Q&A: What happened at the Battle of Wood Lake?

It was not until September 19, 1862, that Colonel Henry Hastings Sibley and about 1,600 soldiers departed Fort Ridgely in pursuit of the retreating Dakota.  Sibley delayed his pursuit in order to better train and prepare his inexperienced soldiers and to wait upon more supplies.  On September 22, Colonel Sibley set up camp near Lone Tree Lake, which they mistakenly believed to be Wood Lake.  When the Dakota learned of the soldier’s camp, they readied themselves for battle.

On the evening of September 22, about 700 Dakota warriors camped just a half mile from Sibley and his men.  Little Crow and other Dakota leaders discussed among each other the best approach in attacking the camp.  Little Crow suggested a surprise nighttime attack, but the majority favored an ambush by the light of day.  So, on the morning of September 23, the Dakota lay in the tall prairie grass waiting to spring their attack.  Eventually, a few soldiers in wagons unwittingly approached the hiding Dakota as the soldiers were out looking for potatoes.  This forced the Dakota to spring their ambush early.

Surprise at Wood Lake by David Geister, Wood Lake Battlefield Preservation Society

The battle lasted for just two hours as the Dakota were overwhelmed by the superior numbers and superior artillery of the U.S. soldiers.  Defeated and dejected, the Dakota retreated having lost 15 killed including chiefs Mankato and Mazamani.  Colonel Sibley’s forces lost 7 killed and 34 wounded.  When the Dakota returned to their camp, they had lost control of the captives to the Dakota that did not participate in war.  This ended any hopes of continuing the war effort and the Dakota warriors were forced to flee or surrender.

Read the Recollections of the Battle of Wood Lake by Capt. Ezra T. Champlin – page 244-247

See this blog post on YouTube

Source:

Minnesota Board of Commissioners, Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, 1861-1865, Vol. 2, (St. Paul:  Pioneer Press Company, 1893).