Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Major Hatch: Pembina & the Indian Wars




I started this post to be about Major E. A. C. Hatch1 (sometimes referred to as Edward Hatch, or Edwin Hatch...) But a much more interesting story emerged about the bigger picture.

What is the bigger picture? I'll tell you. It's about a young Minnesota frontier just opening up to settlement, and citizenry panicking due to rumours, skirmishes, and some actual attacks from native populations. It's about how a bad situation became worse through panic, misunderstandings/miscommunication, and violence - horrific violence on both sides. A lot of what happened was caused by stresses (starvation/famine) brought about by over-hunting of the buffalo and loss of land due to white settlement. The resulting uprising was sadly inevitable.

It was 1863, and the uprisings of 1862 were still very fresh on peoples' minds.
Convinced now that static garrisons and even patrolling soldiers were not sufficient to protect the frontier, civilian authorities took a series of measures to boost the defense of the line of settlement. On July 4, 1863, Adjutant-General Oscar Malmors issued a general order for the establishment of a mounted corps of "volunteer scouts," consisting of experienced hunters and trappers, to patrol the Big Woods from Sauk Center to the northern edge of Sibley County. The scouts were to serve a two-month tour of duty and provide their own arms, equipment, and provisions. In return, the volunteers were to be paid two dollars a day each, with a greater incentive of twenty-five dollars offered for the scalp of each hostile Sioux Indian collected. The general order did not bother to explain the process by which any particular scalp could demonstrate the degree of "hostility" or even the tribal identity of the Indian from whom it was taken.

To bolster the enlisted scouts and the number of dead Indians a reward of seventy-five dollars was offered to any person not in military service who could produce "satisfactory proof" of the killing of a hostile Sioux warrior. This inducement to "independent scouts" was increased to two hundred dollars a head on September 22. This open season on "hostile Indians" enjoyed little success. In more than three months, bounty was paid for only five scalps. The volunteer scouts were mustered out of service on September 20.

To supplement the forces protecting Minnesota, a gaggle of high-powered state leaders, including Senator Henry Rice and Senator Morton Wilkinson, convinced the secretary of war to authorize, on June 12, the formation of a battalion of two infantry and two cavalry companies (the two infantry companies were quickly converted to cavalry.) Recruited in Minnesota and supported by Chippewa auxiliaries, the battalion was to be independent of both Pope's and Sibley's command. Placed in charge of the maverick outfit was Major Edwin A. C. Hatch, a resident of Minnesota since 1843 and a former agent to the Blackfeet Sioux; however, he lacked military experience.

Pope and Sibley were both outraged at this seeming usurpation of their military authority and control. Pope protested to both Halleck and Stanton, particularly about the part of the plan calling for Chippewa auxiliaries. In a letter to Stanton he claimed that "Hatch is but an instrument of Rice." Sibley felt that the raising of the independent battalion was a direct slap at his competence and capability. In his diary entry for July 8 he wrote, "Learned of the order granting authority to Major Hatch to raise two companies of infantry and two of cavalry to serve against the Indians during the existence of this war. The whole thing I regard as a miserable scheme got up by Rice and others, who hate General Pope and do not love me and who wish to annoy and humiliate us both. I have a contempt for the whole humbug inventor and all."

Sibley's and Pope's protestations did lead to a narrowing of the autonomy of "Hatch's Battalion," and it was placed under Sibley's command. At Sibley's suggestion the battalion was posted to the north at what later became the town of Pembina, primarily to guard against possible incursion by those Sante who had fled across the Canadian border after the 1862 uprising and also as a form of exile to this stepchild military formation. A northward march of four hundred miles from October 5 to November 13, during which many of the battalion's oxen and mules perished, brought it to its posting as winter began its usual early siege of the northern woods. High winds, deep snow, and freezing temperatures plagued Hatch's men on the march and as they constructed their cantonment. The mercury fell to forty degrees below zerio as 1863 ended, and on the first day of the new year it fell to sixty degrees below.

The abominable weather and the requirements of construction did not prevent Hatch from aggressive patrolling. For all its efforts, however, the battalion fought only one engagement with hostile Indians. News of a party of Sioux encamped near the old British trading post of St. Joseph, forty miles west of Pembina, sent a dismounted detachment of twenty out on the trail to the trading post on December 15. After a forced march, the white platoon located and closed in, undetected, around the sleeping Indian camp at 3:00AM. As the Indians awakened and began to emerge from their tepees, Hatch's men commenced firing. The fight was completely one-sided. Six Sioux were killed even before they were able to return fire, and the rest fled. Two or three soldiers were slightly wounded.

Aside from that incident, Hatch's Battalion passed a largely uneventful, if arduous winter at Pembina. From that post on the Red River in the northeast corner of Dakota seventy miles below Fort Garry, Hatch devoted much of his military activities to luring hungry and haggard Sioux refugees away from Canada. Ninety-one Sioux did recross the Canadian border during the winter to surrender themselves to the garrison. Among the Indians hoodwinked into captivity by agents of the coattail-riding crony of Senator Rice were Shakopee and Medicine Bottle, both of whom were subsequently hanged.

At the end of the long, hard winter, during which three-quarters of the post's stock died of starvation and cold, the battalion was transferred to Fort Abercrombie to garrison that post and patrol the Red River Valley...The battalion claimed a total of 28 Indians killed and 300 taken prisoner. Although hardly the elite strike force that could deal a mortal blow to whatever hostile Indians remained on the Minnesota frontier, Hatch's Battalion did perform a useful defensive and patrolling mission for the northern half of the state and saved the government the trouble and expense of detaching troops for that purpose from the battlefronts of the Civil War. (From The Dakota War: The United States Army Versus the Sioux, 1862-1865 by Michael Clodfelter)
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...The independent Battalion of Minnesota Volunteers, raised and commanded by Major E.A.C. Hatch, having been ordered to report to me for assignment to duty, was dispatched on 10th of October to Pembina, to hold in check the hostile Sioux who had retreated for safety into Her Majesty's coterminous possessions, where they could not be followed by our troops, as I had received stringent ordered from General Halleck, through department headquarters, in no case to cross the boundary line with a military force. About ninety Sioux men, women, and children came across the boundary and surrendered to Major Hatch, commanding at Pembina. The battalion, with one section of mountain howitzers of Third Minnesota mixed battery, went into winter quarters at Pembina, and remained until about the 1st of May of the present year, when I ordered Major Hatch with his command to relieve the detachments of the Eighth Regiment Minnesota Volunteers at Fort Abercrombie, and at the stations of Pomme de Terre and Alexandria, that regiment having been designated as part of the expeditionary force to join Brigadier-General Sully on the Missouri. The other three sections of the mixed gun and howitzer battery (Third Minnesota) were stationed respectively at Forts Ridgely, Snelling, and Ripley. (From Report of Operations against Indians in the District of Minnesota, written by Brigadier-General Henry H. Sibley, U.S. Army, commanding District of Minnesota, including operations from October 1, 1863 to October 1, 1864; contained in The War of the Rebellion: A compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, published by Government Printing Office 1893)
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Letters to S. D. Dept. of History, from Col. Samuel J. Brown dated Feb. 28 and March 5, 1921: in the latter he says: "My father's "letters to me [from Ft. Pembina] as well as his communications to Gen. Sibley are on file in the library of the Minnesota Historical Society." In one of those letters dated March 23, 1864, Gen. Sibley says to Gen. Pope: "Major J. R. Brown, special military agent, arrived some days ago at Fort Abercrombie from Pembina, having in charge ninety men, women, and children of the Sioux tribe, who surrendered themselves to Major Hatch at Ft. Pembina during the winter. There were originally twenty-one men, 31 women and 39 children, but one man died suddenly on the way. I have ordered all the prisoners to Fort Snelling under guard; and as among the men there are several who were deeply engaged in the outrages perpetrated on this frontier in 1862, I propose, with your sanction, to try the men by a military commission Among these captives are two half brothers and the four wives of the defunct chief, Little Crow." (Rebellion Records, Series I, vol. 34, part 2, pp. 712-13; pp. 539-40 give facts and plans of the government which show the importance of Major Brown's services at Pembina as a judicious negotiator and friend of the Indians. "Minnesota In Three Centuries," vol. III. pp. 422-3—Major Hatch.)

Major Brown came into Dakota Territory in 1863 in General Sibley's army that pursued the Sioux Indians guilty of the Minnesota Massacre of 1862. He was "Chief of Scouts and Chief Guide," in command of a large number of Indian scouts (Dakotas).6 In October, 1863, he was sent "by the Government (with Father Andre) to make peace with the Minnesota Sioux who fled to the North after the Outbreak of 1862,"7 his headquarters' being at Pembina, North Dakota. (From South Dakota Historical Collections)
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E.A.C. Hatch had Civilian experience prior to his military experience, working with the native populations - "In 1856, the year following the Stevens treaty with the Blackfoot nation, E. A. C. Hatch was a pointed agent to these tribes..." (From Bancroft Works, Volume 31, History Of Washington, Idaho, and Montana, 1845-1889, Hubert H. Bancroft, 1890. The History Company, Publishers, San Francisco) Also, in 1863, he helped broker the "Treaty with the Chippewa of the Mississippi and the Pillager and Lake Winniobigoshish Bands."


An interesting piece of trivia about the 1862 uprising is that E.A.C. Hatch was the one to break the news: "The first news of the event, the massacre in the Minnesota Valley, which touched off the flame, reached Stearns county on the evening of August 20th in a letter from E.A.C. Hatch, at Fort Ridgley, addressed to Superintendent Thompson of St. Cloud..." (From One Hundred Years Jacob's Prairie)

1 - Hatch has been mentioned in this blog before, when I quoted an article in an anniversary edition of a local newspaper. However, that version was most definitely from a particular point of view.