Review – MHS FR – Exhibits

Minnesota Historical Society
Fort Ridgely Historic Site
Commissary Exhibits
Reviewed on September 26, 2015
Updated on August 2, 2017

Items of Interest

The exhibits include Fort Ridgely history, Fort Ridgely in the Dakota War of 1862, period ordnance including a 12-pounder mountain howitzer and ammunition, period food, clothing, supplies and equipment including a “Sibley Tent,” period photos of Fort Ridgely and the Civil War, results of excavations done in 1936-37 and 1972 and CCC reconstruction work done in the 1930s.

This review will focus only on the Dakota War of 1862 information.

I believe that some of the panels in this exhibit were moved here in 2001 from the Lower Sioux Agency Historic Site when its exhibits were updated.

Four other reviews of Fort Ridgely products have been posted to this blog:
Fort Ridgely Historic Site Sign
Fort Ridgely Trail Signs
MHS Fort Ridgely Information Website
Fort Ridgely Introduction Video

General Comments

  • Disrespectful – Fort Ridgely Historic Site is one of the most significant historic sites in the State. Its exhibits need to be updated and corrected.
  • One panel states that there were 180 defenders during the 2 battles in 1862. This is correct. The Fort Ridgley Site Sign and the MHS Fort Ridgely Information Website state that there were 280 defenders. This is not correct.
  • The exhibit is an olio of items added over the years. There are exhibits that have little to do with the fort.
  • Incorrect – There is a main diorama in the back room showing the layout of the fort and descriptions of the buildings. However, there are other layouts and building descriptions on site that are not consistent with this main diorama. It is confusing.
  • Incorrect – I cannot find a good discussion anywhere on this site of the first and second battles.
  • Unbalanced – I cannot find any items in the back room related to the Dakota Indians except for short descriptions and paintings of the battles.

Most Objectionable Statements

“Myrick is eating grass”

  • What does this mean? This sentence is provided with no interpretation.

[Portrait of an Indian with a narrative of White Dog below]

  • Is this White Dog? Who is the artist and what is the date?

The morning after the Jones family was killed…Dakota attacked the Lower Agency…A ferryman whose name is unknown carried 47 agency residents safely across the river before losing his own life in the conflict.

  • Disrespectful – More is known about this ferryman (or ferrymen) than is given here. See Connors, “The Elusive Hero of Redwood Ferry.”

Hearing of the attack, Fort Ridgely soldiers set out for the Lower Agency, but were ambushed at Redwood Ferry. More than 20 men, including the fort’s commander, Captain Marsh, were killed.

  • 24 men from Fort Ridgely died as a result of the battle at Redwood Ferry.

The first Dakota attack on the thriving German community of New Ulm came on August 19. Forewarned, the citizens formed a militia…

  • I believe that New Ulm already had a militia before the Dakota War started.

A few houses at the edge of town were burned before a thunderstorm ended the skirmish.

  • There is confusion as to when this happened. This was the 1st battle of New Ulm.

About 650 Dakota under Mankato, Wabasha and Big Eagle surrounded the town, occupied many of the outlying buildings, and prepared to storm the barricades.

  • This was the 2nd battle of New Ulm.
  • Incorrect – I cannot find that Chiefs Mankato and Wabasha were present in the 2nd battle.

As word of the attacks spread through the Minnesota River valley, refugees poured into Fort Ridgely, about 13 miles down river from the Lower Agency. Although the Fort offered better protection than an isolated farm, it was not designed to resist a major attack. The cluster of buildings was…surrounded on three sides by deep ravines…

  • Incorrect – According to a steamboat river mileage chart, Fort Ridgely was about 30 miles downriver from the Lower Agency.
  • Incorrect – The Fort Ridgely video states that the fort was surrounded on 2 sides by ravines. Which is correct?

The Dakota first attacked Fort Ridgely on Wednesday morning, August 20, returning on August 22 with a much larger force of about 800. In both attacks they were held off by 180 defenders of the Fort…

  • Here it states that there were 180 defenders. This is correct. The Fort Ridgely Site Sign and the MHS Fort Ridgely Information Website state there were 280 defenders. This is incorrect.

[Painting of the attack on Fort Ridgley]
Chronology of the second battle of Fort Ridgely, August 22, 1862

1. First major attack launched from northeast ravine at 1:00 p.m.

  • Incorrect – I believe the 2nd battle started about 2 p.m.

2. Indians gather at southeast ravine and take possession of stables and sutler’s store.

3. Sergeant McGrew fires at Sutler’s store and it goes up in flames.

4. Ordnance Sergeant Jones fires cannon through headquarters building door and destroys stables.

  • Incorrect – They took possession of the Sutler’s store after Jones destroyed the stables.
  • Incorrect – Jones fired 2 red-hot cannon balls through the building center hallway.

Most of the upper Dakota fled before Sibley’s army and spent the winter of 1862-63 in the Devil’s Lake area of Dakota Territory. In the spring of 1863, a campaign to kill or capture these Indians was planned, using troops command by Henry Sibley and Alfred Sully.

  • Incorrect – Sibley and Sully were seeking to punish the hostile Dakota who had committed crimes during the Dakota War.

[Large Diorama and text] – Fort Ridgely layout

9. Log Houses – …the building on the far west was the home of Ordnance Sergeant John Jones and his family prior to the 1862 Dakota War.

  • Incorrect – According to a trail sign, the building on the far east was the home of Jones and his family. Which is correct?

18. Redwood Ferry Trail – The Redwood Ferry was the nearest point at which soldiers stationed at Fort Ridgely could cross to the western side of the Minnesota River.

  • Incorrect – They also had a Fort Ridgely Ferry crossing. When the river level was low, they could cross the Minnesota River in two places near Fort Ridgely.
  • This road also went to the granite quarry.

[Small Diorama]

  • This diorama should either be corrected or removed from the exhibit.

[Small Diorama] – Fort Ridgely, Minnesota

This diorama depicts the defenses set up at the SW corner of the Fort. The gun position was manned by Sgt. John Jones and members of Co. B. The men in civilian clothing represent the newly formed “Renville Rangers”, half breed Indians who had been recruited at the Upper Indian Agency for service in the Civil War.

  • Disrespectful – Some consider “half breed” to be derogatory.
  • Incorrect – The Renville Rangers were not all half-breeds.
  • Incorrect – Not all had been recruited at the Upper Agency.

Here we see the six pound field piece – “Napoleon” – smooth bore cannon that kept the Indians from storming the fort from the ravine located 300 yards to the SW. This gun was quite accurate up to 500 yds.

  • Incorrect – I believe that the Napoleon cannon at Fort Ridgely was a 12-pounder.
  • Incorrect – Sgt. Jones had a 6-pounder field gun in this position. The Napoleon cannon was located at the SE corner of the fort.
  • Incorrect – The nearest ravine on the SW was closer than 300 yards.
  • Incorrect – I believe the Napoleon was a 12-pounder.
  • Incorrect – Both the Napoleon and 6-pounder field gun had a much longer range than 500 yards.

Defending an open fort against 500 to 1200 Indian warriors is exceedingly difficult, but in this instant was successful because the open areas were defended by cannons which the Indians feared.

  • Incorrect – It is estimated that there were 400 Indians in the 1st attack and 800 in the 2nd attack on Fort Ridgely.
  • Disrespectful – Some consider “warriors” to be derogatory.
  • Incorrect – “instant” should be “instance”

Inside the fort there were:

Minnesota 5th Regiment:        Men     Guns
Company B                             33         20
Company C                             52         52
Renville Rangers                     51         40
Regular US Army                      1          1
Doctor – Sutler                           2          1
–                                             —–      —–
–                                             139      114
Civilians (wives – refugees)    300         6
–                                             —–      —–
–                                             439      120

  • Incorrect – These numbers are not consistent with other numbers from other sources.
  • Incorrect – The Renville Rangers were not part of the Minnesota 5th.
  • Incorrect – There were at least 30 civilian defenders.
  • How does the author count the men manning the cannons?

[Small Diorama] – Officers’ Quarters

In this building the bachelor officers lived. The building was 97’ x 38’ with eight rooms. Usually one man was billeted in each room.

  • Is this correct? Was there one man to a room?

The rooms were heated by fireplaces and probably contained a bed, stand with wash basin, a straight back chair, small table or desk, a lounging chair, and a wardrobe cabinet.

  • Is this correct? I doubt that each room had a fireplace.

The officer’s mess was in the building on the opposite side of the yard.

  • Is this correct?

Lt. Timothy J. Sheehan – Brought Co. C down from Fort Ripley to assist Capt. Marsh. Became Commanding Officer after death of Marsh

  • Incorrect Sheehan became CO when he returned to Fort Ridgely on Tuesday. Lt. Gere was CO when Marsh died.

[Small Diorama] – Battle with Sioux Indians, 1862

This diorama designed and constructed by Richard B. Dunsworth – Donated 1962 by Mr. Dunsworth to the Minnesota Historical Society on the 100th anniversity of the Sioux Uprising for use in the Fort Ridgely museum

  • Incorrect – “anniversity” should be “anniversary”
  • Disrespectful – Some consider “Sioux Uprising” to be derogatory.

From this position you see the gun crew which was trained by Sgt. Jones preparing their 6 lb. smooth bore “Napoleon” cannon for fire. They could fire about once a minute, either solid shot or canister.

  • Incorrect – I believe the Napoleon cannon was a 12-pounder.
  • Incorrect – The position shown is the SW corner of the fort. The Napoleon was in the SE corner. A 6-pounder field gun was in the SW corner.

Protecting this position were members of Company B and the Renville Rangers, recent recruits, shown in civilian clothing.

  • Is this correct?

There were probably no more than 50 to 80 men at this end of the Fort, but with their cannon they kept the Indian Warriors from advancing from the ravine to the southwest.

  • Incorrect – The author cannot possibly estimate the number of men at this end of the Fort.
  • Disrespectful – Some consider “warriors” to be derogatory.
  • The 2 cannons on the south side of the fort prevented the Indians from advancing from the south.

This was a nine day siege with the Indians making two major attacks: The first attack on Wednesday, Aug. 20th gave the Indians a taste of cannon fire that threw them into confusion and convinced many that it was better to go and loot the farm houses.

  • Incorrect – The Indians had already looted many farmhouses. Apparently, the “taste of cannon fire” was not enough because many returned on August 22.

On Friday, Aug. 22, 1862, the Indians mass 1200 warriors at the Fort in an effort to overpower the soldiers and “drive the whites out of Minnesota.” Probably half of them swarmed in from the west toward this position. They succeeded in getting to the Sutler’s Store and barn and coming up out at the ravine they reached the horse shed (between the Headquarter Blg. and the river). Cannon balls were heated red hot and fired into these buildings setting them afire. As the Indians “ran screeming out the soldiers racked them with gun fire…”

  • Incorrect – It is estimated that there were 800 Indians in the attack on Friday.
  • Disrespectful – Some consider “warriors” to be derogatory.
  • Incorrect – It cannot be stated how many “swarmed in from the west”.
  • Incorrect – Red-hot cannonballs were fired only into the large horse and mule barn.
  • Incorrect – “screeming” should be “screaming”
  • Incorrect – “racked” should be “raked”

On one charge out of the ravine, eleven warriors were knocked down by one canister charge.

  • Disrespectful – Some consider “warriors” to be derogatory.
  • Incorrect – It cannot be determined how many were knocked down by one canister.

[Small Diorama] – Headquarters’ Building

Buildings similar to this are still standing today at Fort Larned, Kansas.

  • Is this correct?

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