On Sunday, August 17, four Dakota Indians from a breakaway band of young malcontents were on a hunting trip when they came across some eggs in a hen’s nest along the fence line of a settler’s homestead in southwestern Minnesota. When one of the four took the eggs, another in the group warned him that the eggs belonged to a white man. The first young man became angry, dashed the eggs to the ground, and accused the other of being afraid of white men, even though Dakota were half-starved. Apparently to disprove the accusation of cowardice, the other Dakota said that to show he was not afraid of white men; he would go the house and shoot the owner. He challenged the others to join him. Minutes later three white men, a white woman, and a fifteen-year old white girl lay dead. This act quickly started a six week violent attack between the Dakota and settlers; between 400-600 white men/women/children were killed and over 2,000 refugees from southwestern Minnesota sought refuge in Mankato, Minnesota. Colonel Henry Sibley and 1,400 of his troops were in charge of stopping the slaughter, taking 269 white prisoners and 1,250 Dakota prisoners. The military court eventually tried 393 cases, convicting 323 and sentencing 303 to death.
U.S. President Abraham Lincoln has been reviewing the case information as he has been confronted with numerous appeals from both sides regarding the fate of the condemned. Lincoln is sympathetic to the plight of the Indians who have been moved from their homelands in past decades and he is also aware how frequently the U.S. has defaulted on its part of the treaties designed to compensate Indians for the lands seized by the U.S. He can understand how this feeling of betrayal and frustration played a large part in what occurred in Minnesota.
After careful evaluation of the trial testimony, Lincoln writes a letter to now Brigadier General Sibley in St. Paul, Minnesota and issues a stay of execution for all but 39 of the “Indians and Half-Breeds”; they are to be executed on the 19th day of December. If it is carried out, it will be the largest execution in U.S. history.
It has been snowing heavily over the last 24 hours in not only Washington City but also in Virginia, where C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee and U.S. Commanding General Ambrose Burnside and their combined 186,000 men are camped around Fredericksburg and the surrounding area. Major General George Meade, who is just returning from a trip to Washington, writes a letter to his wife Margaretta in Philadelphia:
I have just sent you a telegram announcing that I have received from Washington notice by telegraph of my promotion. I am truly glad, for your sake as well as my own.
I wrote you a few lines last night, at the end of George’s (McClellan – whom Meade met up with yesterday) letter. Soon after closing, an order came countermanding our marching, owing to the storm. The weather is very cold tonight, everything freezing hard; but with my stove and buffalo robe, and with the good news of today, I bid defiance to the weather.
From his headquarters in College Hill, Mississippi, Major General William Sherman writes to his brother Senator John Sherman in Washington. He writes of his travels with Major General Ulysses S. Grant into Mississippi and the conditions they’ve encountered:
We have had two days’ hard rain and snow, making the roads very bad. Indeed, since the building of the railroad, the mud roads, leading north and south are disused and are washed very badly, the North Mississippi. I doubt if we shall proceed much further on this line, as operations should now proceed against Vicksburg and Yazoo. I hear nothing from Virginia or Kentucky. We are ahead of them, and they should push up…
I suppose you hear little of me. I allow no reporters about. My official reports go to the proper office, and thus the enemy shall learn nothing of my forces, plans or purposes, through an egotistical and corrupt press…