Monday, September 08, 2014

The Dead of Fort Pembina

Some of the graves that were originally in the Fort Pembina Cemetery.
In anticipation of Fort Pembina (1870-1895) closing, the graves were  
disinterred and reburied at the Custer National Cemetery in 1892.

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When Fort Pembina existed (1870-1895), it was in a sense its own town, almost entirely self-sufficient. That included having its own cemetery.
As Fort Pembina's time was winding down, the U.S. Army knew it would need to find a new home for the graves at the Fort's cemetery.  It was determined they would be disinterred, then transferred for reburial, to the Custer National Cemetery.  This was accomplished in 1892.
I recently became curious about whether the Fort had its own cemetery or not, and that's when I learned about the above after doing the initial research.  That wasn't enough for me - I had to know more.

I eventually learned that prior to Fort Pembina's establishment, the people of Pembina demanded protection due to the recent Dakota Uprising of 1862 in Minnesota.  To fulfill their request, the government formed a special unit which eventually became known as Hatch's Battalion.  Mustered in 1863, the battalion was ready to head to Pembina, Dakota Territory in early October; they arrived - after many challenges and losses of stock and supplies - on November 13th.  They encamped over the winter, building as best they could log buildings for the 300 men that comprised the battalion.  Their main objective was to hold back the hostile Dakota that had retreated across the boundary into Canada.  [In the end, they captured over 300 Dakota; the prisoners were remnants of the 1862 uprising that had been hiding 60 miles north of Pembina...]

Hatch received orders in April to transfer the Battalion to Fort Abercrombie.  In that same letter, dated April 26, 1864, he was ordered to put one company on patrol duty, up and down the Red River of the North between Fort Abercrombie and Pembina, "...to protect the route to Pembina, and keep open communication."  The immediate threat had passed, but an eye would be kept on the situation with the patrols.  Meanwhile, communications and plans were coming together, to obtain authorization for what would become Fort Pembina. In 1869 Major General Winfield S. Hancock, commander of the Department of the Dakota, recommended the establishment of a post near Pembina. Lobbying by citizens and local area politicians had worked.  With General Hancock's recommendation to the War Department, the fort would finally become a reality; "...danger from the Sioux and construction of two railroads" were cited as reasons for providing military protection to the area.

During the time prior to the fort's establishment in 1870, two soldiers with Hatch's Battalion were the first to die while stationed in Pembina:

- Joseph Gague (Co. C, Hatch's Battalion) D. 24 April 1864
- John Munger (Co. A, Hatch's Battalion) D. 8 March 1864