News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Confederates in South Dakota


One of the first U.Sl Army  units to be assigned to Fort Sissseton 
to work on its construction in 1864 was composed Confederate prisoners 
of ware who joined the Union Army.
One of the first U.S. Army units to be assigned to Fort Sissseton to work on its construction in 1864 was composed Confederate prisoners of ware who joined the Union Army.

Dr. Blanchard and I have both commented on the Virginia Governor’s  proclamation declaring April Confederate History Month without mentioning slavery.  Re-enactors concentrate on the battle field operations, but there is much more to know and understand about the War and the people involved in it.  My son and I are in the miiddle of the drill line in the photo above as part  of Company F, 1st U.S. Volunteer Infantry, who we portray.  The infirmities of age and arthritis have limited what I can do (I can’t do the reverse arms carry anymore), and whereas once we won trophies during the shooting matches, the rifling of the bores of our Japanese replica Springfield muskets is so worn that the the balls do loopty-loops on their way in the direction of the targets.

The group we portray was recruited at the Point Lookout military prison in Maryland from Confederate soldiers who had been captured and confined there.   After President Lincoln and General Grant gave the matter much thought, they approved an initiative to allow the prisoners to sign an oath of allegiance to the Union in exchange for which they would be allowed to enlist in the Union Army. They were called Galvanized Yankees.  They were assured that they would not been put into battle against their Confederate friends and relatives, but would be sent to the West to man forts on  the frontier.  The 1st U.S. Volunteers was sent to  the Dakota Territory where they were deployed at forts along the Minnesota-Dakota border and at forts on the Upper Missouri River.

At the time Fort Sisseton was named Fort Wadsworth.  The name was changed in 1868 when an eastern fort claimed the Wadsw0rth name.  The fort was designated to be built at Aberdeen.  But there was no timber or masonry materials in the vicinity to be used in contructi0n, and there was doubt about potable water.  The officers in charge of the project found a  nice site on the coteaus above the lakes , where there was timber, rock outcroppings, and clay for making bricks. And a lot of fresh water.

Conpany F arrived at the Fort in August 1864 and left about a year later.  They did the initial construction of the Fort.  After the Civil War ended, companies of the 1st U.S. Volunteers were mustered out but others were redeployed to guard stage routes in Kansas.
Men from the Confederate states did the early construction at Fort
 Sisseton.   
Men from the Confederate states did the early construction at Fort Sisseton.

Although the Fort was built to deal with the Sioux uprising that occurred at the same time as the Civil War, no troops at Fort Sisseton were ever involved in any battles or major operations.  That is because, the Fort commanders recruited among the Sisseton-Wahpeton people  a company of scouts that maintained camps in the areas outlying the Fort.  The scouts took care of any hostiles that ventured into the area.  The biggest burden the troops complained of was boredom.  And those Southern boys were not terribly impressed with the winter.

So, the establishment of South Dakota began with a big boost from the Confederacy.  And this all illustrates what a complex time it was.  Many of the men had been forced to enlist in the Confederate Army and did not share the political motives of their leadership.  Others saw the futility of war and came to believe that as long as there were slaves, they could be enslaved.

The President of Harvard, Drew Gilpin Faust, has written a whole series of books on the history of the South during the time of the Civil War.  Her work is a good place to begin to understand the Confederacy.

If you want to dabble in a little history of the Confederates in South Dakota,  come to the Fort Sisseton Historical Festival June 4-6.

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