Q&A: What happened at the Battle of Redwood Ferry?

Q&A: What happened at the Battle of Redwood Ferry?

Ambush at Redwood Ferry by David Geister, MNHS Collections 

The first skirmish between Dakota warriors and U.S. soldiers in the U.S. – Dakota War occurred at Redwood Ferry about noon on August 18, 1862.  War commenced early that morning with the surprise attack on the Lower Sioux or Redwood Agency.  News of the attacks reached Fort Ridgely, about 13 miles down river, at 8:30 a.m. when wounded refugees began arriving at the fort.  Captain John S. Marsh, then in command of Fort Ridgely, decided to take 54 men, interpreter Peter Quinn, and one days’ rations toward the agency to investigate.  They departed the fort at 9 a.m.

Along the road to the agency, the soldiers encountered many dead bodies of civilians who had recently been killed.  They arrived to the ferry to find the boat on their side of the river unattended.  On the opposite side of the ferry was a Dakota named White Dog of the Upper Bands.  White Dog spoke calmly and asked if the soldiers would cross the river in order to hold council.  But when Captain Marsh asked White Dog about the ponies he had seen on the bluff, White Dog opened fire and the Dakota sprung an ambush.

After the first volley, nearly half of Marsh’s men fell dead.  As the soldiers returned fire they were then rushed from behind.  Hand-to-hand combat ensued as the soldiers frantically sought cover from the attack.  Eventually the men of Marsh’s battalion found cover in the thicket just below the ferry.  But the Indians continued to fire upon the thicket for several hours.  By 4 p.m. the soldiers were nearly out of ammunition and Captain Marsh ordered his men to swim the river so that they could escape.  Marsh was the first to enter the river, but when he was near midstream he got a cramp and drowned.  The remainder of the men, probably about twenty in number, escaped along the river and eventually returned to the road.  Their progress was slow, but they reached Fort Ridgely by 10 p.m.

According to 1st Lieutenant John F. Bishop, 25 men were killed at the Battle of Redwood Ferry.  In his personal account of the battle, Bishop states, “Some of the things we saw that day are too revolting to relate; it chills my blood now to think of them.”

Read John F. Bishop’s account of the Battle – page 166-170

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John F. Bishop, “Battle of Redwood – August 18, 1862,”  Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, 1861-1865, Vol. 2, (St. Paul:  The Pioneer Press Company, 1893), 166-170.


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