THE WOOD LAKE BATTLE
In mid-September, 1862, more than 1,600 soldiers commanded by Colonel Henry Sibley marched northwest from Fort Ridgely into the Minnesota River Valley with an aim to end the U.S.-Dakota War. Word of that movement reached the Dakota soldiers' lodge near present-day Montevideo, sparking a debate about the most effective campaign to permanently defeat the enemy. Dakota leader Taoyateduta (Little Crow) argued for a risky nighttime attack; others called that cowardly, preferring to attack in the early morning hours.
Sibley's command camped here, the site of the Lone Tree Lake which has since disappeared. (At the time of the war, Lone Tree Lake was mistaken for Wood Lake, 3.5 miles to the west.) At dawn on September 23, 1862, hundreds of Dakota warriors prepared to attack from the tall grass near Sibley's encampment, three miles south of the Yellow Medicine Agency, known today as the Upper Sioux Community.
The ambush was thwarted when several men from Sibley's camp left in a wagon in search of potatoes. Gunfire erupted as the wagons threatened to run over the Dakota, alerting the soldiers at Sibley's camp. Battle-hardened Civil War veterans of the Third Minnesota Infantry sprang into action, bolstering the raw recruits and volunteers during this final battle of the war. Two hours of fighting on the 600-acre-site brought victory for Sibley's command and put an end to the war. Taoyateduta retreated westward with 200 to 300 warriors who refused to surrender.
The Dakota who surrendered were taken into custody; almost 400 men, including non-combatants, were hastily tried by military tribunal. Of those, 303 Dakota men were found guilty and sentenced to hanging. Aides to President Abraham Lincoln reviewed the records, and Lincoln reduced the sentences. On December 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota, 38 men were sentenced to hang in what became the largest mass execution in U.S. history.
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