On the Sioux Trail: The Battle of Wood Lake

U.S. – Dakota War of 1862, Part VI


Battle of Wood Lake
The Wood Lake Battle Field

Colonel Sibley attempted to negotiate a surrender from Chief Little Crow at the beginning of September, 1862. Little Crow was interested in ending hostilities, but was unwilling to surrender. The stage was set for one final battle.

After a delay, which caused great consternation among the settlers and newspapermen of the time, Sibley finally left Fort Ridgely with 1500 men on 19 September. Sibley’s troops camped near Lone Tree Lake, although at the time they thought they were camped next to Wood Lake, which is 3-1/2 miles further west. So, in effect, the battle is misnamed. Sibley was unaware that the Dakota warriors were assembling near his encampment.

With less than half the numbers of Sibley, Little Crow meant to attack the soldiers in the early morning hours of 23 September, after the soldiers broke camp and were filing along in a long, thin line. Sibley did not break camp as early as the Dakotas expected. In fact, it was well past sun-up when several soldiers left the camp without their superiors’ knowledge, in order to look for more food. It was reported that the group of soldiers had planned on going to the Upper Sioux Agency to dig for potatoes. When the small group of soldiers left in their wagons, they ran straight into a party of Dakota. When the shooting started, the main body of Dakota warriors were not ready for the attack, and Sibley’s force was alerted to the possible ambush.

Wood Lake Obelisk
Battle of Wood Lake obelisk

The battle lasted only two hours, and the Dakota suffered major losses, including the death of Chief Mankato by cannonball. Sibley’s force suffered 7 dead and 34 severely wounded.

According to the caretakers of the historic battle site, there are still 14 Dakota warriors buried in the battlefield. It should be noted, as tempting as it is, one should not drive through the gate and onto the grass.

About icefogger

Just a basic, down to Earth, laid back type of guy here, who loves the outdoors, the indoors, jazz on the turntable, a fire in the woodstove, the northern lights blazing across the sky, and the company of good friends. View all posts by icefogger

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