SAS Wargames Club

SAS Wargames Club
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Friday, 15 July 2005

Dakota Wars Campaign

The following pages are a set of resources to run a US - Dakota War campaign campaign set in 1862, as with all of our campaign resources they reflect the materials put together to run an actual campaign within the club or alternatively preparation for a campaign that we aim to move off the blocks in due time. At present this information is being prepared for a future campaign.


The causes of the US - Dakota War are complex, relations between the Dakota and settlers had always been strained but in 1851 the Dakota were coerced into signing the treaties of Traverse des Siuox & Mendota. These treaties gave the US Government control of almost all of what is now the state of Minnesota and leaving the Dakota a small strip of land in which to live on the south bank of the Minnesota River in return annual payments of gold and goods to the Dakota bands and help in building schools and farms on the reservation. Seemingly as ever with such things the Dakota indians never received what was promised, payments were always late and traders took what money did arrive to pay off debts accumulated since the previous year's settlement.

In 1858 the US military built two Forts in the area - Ridgely to the south East of the reservation and Ripley to the North West. These were on the face of it to police the reservation and limit the encroachment of settlers on the Dakota lands, in reality their presence had the opposite effect and gave the settlers a sense of security that was lacking before, the western parts of Minnesota was soon experiencing a huge influx of settlers.

By 1861 tensions between the settlers were increasing, a bad harvest in the summer meant that the Dakota had little food to see them through the winter and the Indian Agency traders stopped giving the Dakota credit, leading to near starvation. By the spring and early summer of 1862 many of the more militant Dakota were calling for war to drive out the settlers and to allow the hunting parties to roam free and feed their families. Again government funds were late in arriving, making a bad situation worse, then a head strong party of young Dakota braves got into an argument with some settlers over stolen eggs, resulting in the slaying of everyone on the farm.

The Dakota chose not to give up the young braves to the authorities, knowing they would be hung and instead the simmering resentment towards the settlers erupted into a war to clear out all of the area's settlers. reasoning that most of the men of fighting age were involved in the Civil War to the south and hoping that they might get help from their old allies from the War of 1812 - the British in Canada, the Dakota saw this as their last chance to regain what was rightfully theirs.

Local leader Little Crow was elected the Dakota leader, despite his warnings that the whole affair was doomed to failure, he would not take the cowards's way out and not lead his people.

The Main Battles

Little crow acted immediately, attacking the Lower Sioux Agency complex that housed the hated traders, indian agency and where all the goods and food that the Dakota had been promised was stored. Twenty to thirty traders and officials were killed in the fighting there, others escaped heading east via the Redwood Ferry. Meantime other bands on Dakota spread out through the countryside attacking all and any settlers that they came across. There were many acts of bravery and atrocity on both sides, with individual Dakota warriors leading women and children to safety whilst others killed the menfolk, many settlers fought on grimly to the end against overwhelming odds.

Hearing of the attacks a detachment of 45 men from the 5th Minnesota Infantry marched out of Fort Ridgely to retake the Lower Sioux Agency. It was ambushed at Redwood Ferry where half the men were killed and the rest had to scramble back to safety. Following these early successes the Dakota now spread out further, feeling bolder they followed the survivors of the ambush at Redwood Ferry back to Fort Ridgely. On August 19th, however, the Dakota decided at attack the nearby town of New Ulm. After a day's fighting the german settlers drove off the Dakota who rallied back to Fort Ridgely, attacking that the following day.

Had they attacked on the 19th the Dakota would have faced but 40 soldiers but overnight they had been reenforced by 150 men from the 5th Minnesota out of Fort Snelling. When the Dakota attacked the following day, despite outnumbering the soldiers and settlers in the fort two to one, they were driven off. The Dakota switched their attention back to New Ulm and massed about 900 warriors to attack the town, which despite being reinforced by local militias was all but destroyed in the attack and the remaining settles forced to abandon the town.

On the 22nd the Dakota attacked again at Fort Ridgely, by now the defenders numbered some 300 due to the influx of refugees and again the Dakota were repulsed, this time with heavy casualties. The Dakota bands dispersed and continued to raid further and further afield driving out settlers.

By late August General Sibley at Fort Snelling had organised a force of some 1500 troops to move into the western part of Minnesota to crush the Dakota. He reached Fort Ridgely about a week after the last attack and immediately sent out detachments to look for the enemy, help settlers and bury the dead. One such detachment was ambushed at Birch Coulee on September 2nd, leading to the largest single military loss to the Government in a single engagement during the whole war, some 80 to 90 men were killed or wounded.