- 17 Aug 2020 13:27
August 18, Monday
Shortly before dawn, the town of New Ulm, in the verdant Minnesota River valley, is clamorous with excitement—a brass band playing and many of the village’s 900 inhabitants crowded in the main street and cheering as a party sets off with five wagons. It is a glorious summer morning with a great red sun “tingeing all the clouds with crimson, and sending long, scarlet shafts of light up the green river valley and upon the golden bluffs on either side,” writes 14-year-old Mary Schwandt, one of the many German-immigrant families that have recently established farms on the prairie nearby. The party is on a mission to enlist volunteers for the Union Army. Minnesota became a state only four years before, and much of its land is still raw frontier, dotted here and there with isolated trading posts, Army forts, and villages of Sioux, Chippewa, and Winnebago Amerinds. But Minnesota’s 200,000 White settlers, a third of them foreign-born, yield to no other state in Unionist enthusiasm. The state has provided volunteers all out of proportion to their population. Now in a jovial mood and full of their patriotic mission, the recruiters rattle westward past pioneer homesteads on the prairie. But they only make it five miles before encountering a man lying in the middle of the road, shot. As the recruiters jump down to aid him, several Sioux, stripped to the breechcloth and painted for war, open fire from the brush. Two recruiters fall dead, and others are wounded. The survivors, unarmed, scramble back into the wagons, driving two of them at the Amerinds in an attempt to run them down. Having scattered the attackers, the survivors pile the dead and wounded in another wagon and race back to town.
New Ulm is alerted before they get there, a lone rider galloping through the village shouting, “The Indians are coming—they have murdered the recruiting party!” first to respond is Sheriff Charles Roos, who gathers thirty men with rifles and shotguns and starts up the road taken by the party. As the two groups join up the county militia turns out, armed with a collection of weapons ranging from rifles to pitchforks, and other townspeople frantically begin barricading the streets with wagons, boxes, and barrels. No one can believe what is happening. The Sioux of the river valley have lived as peaceful neighbors of the settlers for years. True, there are stories that the Sioux have been complaining of ill-treatment by government agents appointed to administer Amerind affairs. But no one dreamed that the tribe was plotting violence. The unprovoked attack on the recruiting party comes as a harsh surprise, and the village’s worst fears are soon confirmed. Throughout the morning and afternoon, dozens of terrified refugees straggle into town, telling of murders, mutilations, rapes, and the burning of homes and farms. Among the first victims is the trader Andrew Myrick—his corpse will be found later with its mouth stuffed full of grass. Frightened by the reports, many of New Ulm’s townspeople join the refugees on their flight to St. Paul, the state capital, and to Fort Snelling, both located more than 100 miles to the northeast, near the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers.
It isn’t long before Santee braves clash with uniformed troops. The commander of Fort Ridgely’s 78-man garrison of Minnesota volunteers, a young captain named John S. Marsh who has no experience fighting Amerinds, rashly sets off with a detachment of 46 soldiers and an interpreter for the Lower Agency, which is under attack. Despite the evidence of tomahawked bodies and the warnings of refugees whom he passes on the road, Marsh boldly goes on to Redwood Ferry, about one mile below and on the opposite side of the Minnesota River from the agency. The ferryman has been killed, but his boat is on the shore. An Amerind on the far bank, indicating friendship, calls to the troops to cross. But before the troops can move, they are hit by a volley fired by Amerinds hidden in the woods across the stream. An instant later other Amerinds, who have crept up behind Marsh’s men, attack their rear. About half of the troops are killed, and the remnant takes flight through the tall grass that lines the riverbank. Some of the troops make a stand in a thicket, but they are running out of ammunition. Marsh urges his men to escape by swimming the stream. When they hesitate he jumps in first, but halfway across he suffers a cramp and drowns. Sergeant Bishop assumes command of the survivors, and they straggle back to Fort Ridgely during the night. Twenty-five soldiers have been killed and five more wounded in the ambush. Only one Amerind has been killed.
Come night, as pickets patrol near signal fires and residents continue to build barricades, New Ulm’s leading citizens gather to plan the town’s defense; they send a message to Governor Ramsey asking for 1,000 troops plus wagonloads of ammunition. Then, because St. Paul is too far away to get help to them quickly, the leader of the unfortunate recruiting party, a weary Henry Behnker, mounts a horse at midnight and sets out for the nearer town of Traverse des Sioux to ask the valley’s leading citizen, Judge Charles E. Flandrau, to hurry to the rescue with local volunteers.
In Virginia, General Pope, having learned of General Lee’s plans to move against his army, immediately orders his troops north of the Rappahannock. The Federals move rapidly through the intense heat and suffocating dust, cheered off by the elated Virginia citizenry.
General Kirby Smith’s 9,000 infantry have laboriously worked their way northwest from Knoxville, Tennessee, onto the plateau of the Cumberland Mountains, and then turned northeast, bypassing General Morgan’s troops in the Cumberland Gap. It has been a hard march through a mountainous land parched by the drought. There is little foraging, and the supply wagons have lagged far behind. Today they swarm into Barboursville, Kentucky, squarely in Morgan’s rear and athwart his supply line to Lexington. Morgan, realizing that he has been outflanked, will soon evacuate the Cumberland Gap, withdrawing his forces into eastern Kentucky.
The second session of the Confederate Congress meets in Richmond. President Davis sends a message reviewing the progress of the war and of the Confederate nation. He says the prospects “give assurance to the friends of constitutional liberty of our final triumph in the pending struggle against despotic usurpation.” He inveighs against the alleged atrocities of the Yankees, naming especially Benjamin F. Butler. He calls for increasing the army and does not minimize the difficulties facing the Confederacy. “We have never-ceasing cause to be grateful for the favor with which God has protected our infant Confederacy,” he concludes.
There are skirmishes and operations at White Oak Ridge, Missouri; Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana; Rapidan Station and Clark’s Mountain, Virginia; Huttonsville, western Virginia; in Tennessee at Dyersburg and on the Tennessee River near Waggoner’s. Colonel R. Mason of the Seventy-first Ohio surrenders the important city of Clarksville, Tennessee, to Confederate forces without a fight. Colonel Mason will later be dismissed from service “for repeated acts of cowardice in the face of the enemy.”
We are divorced, North from South, because we have hated each other so.
—Mary Chesnut, 1861
To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.