Q&A: What happened at the battles of New Ulm?

On August 19, 1862, the town of New Ulm was besieged by a relatively small force of Dakota warriors.  The attack lasted for several hours and resulted in the death of five New Ulm residents, but the Dakota were unable to make any major gains and retreated.  The next day, New Ulm elected Judge Charles Flandrau as their military commander and they prepared to defend the town.

The Dakota returned on August 23, with a force of approximately 600 warriors.  New Ulm, now filled with refugees, had a population of approximately 2,000, but only 300 were able to fight.  The defenders were a rag-tag group of untrained and poorly armed volunteers, almost none of them having military experience.  As the Dakota advanced on the town, Judge Flandrau was in awe, calling it a “very fine spectacle” and “intensely exciting.”

As the Dakota launched their attack, the defenders were filled with fear and quickly retreated to the barricaded town center.  The Dakota pushed forward using empty buildings as cover.  As their advance continued, the attackers began burning the buildings, one-by-one, to create a clever smoke screen to hide behind.  The defenders did all they could, but defeat appeared inevitable.  Finally, Judge Flandrau decided on a bold tactic of charging the Dakota with speed and ferocity.  The tired and weary men knew it was their only chance.  As they charged the Dakota became frightened and retreated to cover outside of the town.  The charge was an amazing success.

The burning of New Ulm

Unfortunately, the town of New Ulm was destroyed.  In the second battle, the defenders lost 14 killed and approximately 60 wounded while 190 buildings were burned.  Then, on August 25, the town was evacuated to the surrounding areas of St. Peter and Mankato.

Read the eyewitness account of Asa W. Daniels – page 323-336

See this blog post on YouTube


Charles E. Flandrau, The History of Minnesota and Tales of the Frontier, (St. Paul:  E.W. Porter, 1900).

Asa W. Daniels, “Reminiscences of the Little Crow Uprising,” in Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, Vol. 15, (St. Paul:  The Pioneer Press Company, 1915).