of money, food, and supplies. Many of the government’s promises were repeatedly broken.”

As a result, the “displaced Dakota and Chippewa tribes watched newly arrived settlers claim the lands that had been theirs. They were denied their treaty payments of money and food, which resulted in starvation for many of their children and elderly. Often, when annuity payments did finally arrive, they were immediately plundered by some dishonest officials and traders.”

The war ended, Governor Dayton said, “but the attacks against innocent Indian children, women, and elderly continued. They were even encouraged by Alexander Ramsey, then the Governor of Minnesota, who on September 9, 1862, proclaimed: “Our course then is plain. The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the State. . . . They must be regarded and treated as outlaws. If any shall escape extinction, the wretched remnant must be driven beyond our borders and our frontier garrisoned with a force sufficient to forever prevent their return.”

Governor Dayton said he was “appalled by Governor Ramsey’s words and by his encouragement of vigilante violence against innocent people; and I repudiate them.” [2]

Therefore, Governor Dayton asked everyone on August 17, 2012, “to remember that dark past; to recognize its continuing harm in the present; and to resolve that we will not let it poison the future.” Everyone, he urged, should “practice not only remembrance, but also reconciliation.”

Governor Dayton also offered his “deepest condolences” to “everyone who lost family members during that time” and ordered that state flags to be flown at half-staff on that day.

Other Commemorations

This Fall the Saint Paul Interfaith Network presented Wokiksuye K’a Woyuonihan  (Remembering and Honoring), a series of conversations about the War to witness and hear the personal stories and experiences of Dakota descendants; to engage in structured and facilitated dialogue about what was heard and what is experienced today; and to deepen understanding between American Indians and non-American Indians; creating a climate of respect and possibilities for new stories, acts of justice and healing.

One of the leaders of this series of conversations was Jim Bear Jacobs, a member of the Turtle Clan of the Mohican people, one of 564 federally recognized tribes. A Christian with degrees in Pastoral Studies and Christian Theology, Jacobs believes that Christian faith and American Indian spirituality are complementary. The latter teaches us, he says, that it is inappropriate to hear a story and not give something back; the spirit gives us courage to hear voices long silenced; and it is our responsibility to recreate our spiritual vision in community.

On October 7th Jacobs and other Native Americans helped lead the World Communion Sunday worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, which will be covered in subsequent posts.

This October the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul held a Symposium on “The Law and the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.” Various speakers discussed (i) Military Tribunals, Executions & Pardons; (ii) Genocide, Human Rights, and the Need for Reconciliation; (iii) Reflections on my Ancestors: Artemas Ehnamani and the U.S.-Dakota War; (iv) Rethinking the Effect of the Abrogation of the Dakota Treaties and the Removal of the Dakota People from their Homeland; (v) A Program of Extermination: Governor Ramsey, the Minnesota Adjutant General, and Dakota Bounties; and (vi) Modern Communities: Court Systems of the Minnesota Dakota. The papers at this Symposium will be published in a future issue of the William Mitchell Law Review.

Minnesota History Center

A special exhibit about the War is being presented through September 8, 2013, at the Minnesota History Center, 345 West Kellogg Street St. Paul, Minnesota. The exhibit includes many, often conflicting, interpretations of events relating to the War. Visitors are encouraged to make up their own minds about what happened and why, to discuss what they are seeing and learning, and to leave comments. The History Center also has created a very useful website about the War.

James J. Hill House

There is an exhibit of works by 20 Native American artists created in response to the War–“Ded Unk’unpi—We Are Here.” The exhibit is open through January 13, 2013, at the James J. Hill House Gallery, 240 Summit Avenue in St. Paul.[3]

Fort Snelling

From November 7 through 13, a commemorative march from the Lower Sioux Agency Historical Site on Highway 2 near Morton, Minnesota to Fort Snelling (near the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport) will take place to honor the 1,700 Dakota women, children and elders who were forced to march 150 miles to a stockade at that Fort soon after the end of the U.S.-Dakota War. Along the way, they were assaulted by angry townspeople and soldiers, and an unknown number of Dakota were killed. Those who managed to complete the march were then held under brutal conditions at a concentration camp below Fort Snelling, where approximately 300 died during the winter of 1862-1863. In the spring of 1863, the survivors were exiled from the state. On the commemorative march this November the walkers at  approximately each mile will stop and place in the ground a prayer flag with the names of two of the families from the forced march. The names will be read aloud, and participants will offer prayers and tobacco.

Finally Dakota spiritual leader Jim Miller several years ago had a dream that ended up at a river bank where he saw his 38 ancestors hanged in Mankato on December 26, 1862. Afterwards Miller organized a ride on horseback tracing the journey of his dream, all in the interest of bringing healing among Native Americans and within the broader community. This ride is the subject of a documentary film, Dakota 38, that can be seen on YouTube.


[1] Prior posts gave a short summary of the U.S.-Dakota War and the contemporaneous account of the War by a white settler in nearby Iowa.

[2] Today Governor Ramsey’s statement would be a crime under international law. Under Article III (c) of the Genocide Convention of 1948, it is a crime to make “[d]irect and public incitement to commit genocide,” which is defined, in part, in Article II (a) of that treaty as “killing members of [an ethnical or racial] group” with “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, [the group].”

[3] James J. Hill, 1838-1916, who was known as “The Empire Builder,” was the chief executive officer of a group of railroad lines headed by the Great Northern Railway that served the Upper Midwest, the northern Great Plains and the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. His mansion in St. Paul today is operated by the Minnesota Historical Society.

 

White Settler’s Contemporaneous Reaction to U.S.-Dakota War of 1862

In 1862 Rev. Charles E. Brown,my maternal second great-grandfather, had been a Baptist missionary to the Iowa Territory and State since 1842, and he and his family lived in the village of Vernon Springs in Howard County in northern Iowa. This was not far from the U.S.-Dakota War in neighboring Minnesota.[1] (In the map to the left, Howard County is the third from the right in the northern tier of Iowa.)

About 31 years after the War Rev. Brown used his diaries to start writing his memoirs, including comments on that War.[2]

He said, “In August 1862, the Sioux Indians in Minnesota raided the homes and villages of settlers, murdering–and mutilating–men, women and children, and burning–and destroying– a large amount of property.”

The Indians, he added, were “[e]ncouraged by and taking advantage of the [Civil War], and incited by agents of the Confederacy, unscrupulous and possibly unauthorized.” The Indians were “brooding–over real and fancied wrong’s [sic] suffered in dealing–with the Government and its agents.” The Indians “took the war path and spread terror, death and destruction through the southwestern part of the State [of Minnesota].”

Because the U.S.-Dakota War was so close to northern Iowa, “thousands of people abandoned their [Minnesota] homes and fled for their lives into Northern Iowa.” By September of 1862, “the panic of the Minnesota settlers was at its height and the town [of Vernon Springs] and roads [were] filled with refugees.”

Into this commotion came Rev. Brown’s son, Charles P. Brown, a Second Sergeant of Company D, Third Regiment of the Iowa Infantry, on a furlough leave from the Civil War. The “blue coat and brass buttons of [his] . . . uniform [were]. . .  inspiring. . . . [The uniform] represented the war power of the government, and was looked on as the advance guard of military protection.”

The proximity of the U.S.-Dakota War also prompted “some families in our immediate neighborhood [to engage in] . . .  hastily packing . . . a few thing’s [sic] and leaving.”

In addition, The Iowa county where the Browns lived (Howard County) organized and mounted a  “company . . .  for home defense, armed with such weapons, rifles and shot guns as were available, and set out to meet the savages.” However, this “company of home guards did not meet any Indians.”

This undoubtedly was due, according to Rev. Brown, to the “prompt action by Governor Ramsey of Minnesota, and General Sibley with militia and volunteers, speedily overpowered the Indians, defeating, capturing and punishing them.”

Brown continued, “About twelve hundred Sioux Indians were engaged in the raid. Governor Ramsey estimated the loss of life among settlers at eight hundred.” In addition, between twenty and thirty thousand people had abandoned their homes, and the loss of property was estimated from two and one-half to three million dollars.”

“Five hundred Indians were captured, tried by a Military Court, and three hundred sentenced to suffer death by hanging. Of this number thirty-eight were executed December 26, 1862.”

The sources of Brown’s information about the War are not stated, but the essence of his account is consistent with what historians today have to say.

I, however, am disappointed that he did not see any of the reasons for the Dakota’s initiating the War (other than his acknowledging that they had suffered real wrongs in dealing with the Government and its agents). Nor does he seem to be aware of the due process problems of the military commission’s prosecution and conviction of the Indians. Most seriously, as a Christian pastor he does not cope with the obvious religious issues associated with Governor Ramsey’s demand for extermination of the Dakota Indians or with the execution of the 38 Indians on the day after Christmas.


[1] A summary of the War was provided in a prior post. Subsequent posts will explore this year’s sesquicentennial commemoration of the War and Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s October 7th worship service devoted to remembering the War and its consequences.

[2]  Charles E. Brown, Personal Recollections of Rev. Charles E. Brown with Sketches of His Wife and Children and Extracts from an Autobiography of Rev. Phillip Perry Brown 1790-1862 with Sketches of His Children and the Family Record 1797-1907 at 82-85 (Ottumwa, IA 1907).