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Wood Lake Battle in Minnesota Took Place During The Civil War

Robert W. Meinhard

(Feb/Mar 2007) On Aug. 16, 1862, four young Sioux killed a family of five near Acton, Minn. The conflict exploded across southern Minnesota with 413 settlers, a significant number of troops and an estimated 71 Sioux warriors killed, including the 38 hanged in a mass hanging at Mankato.

The Wood Lake battle was the final and decisive engagement of the tragic 1862 clash between the United States and the Dakota Sioux.

The battle began in early morning on Sept. 23. Little Crow had strategically placed his Dakota warriors in three locations to ambush the anticipated march of Col. Henry Sibley's forces.

Unfortunately for the Dakota, soldiers from the Third Minnesota Infantry decided, without authorization, to forage for vegetables at the abandoned Upper Sioux Agency. Their wagons flushed some of the Dakota from their concealed places in the tall prairie grass.

The battle began prematurely and Little Crow lost his element of surprise. Little Crow tried two fan like flanking movements but was unsuccessful against Sibley's concentrated force that outnumbered the Dakota. After two hours of fierce fighting, the Dakota warriors withdrew from the field.

This was the last battle of the U.S. Dakota Conflict of 1862.

This historic battle site is endangered and may end as a hunting preserve or other uses. A principal land owner is willing to sell.

We must act quickly. This pristine site is worthy of protection, preservation and interpretation.

Historians see the importance of Wood Lake Battlefield and its relationship to the Civil War.

Ed Bearss, National Park Service Chief Historian Emeritus, says, "Because of the site integrity and nationally significant events associated with the Civil War, western expansion, and the government's Indian policy, I believe Wood Lake merits a high degree of interpretation and protection."

"Virtually no battlefield connects the Civil War with the Indian Wars better than this battlefield, according to Dennis Frye, Chief Historian, Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

Ted Alexander, the Chief Historian at Antietam National Battlefield, calls Wood Lake Battlefield "a diamond in the rough."

He said, "It is a very moving experience to be on this virgin battlefield."

"The Wood Lake Battlefield is as important to understanding this civil war as Gettysburg is to understanding the larger conflict," says James McPherson, historian and Pulitzer Prize author of Battle Cry of Freedom.

The Wood Lake Battlefield Association is dedicated to the preservation of the Wood Lake Battlefield. With a growing membership of over 300, the Association's mission is to Preserve, restore, promote and interpret the Wood Lake battle site and the history of the U. S.-Dakota conflict of 1862.

To do this the Association's goals are:

1. To provide public awareness of the site and provide public access, including parking and interpretive signs.

2. To tell the story of the conflict with accuracy and balance.

3. To restore parts of the battlefield to their 1862 environment.

4. To honor all peoples who fell here.

In a short time the association has made significant progress. We are more than words. At the Granite Falls Symposium it was announced that the Association had received a grant of $27,000 for preservation of the battlefield.

The Association has more than 300 members from 20 states and a very dedicated board which includes landowners, State Historical Society employees, preservationists, and representatives of land conservation, habit preservation and historians.

We need your support. Join the Association. There is a one-time fee of $10. We invite you to visit Minnesota and tour the sites associated with the conflict of 1862.

Tom Hosier, I, or others, will be pleased to be your host and guide on a tour that could begin at Fort Snelling and end at Mankato.

Membership dues and donations may be sent to WLBPA, 4210 57th St. NW, Rochester, MN 55901.

For information or to arrange a tour contact: Bob Meinhard, (507) 452 7341, rmeinhard@winona.edu; Tom Hosier, (507) 280 9970, thosierwarroom@hotmail.com; or visit www.wlbpa.info

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