An eyewitness account of Indian warfare during the American Civil War
For anyone interested in the history of the American West—and the wars against the Plains Indian tribes in particular—this book will be a delight. The author enlisted in the Union Army to fight in the American Civil War, but instead of marching eastwards to fight the soldiers of the southern Confederacy he found himself involved in the bitter and savage campaigns against the Sioux and their allies in Minnesota. Readers may be familiar with the Plains Indian wars of the post Civil War period, dominated by the doomed figure of George Armstrong Custer, but whilst the ‘boy general’ was gaining fame with his Michigan cavalry brigade, the desperately under protected and vulnerable frontier settlements had to fight off sustained and overwhelming attacks by hostile Indians. Fort Ridgeley was dangerously besieged and the small town of New Ulm was so fiercely attacked and surrounded that there was the potential for massacre the like of which was unprecedented. Connelly tells his story in a way that conveys the immediacy of events; with him the reader will experience the close fought fight at Birch Coolie and the Battle of Wood Lake. The year of 1863 saw the Minnesota troops on campaign again fighting at the battles of Big Mound, Buffalo Lake and Stony Lake. While the Civil War continued many miles from the troubled frontiers of westward expansion, 1864 brought more campaigning against hostile tribes for Connelly that culminated in the Battle of the Bad Lands. The author’s narrative is added to by the inclusion of panoramic battlefield drawings which usefully assist the reader’s understanding.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
The camp was miserably located, being commanded by the deep ravine on one side and by a mound on the other, so that the savages were well sheltered from our fire. Had the instructions given by Colonel Sibley been followed, which were always to encamp in open and level prairie, there would have been no such destruction of valuable lives, but the spot was chosen for our camp because it was near wood and water, and the Indians were supposed to be fifty miles away. It was a mistake, which we discovered after it was too late. A brisk fire was opened by the boys, and soon the cartridge boxes were being depleted. Ammunition was called for, and upon opening a box, to our dismay we found it to be of too large a calibre. Other boxes were opened with a like result. In loading up our ammunition a mistake had been made, and we found ourselves in this unfortunate dilemma; but no time was to be lost, as we had not more than an average of twenty rounds to the man, and a hoard of savages about us who seemed well supplied with powder and ball.<br>
We went to work cutting the large bullets down with our knives, but this was a slow and unsatisfactory process. We used the powder from these large cartridges to load our guns with, putting in an extra amount, so that when we fired these blanks they made a great noise, and thus kept up a successful “bluff,” though doing no damage. A dead silence would ensue, and occasionally some of our best shots picked off a more daring redskin simply to remind them that we were awake. We had but one shovel and one pick; there were others in some of the wagons, or they had been thrown out in the grass and could not be found. The captain offered $5 apiece for them, but the bullets were too thick to admit of a search, so we used jack-knives, spoons and bayonets to dig our intrenchments with. In time we had very good pits dug, and with the assistance of the dead bodies of our horses had ourselves tolerably well protected.<br>
With the wounded horses rearing and plunging, the men groaning and calling for help, the hurried commands, and the unearthly yells of the five hundred red devils about us, this baptismal fire was trying to the souls of raw recruits, as most of us were. We were encircled by fire and smoke, the bullets were doing their deadly work, and it really seemed as though no man could escape death. Our orders were: “Load and fire, but steady, boys, and give them hail Columbia!”<br>
Upon the first fire of the Indians two men fled from the camp, one a citizen, who was with us, and the other a soldier. The citizen we found afterward on the prairie, dead. He was the last of his family, for we had buried his wife and two children just the previous day, before going into camp. The soldier, a Swede, returned, but he was so paralyzed with fear that he was like a dead man during all this memorable thirty-six hours, and the poor fellow afterward succumbed to sickness. Everything was improvised for a barricade—camp kettles, knapsacks, wagon-seats, etc., and it was done in a hurry, for hot work was on our hands. The word soon went the rounds: “College is dead, Irvine is dead, Baxter, Coulter, Benecke, King and a score of others are dead, and nearly all are wounded.”<br>
It was only a few minutes alter the first fire when we realized all this, and it verily looked as though the little command would be wiped out of existence. If a head was shown fifty Indians levelled at it. During all this terrible fire Old Joe Brown walked about seemingly unconcerned, until a bullet went through the back of his neck. He came to the ground as quick as if shot through the heart, for it was a bad wound, but with it all he continued to give instructions. Nearly all the damage was done before ten o’clock, for up to that time we found ourselves with sixty killed and wounded, out of 155, and ninety-five horses dead, out of ninety-six. The horses saved our little encampment.