About Daniel Sauerwein

I am a graduate student in History at the University of North Dakota pursuing my PhD in History with a minor in Geography. My primary historical interests are military history, specifically early US and the Civil War.

Today marks anniversary of Dakota War hangings-Grand Forks Herald

To add to Walt’s mention of the anniversary in his post, I wanted to share part of this lengthy article that appeared in the Grand Forks Herald yesterday (Dec. 26). It is particularly interesting to me, both as it occurred in Minnesota, and related to the larger conflict between the Dakota and the Federal government, which included the siege of Fort Abercrombie, which was commemorated this past September, including participation by several reenactors (myself included).

Today marks anniversary of Dakota War hangings

MITCHELL, S.D. — They were Dakota warriors. They met their fates with courage 150 years ago. The 38 condemned men, their hands bound behind them, rushed to the gallows that had been specially built for them on the edge of the Minnesota River in Mankato, Minn. They danced in place as the rough-hewn nooses were pulled over their heads. All wore white muslin caps with flaps on them, pulled down to obscure faces adorned with ceremonial paint.

The 1862 Dakota War was coming to a deadly climax.

According to an eyewitness report in The New York Times of the largest mass execution in American history, most of the men on the scaffold sang a slow Indian death song. Some of the condemned, including a few of mixed blood who had embraced Christianity, sang a song of their faith. Several had worked their hands free, and clasped a final grip with the man next to them.

Meanwhile, about 4,000 people watched. They were being monitored by more than 1,400 uniformed soldiers in the Minnesota Sixth, Eighth and Ninth regiments, there to ensure the warriors died of hanging and not of a mob attack.

Just after 10 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 26, 1862 — 150 years ago Wednesday — a drum was sounded three times. Capt. William Duley stood ready with a knife at the base of the platform.

Duley had been wounded, had lost three children during the conflict, and his pregnant wife and two other children had been taken hostage. Laura Duley later said she was repeatedly assaulted and lost the child she was carrying during captivity, he would learn when they were reunited.

As the final drumbeat echoed, Duley severed the heavy rope on his second try, releasing the traps beneath the warriors’ feet. All plunged down from the 20-foot-high platform.

Some died instantly, their necks snapped. Others writhed in agony as they choked to death. One man, known as Rattling Runner, plummeted to the ground, the rope around his neck having broken.

As he was brought back to the platform and a second rope placed around his neck, the crowd — and the soldiers — cheered long and loud when they saw all 38 bodies swinging in the frigid morning air.

One little boy, who reportedly had lost his parents in the 1862 Dakota War, was heard to shout, “Hurrah! Hurrah!” according to The New York Times report.

That mass hanging was the culmination of the 1862 Dakota War, also known as the Dakota Conflict, the Sioux Uprising of 1862, and Little Crow’s War, among other names. The executions were held after weeks of attacks, skirmishes and battles between white settlers and soldiers and Indians angry about the loss of their homeland and being denied access to food.

Hundreds, many of them settlers who were surprised by sudden attacks, died in August and September 1862. The Mankato hangings were intended to put the war to rest, but it has remained a heated topic among many Indians and some whites for 150 years, while others, even some who live in the region, are completely unaware of the bloody late summer of 1862.

Lyle W. Miller Sr., a Crow Creek teacher and 1993 Dakota Wesleyan University graduate, spoke on the 1862 Dakota War during a Dec. 14 presentation at the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village.

“When I think about that time in 1862, and I think about the reasons why it started — it had to happen,” Miller said. “A lot of people think war isn’t ever supposed to happen, but at this time, let’s put it this way: There’s no good about a war, but sometimes it has to happen. The little ones were starving. What do you do when you’re faced with a position like that?”

Read more from the Grand Forks Herald.

A Civil War Christmas: Santa Claus on the battlefield

Hat tip to Ethan Rafuse at Civil Warriors for sharing this interesting story yesterday.

A Civil War Christmas: Santa Claus on the battlefield.

VIENNA, Va., December 18, 2012 —  It’s difficult to write about the Civil War at Christmas time, since during that time of war, battles and skirmishes, most folks just did not sit down and commit their thoughts of Yuletide observances to paper and ink, that is if they had ink.  But Christmas was celebrated to some extent both in the North and in the South.

However, you can never talk of the Civil War and Christmas without bringing up the name of Thomas Nast, who was a newspaper cartoonist and a rabid Northerner. It was Nast to whom we owe the word-picture and the actual drawing of Santa Claus, which flowed from his prolific pen.

He published his first Christmas-related cartoon in “Harper’s Weekly” during Christmas,1863, showing a bewhiskered gent passing out gifts to Union soldiers. A couple of fairly young looking boys are pictured on the floor, opening boxes.

The debate over the language of Lincoln

First off, it’s good to be back to blog with you all, as the last few weeks have been extremely hectic for me preparing for my doctoral comprehensive exams, which I am now through the written portion (cue Hallelujah Chorus). Thanks to intrepid fellow CWH blogger Walter Coffey for keeping up some interesting posts the last two months.

Now, I did find a little time to go see the Spielberg film Lincoln with my two friends and fellow reenactors Stuart Lawrence and Den Bolda. Den dressed in period civilian trappings, while I dressed as a soldier for the event (Hey, if folks can go to comic book movies, etc. dressed as the characters from those films, why not us?), which was fun, as one couple who were visiting relatives in the area, but were from Indiana took their picture with us.

My thoughts on the film are mixed. I felt that Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of Honest Abe was pretty good, aside from being a departure from the classic Hal Holbrook rendition in North and South, or Gregory Peck in The Blue and the Gray (which were good also, but not necessarily as accurate). I also enjoyed Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stephens.

I would have liked to have seen a bit more on Lincoln’s conduct of the war as Commander-in-Chief, which did not have to mean another Civil War film full of battle scenes, but just more on the course of his presidency. I thought the debate over the 13th Amendment was interesting and one of my colleagues noted that he hoped it would get people into the documents surrounding the debate on that legislation. Den and I both enjoyed the costuming, as the material culture presented in the film was quite good. Overall, I thought the film presented a real conception of Lincoln, more human as opposed to being on such a pedestal.

That said, one other area that I thought was a bit off, and has apparently became a topic of debate between historians is the foul language that appears a few times. Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose book Team of Rivals was an inspiration for the movie did not have much problem with the profanity used in the film. In contrast, James McPherson argued that Lincoln did not approve of such language and likely did not use it to the degree that was portrayed, especially the utterance of “f—” by W. N. Bilbo, one of the lobbyists for the 13th Amendment. Another who argued that Lincoln likely did not swear as much as was portrayed in the movie, but would not have had as much issue with swearing around him was University of Richmond president Edward Ayers.

Overall, I have to agree with both McPherson and Ayers on their assessment of Lincoln and colorful language. I wonder if Spielberg chose to keep such language to resonate with modern audiences, who are used to such things, and if that is so, what does it say about our society. Further, the movie would have been just as good without it, which would have allowed parents to take younger children to see the film. One wonders how many stayed away because of the language issue. It would have been interesting to see, were he still alive, what David Donald would have said about this issue.

While swearing has become increasingly pervasive in our culture, this does not mean it was so in earlier times. I think the work by Richard Bushman called The Refinement of America is particularly relevant. While focused on the eighteenth century, it also explored the nineteenth century, charting the desire of Americans to achieve elements of refined culture, which extended to personal behavior, including manners and decorum.

It is interesting that this has become a mini debate among respected scholars, but it is good, as it allows historians to interject their knowledge and insights on a given topic into the larger culture. Much like the earlier kerfuffle over how Day-Lewis vocalized Lincoln, the issue of swearing by Abe will be another in a series of appraisals on the film in the coming weeks. Such is the nature of the beast when movies based upon historical events and actors are produced. I encourage everyone to at least go and see Lincoln, but also pick up a good biography of him (I recommend Lincoln by the late David Donald).

Watch Death and the Civil War online

If you happened to miss the television showing of Death and the Civil War, you can watch it online via the PBS website, where you can also order it on DVD. You can also check out my review of the film as well.

Watch Death and the Civil War on PBS. See more from American Experience.

Please be aware that the video is only available until October 17.

A milestone and new scholarship on the war

I thought I would take the opportunity of the blog’s 300th post to share with you the interesting contents in the latest issue of the journal Civil War History (not related to this site). The field of environmental history has been an emerging one over the forty years and the Civil War is not outside this field. The fine staff at the journal have put together a review essay and two articles dealing with environmental history of the war, specifically considering an overview of the literature on the field and the war, the nature of the war in the Trans-Mississippi, and preservation at Gettysburg.

I received the issue of the journal in the mail today and I look forward to reading it in detail in the coming weeks, but my brief examination of the article “The Nature of Preservation: The Rise of Authenticity at Gettysburg” by Brian Black shows it to be good both from an environmental history perspective, but also public history, as it touches on the changing landscape of the battlefield in the years after the battle, including the controversy over the battlefield tower that was demolished several years ago. Now with the new interpretive center and further reconstruction of the natural landscape in recent years, this article is quite timely.

I encourage interested readers to consider subscribing to this journal as well as the Journal of the Civil War Era. Civil War History has a long history and track record, being in its fifty-eighth volume, while The Journal of the Civil War Era is the new flagship publication of the Society of Civil War Historians, and has proven to be good in its first few years. Journals are worthwhile, as they contain articles on a variety of topics, which can be more accessible to some than large monographs. Plus, they are great resources for learning about new books in the field through their book reviews.

Welcome to our newest writer

It is my pleasure to welcome Zack Biro, a Masters student at Lehigh University, as a writer for this blog. As we close in on our 300th post, it will be interesting to see who will write it, but I look forward to Zack’s postings and hope you will welcome his contributions as well.

Antietam: 150 years ago today

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam (or Sharpsburg, if you prefer) in 1862. It represents the bloodiest one-day battle in American history with over 23,000 casualties on both sides. Ethan Rafuse provides a wonderful post on this subject, complete with the opening to the film Glory (1989), which began with this battle.

He also noted the letter from Lt Col. Wilder Dwight, who died from wounds at the battle and the letter he wrote was featured in the documentary Death and the Civil War, which I reviewed earlier.

This battle was significant for several reasons. One was that it allowed Lincoln to justify the Emancipation Proclamation, as the tactical draw served as a psychological and strategic victory for the Union, aiding in a small way in keeping the European powers out of the conflict, though this was largely accomplished by this point in 1862.

Also, it was a major setback for Robert E. Lee, as his invasion of the North failed. It represented a series of missed opportunities and blunders that could have ended the war sooner, had McClellan acted more decisively upon finding Lee’s Special Order 191, which was his battle plan, or had McClellan pursued and destroyed the Army of Northern Virginia after the battle.

Though, 150 years old, this battle is still an important event in our history, worthy of continuing staff rides by military educational programs around the country. One of the better books on the battle that is both scholarly and great for a general audience is James McPherson’s Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, The Battle That Changed the Course of the Civil War (2002), as it discusses the larger significance of the battle as well as how it relates to the concept of freedom at the time. As we approach the anniversaries of some of the most important battles of the war, it will be notable to see how we reflect and what historians write and do to understand the importance of these events against our modern society.