150 Years Ago This Week: Deadly Sioux uprising begins

August 1862

Maj. Gen. James E. B. Stuart was assigned command of all the cavalry of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia on Sunday, Aug. 17. The same day in southwestern Minnesota a tragic Sioux Indian uprising began, and lasted a month.

The Sioux, led by Chief Little Crow, allegedly facing starvation and extremely poor living conditions on their reservation, revolted. After murdering settlers and citizens near Acton, vicious depredations against white citizens continued. Federal troops under former Minnesota governor Gen. Henry Hastings Sibley (a distant cousin to Brig. Gen. Henry Hopkins Sibley, the unsuccessful Confederate commander in the New Mexico Campaign the previous spring) moved in and were ambushed by the Sioux.

In Virginia, Maj. Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia, vanquished at Cedar Mountain south of Culpeper on Aug. 9, was positioned on the north bank of the Rappahannock River near Rappahannock Station. There, Gen. Pope awaited reinforcements from Maj. Gen. George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac, recently pulled out of the Peninsula below Richmond and moving to defend Washington against Maj. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates.

The second session of the Confederate Congress met in Richmond on Aug. 18 and President Davis sent a message reviewing the prospects of the war and of the Confederate nation. He railed against the alleged atrocities committed by Federal soldiers, specifically Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler in New Orleans. There was fighting on all fronts, in Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, Louisiana, western Virginia and Kentucky, as well as in Virginia. At Redwood Ferry, Minn., 19 of 46 Union soldiers survived a Sioux ambush.

An extensive Federal raid on Aug. 19 was conducted against the Louisville & Nashville Railroad in Tennessee. The Federal Department of the Ohio was created, with Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright in command. In the department were the states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Kentucky east of the Tennessee River, including Cumberland Gap on the Virginia-Kentucky border. New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley on Aug. 20 published “The Prayer of Twenty Millions”; it questioned President Lincoln’s slavery policy. “We complain that the Union cause has suffered . . . from mistaken deference to Rebel slavery. All attempts to put down the Rebellion and at the same time uphold its inciting cause are preposterous and futile.”

The same day in Virginia, Aug. 20, Gen. Pope’s army skirmished all along the Rappahannock River in Culpeper County, with advance units under Gen. Jackson. There was severe fighting at Raccoon Ford, Stevensburg, Kelly’s Ford, Rappahannock Station and Brandy Station. In Minnesota, the Sioux unsuccessfully attacked Fort Ridgeley.

Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor was assigned command of the Confederate District of West Louisiana in the Department of the Trans-Mississippi. The next day, Aug. 21, President Davis in Richmond proclaimed that Federal Maj. Gen. David Hunter and Brig. Gen. John Phelps should be treated as outlaws and, if captured, held as felons because they were organizing slaves for the Union Army. Gen. Phelps resigned from the U.S. Army after Washington disavowed his policies.

In Washington on Aug. 22, President Lincoln responded to editor Greeley: “I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be ‘the Union as it was.’ If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”

In Rappahannock County, Va., Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart stopped his advance at Amissville, and returned towards Catlett’s Station in Fauquier County. There, in a raid on the Orange & Alexandria Railroad in company with Maj. John S. Mosby and his Rangers in a blinding thunderstorm, the Confederates captured Gen. Pope’s baggage train, with his overcoat and hat, all of his official papers and dispatches and a considerable amount of personal property.

In New Orleans, Gen. Butler authorized enlisting free blacks as Federal soldiers. The Sioux were repulsed again in another attack on Fort Ridgeley in Minnesota. Gen. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac disembarked from riverboats and steamers at Aquia Landing, near Fredericksburg, and at Alexandria, across the Potomac River from Washington. Continued skirmishing occurred on the Rappahannock River in Culpeper and Fauquier counties between Union forces under Gen. Pope and Confederate forces under Gen. Jackson.

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Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.