Q&A: What was the Siege of Fort Abercrombie?

Q&A: What was the Siege of Fort Abercrombie?

Fort Abercrombie was a small military garrison on the west side of the Red River in present day North Dakota.  Like Fort Ridgely, Fort Abercrombie was a fort in name only, as it consisted of just three main buildings with no stockade or blockhouses.  The garrison was established in 1857 as an outpost to protect the northern and western frontiers.  At the time of the U.S. – Dakota War, Fort Abercrombie was defended by Captain John Vander Horck and about 48 men of Company D of the Fifth Minnesota Regiment.

Captain John Vander Horck, image from findagrave.com.  

News of the war reached the fort on August 23, in the form of a St. Cloud newspaper clipping.  Captain Vander Horck immediately recalled thirty troops that he had previously stationed at Georgetown, Minnesota.  He also sent out a military and citizen party to reconnoiter at Breckenridge where they had discovered that the area had been attacked.  At this time Captain Vander Horck sent couriers to St. Paul to inform the Governor of the situation and to ask for reinforcements and ammunition.

The first siege on the fort happened early on the morning of September 3.  The Dakota attackers made strong attempts to capture the horses but were driven off by military forces as well as civilians who sought to save their animals.  Although the raid was pushed back, the Dakota kept up desultory fire on the fort for several hours.  The fort lost one killed and one wounded that day while Indian losses have been estimated at six killed and fifteen wounded.

Fort Abercrombie

The second and most fierce siege occurred on September 6, when the fort was attacked by approximately 150 Dakota warriors.  The fighting was intense for several hours, but thanks to well-directed cannon fire from the fort’s three twelve pound howitzers, the Dakota retired to cover along the riverside.  However, they maintained desultory and sniper fire.  In particular, the Dakota fired upon any man going to the river for water.  The fort lost two killed and one wounded that day while it is estimated that the Dakota had heavy losses.

On September 6, Governor Ramsey ordered reinforcements sent to Fort Abercrombie.  However, unaware of the reinforcements, Captain Vander Horck sent out more couriers on September 21, accompanied by an escort of twenty men.  Upon returning to the fort, the escort was fired upon killing two men.  The reinforcements finally reached Fort Abercrombie on September 21, to the great joy of the garrison and its besieged civilians.  Two more small skirmishes occurred on September 26 and 29, but the soldiers at the fort were able to force the Dakota to retreat.  Throughout the entire six week siege on the fort, the overall losses were five killed and five wounded.

Read the report of Captain Emil A. Burger – page 253

See this blog post on YouTube


“The Siege of Fort Abercrombie,” Friends of Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site, http://www.ftabercrombie.org/the-siege-of-fort-abercrombie.html

“Wilkin County,” Study Resource Guide US-Dakota War of 1862, http://www.usdakotawarmncountybycounty.com/county/wilkin-county-us-dakota-war.pdf


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