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1864 August 27: The 30th Wisconsin Infantry Marches West Across Minnesota

August 31, 2014

The following column is from the August 27, 1864, issue of The Prescott Journal.  Company A of the 30th was the Saint Croix Guards and Company F was the Salomon Tigers, both primarily from northwest Wisconsin.  Companies D, I, and K also contained men from northwest Wisconsin.


From the 30th Regiment.

The Departure of the Indian Expedition from
Fort Ridgely—What it consisted of—The March—
General Appearance of the Country—Incidents by the Way, etc., etc.

Camp on Kettle Lake, Aug. 2d, 1864.}

In compliance with previous promise, I embrace this opportunity of acquainting your readers of the departure and progress of our expedition for the wilds of the great Northwest, under command of Major John Clowney, of the 30th Wisconsin volunteers.

Pursuant to orders, the 9th of July witnessed our departure from Fort Ridgely.  The expedition comprised companies B, E, and K, 30th Wis. Vol. Inf.; company M, 2d Minnesota cavalry, and three guns of Jones’ ¹ artillery, 3d Minnesota Light Artillery.  The accompanying train reached 2½ miles.  Twelve miles march brought us to Camp Hope, on the Lower Sioux Agency, overlooking the Minnesota river.  This agency, once the pride of the white man, now lies a complete ruin on the summit of the overhanging banks of the deep waters of the beautiful St. Peters.

July 10—We resumed our march, and 13 miles brought us to Redwood Lake, where we went into camp.  Our resting place for the night was in full view of the defense thrown up by Captain Pope in 1862.  Graves of whites and Indians encompassed us on all sides.  The remains of the whites had been exhumed, and funeral rites gone through with by relatives, friends and acquaintances.  Thus has the unfortunate been cared for who fell by the savage hand of the red man in their furious onset August 18th, 1862 ;  while on the other hand the ravens of the air have preyed upon the the dingy carcasses of the red men till nothing remains to mark their resting place but hollow graves and mouldering bones.

July 11.—At 5:15 p. m. we left Redwood Lake, and after marching till fifteen minutes of 9, camped on the open prairie, three miles from water, but within range of timber, and went to bed supperless.  This day was marched 9 miles.

July 12.—At 9 a. m. we left and marched five miles, and coming to water halted for the day.  Our camping ground was in full view of the former residence of the notorious Joe Brown, the husband of so many Indian women, the father of a multitude of half-breeds, and the possessor of an estate of 5,000 acres.  Joe was captured by the Indians in 1862, and his scalp was saved from the scalping knife through the intercession of his “better-halves.”  At present Joe is the leading scout of Gen. Sully [Alfred Sully], and is said to be one of the best in the Northwest.

July 13.—At about  5:30 A. M., we broke camp, passing on the Wood Lake route, where a desperate battle between whites and Indians was fought.  In the engagement the Indians are said to have numbered 3,000 and the whites 1,500.  The loss sustained by the whites was 75 killed, that of the Indians unknown.  The works thrown up are still existing.  At 10 A. M. we crossed the Yellow Medicine at the Upper Sioux Agency.  This place retains every indication of a once flurishing [sic] place.  Natural advantages for manufacturing are abundant.  Climbing to the summit of the hills on the western side of Yellow Medicine, a sad and desolating spectacle greets the eye.  Stretching for miles lies a fertile plain, once subservient to the hand of the husbandman, now assuming a harsh and primitive state.  Once beautiful buildings of brick now stand bereft of roofs, sections of walls, etc.  Household furniture lies rotting, while miles of fences are torn down, burned and strewed around.  Years of hard toil have been ruthlessly destroyed by savage fiends, men and women butchered, and children tortured to death.  We marched twelve miles this day, camped on an elevation of ground, close by good water, with abundance of pasturage.

Before proceeding further, I will say that the Upper Sioux Agency, on the Yellow Medicine, is the last place where signs of civilization will greet us.  Henceforth we are to encounter the wilds of Minnesota and Dakotah.  A more beautiful section of country than the Upper Sioux Agency is very seldom met with.  Wood and water are abundant.  Materials for building purposes and convenient.  Brick of the first class can be manufactured, in proof of which stands a kiln already burned, awaiting use.  I understand the Sioux reservation lands are to be appraised by three commissioners (already appointed) and sold for the benefit of the United States.  The lands comprise 710,000 acres, lying on the south and west banks of the Minnesota river, in a strip from nine to twelve miles long, running from Fort Ridgely to Big Stone Lake.  I have been creditably informed that the day is not far distant when this country will have the advantage of being penetrated by two railroads—one extending from Winona, the other from Minneapolis, running due west to the foot of Big Stone Lake.  I hold that the security of this country from all Indian depredations is complete, and emigrants seeking a home in the far West can here repose in safety.

July 14.—At 5½ o’clock A. M., broke camp and marched till 6 o’clock P. M., making 20 miles.  The day was exceedingly warm ;  men and animals suffered much from dust and the lack of water ;  several oxen fell by the way.  Sloughs the most filthy were explored for water, and finally an article unfit for man or beast was found, and devoured as if the best.  This day’s march was over a continuous plain, no tree or shrub to relieve the eye from monotony.  Our route led us past Camp Relief, where, in 1862, the Indians to the number of 1,800, comprising women, children and 250 warriors, peaceably delivered themselves up to the safe keeping of Brig. Gen. Sibley [Henry Sibley].  We camped on an eminence overlooking the peaceful waters of the Minnesota.  At this point of the stream wild fruits are plentiful.

July 15.—At precisely the hour of the day previous we packed tents, but owing to the fatigue of the 14th we made but eight miles march.  Coming in full view of Lac qui Parle river, which is bounded on both sides by broken hills, the ravines thickly wooded by ordinarily sized trees and a dense growth of underbrush, Company B being in front, the 1st platoon was “deployed in line” and skirmished the passage for the “redskins,” the 2d platoon following after, and each alternate company doing likewise ;  but “redskins” were scarce in this vicinity, and many of the boys evinced their confidence by taking to picking wild gooseberries, and did not make good their appearance till the western hills of the Lac qui Parle had been reached by the entire expedition.  The utility of having the rear company skirmish the passage after the entire train had passed did not appear evident to me, and I failed to see the “military necessity” of it on that occasion.  All things being satisfactory, a high hill was chosen as our camping ground, giving us a commanding view of the immediate country for miles.  This day was as hot as the previous one, and the atmosphere more oppressive.  About bedtime dark clouds loomed up from the west, and came spilling on a massed column, the artillery of heaven fired signal guns, warning us of the raising of the floodgates of the upper realm, while the lightning flashed—grapevine like—illuminating the entire sky.  Rain upon rain fell, and nature drank freely for a brief spell, when all was hushed in silence.  I must again remark that all the ills soldiers are heir to are not embodied in poor whisky [sic], salt junk and hard tack.  “Pup-tents,” commonly called shelter tents, are to the soldier the most abominable of them all, and often are they emphatically damned in a rain storm, and on this night got a severe blessing.

July 16.—Broke camp at 6 o’clock A. M.  The morning was delightful, and favorable for our march.  Traveling four hours, a halt was made to rest the animals and let them feed.  After an hour and ten minutes halt the march was renewed.  The afternoon’s sun came out with all his power, the intense rays of which affected man and beast.  The incidents of the day were enlivened by a brisk chase after a prairie wolf, which made good his escape.  A march of twelve miles brought us to Lake Ann, a small body of water on the open prairie.  The water of this lake being stagnant and unfit for use, wells were dug ;  but the supply they furnished not being sufficient to meet the demand on them, recourse was had to the lake water, which by straining and boiling was rendered “go-down-able.”  At this lake we remained for the night.

July 17th.—As early as 1 o’clock a. m. the sound of the bugle awoke us—as soon as possible, all hands flew to packing—breakfast over, “loading up” commenced, and at 20 minutes past three we had broken camp and were on our way.  The 17th being the Sabbath, the commanding officer went through a general overhauling of soldiers detached from their companies as teamsters, for the purpose of finding out whether or not they were properly equipped to defend themselves against an attacking foe.  Many were and more were not, but all were given to understand that they must become so at once, or abide the penalty of military disobedience, stringently administered.  The train was then formed into four lines deep—the front of the column protected by Company B and one piece of artillery, the centre supported by Co. K. and another piece of artillery, while the rear was guarded by Co. E., one piece of artillery and one platoon of cavalry, while the other platoons of cavalry were deployed as flankers.  The scouts being far in advance completed our marching position.  A march of 32 miles brought us to Big Turtle Lake, where we camped for the night.  Severe driving and want of water killed six of our oxen.  The waters of Big Turtle being very inferior, we were compelled, as on former occasions, to dig for it.

The departure of the returning train from Fort Wadsworth to Fort Ridgely, compels me to draw my letter to a close, as it carried with it all letters from the boys to the dear ones at home, and is the only means of conveyance we have as yet.  I understand that a mail route will be established by Major Clowney between Forts Wadsworth and Abercrombie.  Abercrombie is some eighty miles distant from Wadsworth, and if things are properly managed, we can have a mail once a week hereafter.  Capt. Fisk’s expedition, which is accompanying an emigrant train to Idaho, rendered us much service in getting the mails since leaving Fort Ridgely.  We being five march in advance, by the aid of our cavalry we held communication with him, and his cavalry with Fort Ridgely.—Thus since the 9th of July to the present we have received three mails.

In my next I shall give you a full account of our trip from Big Turtle Lake to Fort Wadsworth.

F. J. R.

1.  John Jones, from Saint Paul, Minnesota, was 39 when he became the captain of the 3r Minnesota Light Artillery Battery on February 25, 1863. He served in that capacity until the battery mustered out on February 27, 1866.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 1, 2014 9:41 am

    Reblogged this on Lenora's Culture Center and Foray into History.

  2. September 1, 2014 3:57 pm

    I have been assembling CDVs and like material on the 30th Wisconsin for several years now. If any reader has material they might like to offer, which willbe noted in the book, with credit to you as a contributed party, please feel free to send copies tome at the noted email address. Thank You.
    Douglas M. Casamer

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