Fort Ridgely State Park

Location: Fairfax, Minnesota

Webpage: Minnesota State Park

General Description: In the spring of 1853, soldiers embarked by steamboat from Fort Snelling in Minneapolis along the Minnesota River to establish Fort Ridgely near the Dakota Indian territory.  The fort was completed in 1855 and provided a buffer between the Dakota tribes and settlers along the Minnesota River.  With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the regular soldiers were withdrawn from the fort, which was then manned by Minnesota militia forces.  Tensions with the Dakota Indians had been rising since the 1851 Treaty of Traverse des Sioux as the BIA continually broke the terms of the treaty withholding or stealing the annuity payments and refusing to turn over government food on credit thereby starving the Indians.  On August 18, 1862, Dakota warriors showed up at the Lower Sioux Agency to demand food and were once again turned away.  Violence broke out and 20 white men were killed and 10 captured of the 67 gathered there.  Those that escaped fled to Fort Ridgely for protection.  Captain Marsh led a force of 46 soldiers to investigate the reports of the survivors.  They found numerous dead settlers on the way to Lower Sioux Agency and were themselves attacked repeatedly.  By late afternoon, Marsh had only 11 men left in his command when he tried to return to Fort Ridgely.  Marsh, himself, did not survive the journey having drowned in the river crossing due to a cramp, but the remaining men returned to the fort around midnight and the Battle of Fort Ridgely began.  At the time Fort Ridgely was in the process of recruiting and mustering volunteers for the Civil War, so there were nearly 200 men at the fort, but most of them were poorly armed and poorly trained.  With the death of Captain Marsh, command was limited to Lt Sheehan, the quartermaster.  The Indians attacked with over 400 warriors but were repulsed by the men in the fort.  The Indians attempted to burn the fort but the numerous stone buildings refused to catch on fire.  The next day a thunderstorm and heavy rains gave the soldiers the opportunity to reinforce their defenses which focused on placing and protecting the 6 cannons.  By the morning of August 22, the Indians force had grown to over 800 warriors attacking early in the morning.  This attack was repulsed as were smaller attempts throughout the day.  During the evening the Indians attempted another major attack and Lt Sheehan was forced to torch the buildings on the north side of the fort to stop them from entering the fort from that direction.  This essentially stopped the Indian attack as they melted back into the ravines.  The Indians then left the area in favor of softer targets along the river.  These smaller attacks on settlements continued until September 23 where a large group were captured at Wood Lake.  Over 300 of these captured Indians were sentenced to death over an estimate of over 500 white men, women and children killed in the uprising,  President Lincoln reduced the sentences of most, although 38 were executed making it the larges mass execution in American history.  After Fort Ridgely closed in 1872, local farmers used the buildings and many of them were demolished for building materials.  In 1896, the site of the fort was purchased by the state as a war memorial and in 1911 became a state park when more acres were purchased.



1) The ruins of Fort Ridgely had been reduced to the stone foundations of the buildings which have all been excavated.  A series of interpretive signs lead visitors on a short walk through the fort giving information about the buildings and the 1862 attacks.  One of the barracks has been rebuilt and is now a museum about the fort.  Unfortunately the building is closed during the week, so all we had were the building foundations to explore.