Civil War Times



Dakota Sioux warriors cut a violent swath through much of Minnesota. Far to the southeast, Union forces battled Confederates in the campaign that led to the Second Battle of Bull Run. “We are in the midst of a most terrible and exciting Indian war,” read a telegram to Abraham Lincoln from St. Paul on August 27. “A wild panic prevails in nearly one-half of the State. All are rushing to the frontier to defend the settlers.” ¶ A week later, following defeat at Bull Run, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles recorded in his diary, “Our great army comes retreating to the banks of the Potomac, driven back to the entrenchments by rebels.” An executive order from Lincoln the previous day had directed government clerks and employees to be “armed and supplied with ammunition, for the defense of the capital.” ¶ Should these events in Minnesota and northern Virginia both be considered part of the Civil War? More broadly, should confrontations between U.S. forces and Native Americans between 1861 and 1865 be treated as elements of a single military conflict that also witnessed conventional operations between Union and Confederate armies?

A growing body of scholarship interprets the Civil War and military actions against Native Americans in the West as parts of one historical process. This trend exemplifies how historians, with their advantage of hindsight and access to all kinds of sources, often identify patterns by exploring seemingly disparate factors. In 2003, the distinguished Western scholar Elliott West assessed martial action against the Confederacy and against Native Americans as prongs of a single U.S. state-building effort in the 19th century. By concentrating on the war between the United States and the Confederacy, West argued, Civil War scholars had ignored a

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