Historic Fort Snelling

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Introduction

Overlooking the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers, Fort Snelling was once the furthest outpost of the United States government in the 1820s. Today, it helps to tell the story of Minnesota from 1820 until the fort closed in 1946. Stop in the Visitor Center to see exhibits on World War II history. Then visit the restored historic fort and step back in time to the early 1800s. Costumed interpreters share the fort's story through conversation, demonstrations and in-depth programs. Learn about the area's native peoples and the skills of the soldiers, settlers, traders and servants through demonstrations of cooking, laundry, marching, blacksmithing and more.

Background

The junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers is a place of major social, cultural and historical significance to the many peoples inhabiting the region, a place whose history evokes both pride and pain. It was the crossroads of two major river highways of the fur trade, one of the most lucrative businesses of the first half of the 19th century.

In 1819, the U.S. Army’s 5th Infantry Regiment arrived at the bluff overlooking the rivers' junction to commence building the northwest link in a chain of army posts and Indian agencies that stretched from Lake Michigan to the Missouri River. The construction of what was first called Fort St. Anthony was completed in 1825, when it was renamed for its first commander, Col. Josiah Snelling. The fort represented the U.S. government in the region, becoming a foothold in the U.S. colonization of the region, until the until the establishment of the Minnesota Territory in 1848.

The history of Fort Snelling is not limited to the fort itself. It is a place of cultural importance to many Dakota people as a historical gathering place and as a place of Dakota internment and exile after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. The fort's residents also played a key role in the developing controversy over slavery in the United States in the mid-19th century. Fur traders often utilized slave labor and some officers at the post, including Col. Snelling, owned slaves. Dred and Harriet Scott were enslaved African Americans who belonged to Dr. John Emerson, a surgeon at Fort Snelling in the 1830s. Dred Scott's quest for freedom was based in part on his residence in the free territory that was to become the state of Minnesota. The Supreme Court's landmark 1857 decision denying him his freedom increased tensions between the North and South, drawing the country closer to civil war.

Fort Snelling remained in service as an active military fort, training and sending soldiers to fight in the Civil War, the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 and the Spanish-American War. Between 1880 and the early 1900s, new barracks, officers’ quarters and storehouses were built at the post while much of the old stone fort was demolished. During World War II, Fort Snelling processed nearly 300,000 inductees and trained soldiers for a variety of military occupations, including a Japanese language school staffed by U.S. Army soldiers of Japanese descent. At the end of the war, the fort was closed and turned over to the Veterans Administration.

Fort Snelling was given National Historic Landmark status in 1960, saving it from the path of highway construction. It was turned over to the Minnesota Historical Society for investigation, restoration and reconstruction in 1965 and opened to the public in 1970.

Today, the historic fort has been restored to its 1820s-30s appearance, and the site's living history program and costumed interpreters bring its many and varied stories to life.

The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862

The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 is a significant event in the history and development of the state of Minnesota and the long and complex history of the Dakota people and the U.S. government, and through it, Fort Snelling. Between 1805 and 1858, treaties made between the government and the Dakota nation reduced Dakota lands and significantly altered Minnesota's physical, cultural and political landscape.

The year 2012 marks 150 years since the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 – a tragic time in Minnesota's history that followed years of broken treaties and promises to the Dakota combined with a burgeoning white population in the state. In August 1862, when late annuity payments and the refusal by agents and traders to release provisions found some Dakota facing starvation, factions under the reluctant leadership of Taoyateduta (Little Crow), attacked white settlements, the Lower Sioux Agency and Fort Ridgely in south central and southwestern Minnesota. A significant number of Dakota were against the war, however, and did not participate. The fighting lasted six weeks. Between four and six hundred white civilians and soldiers were killed. The number of Dakota killed in battle is unknown. Troops under the command of former Gov. Henry Sibley, now a U.S. Army colonel, were sent to support Fort Ridgely and the settlers, ultimately defeating the Dakota forces and bringing the war to a close by the end of September.

After a trial by military tribunal, 38 Dakota men were hanged in Mankato on Dec. 26, 1862, in the largest mass execution in U.S. history. More than 300 Dakota men had initially been condemned to death but the sentences of all but 39 were commuted by President Abraham Lincoln. Another was reprieved at the last minute because of questions about the testimony that convicted him. Approximately 1,600 Dakota and mixed-race people at Camp Release near Montevideo, so named because friendly Dakota had gathered 269 captives there to release to Col. Sibley after the Dakota were defeated at the Battle of Wood Lake, were taken into U.S. Army custody. In November the prisoners – mostly women, children, the elderly, non-combatants and others who have filtered into the camp – were taken in a six-day march to Fort Snelling. There, they were held over the winter of 1862-63 in an internment camp, sometimes called a concentration camp, below the fort before being removed from the state to reservations in the Dakota Territory and what is now Nebraska. The convicted prisoners whose death sentences had been commuted were transported to a military prison at Camp McClellan, near Davenport, Iowa.

Thousands of Dakota fled the state to Dakota Territory and Canada following the Battle of Wood Lake. Punitive expeditions into the territory in 1863 and 1864, led by Sibley and Gen. Alfred Sully, a Civil War veteran, resulted in numerous battles in which hundreds of Dakota were killed or forced farther westward. Although these expeditions effectively ended the the conflict between the Dakota and the U.S. government that started in Minnesota, it went on in bloody battles at Fort Phil Kearney, Little Big Horn and finally, in 1890, at Wounded Knee. While the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 lasted just six weeks, the issues surrounding its causes went on for decades and its aftermath continues to affect Minnesota and the nation to this day.

Hanging of Sakpedan and Wakanozhanzhan

After the war, many Dakota military leaders were captured and imprisoned by the U.S. military, among them Sakepedan (Little Six) and Wakanozhanzhan (Medicine Bottle). The two men fled to Canada after the war, but in January 1864, they were captured by British agents, turned over to U.S. authorities and subsequently imprisoned at Fort Snelling. In August, a military tribunal convicted the two men of killing civilians and sentenced them to death. They were executed at Fort Snelling on Nov. 11, 1865, in the presence of the fort's garrison and numerous civilians. It is said that as they climbed the scaffold, a steam train whistle blew in the distance, prompting Sakpedan to say, “As the white made comes in the Indian goes out.” An interpretive sign at Historic Fort Snelling marks where the execution took place.

More information

usdakotawar.org

Timeline

10,000 years of history The natural history of the confluence goes back at least 10,000 years, into the end of the last ice age. Its likely that human history goes back that far as well.

1650 to 1850  Fur trade era booms, first with European, and later American, traders exchanging manufactured goods for furs harvested by local American Indian nations.

August, 1819 U.S. Army soldiers, under the command of Col. Henry Leavenworth, arrive at the confluence of the Mississippi and St. Peter's (later Minnesota) rivers.

Sept. 10, 1820 Cornerstone is laid and building of a military fort commences.

November 1822 Troops move into new barracks at Fort St. Anthony.

1825 Fort is completed and renamed for Col. Josiah Snelling, its first commander.

1836 Dred Scott is brought to Fort Snelling as the slave of the fort's surgeon. Two decades later he sues for his freedom, based on having lived in a free territory. The Supreme Court's famous decision to deny him his freedom is one of the issues that solidifies abolitionist sympathies and draws the country closer to civil war.

1839 Swiss, Scottish and French immigrants from Lord Selkirk's failed colony in Canada, who had been given temporary refuge at the fort, are forced by the Army to move down river in 1839, where they form the small settlement that grows into the city of St. Paul.

1858 The fort grounds are sold to a land speculator and platted as a town site.

1861-65 Fort Snelling is reactivated as an army fort and used as a training center for the thousands of volunteers joining the Union Army to fight in the Civil War.

1862 U.S. Army troops under the command of Gen. Henry Sibley are dispatched from Fort Snelling to aid troops and civilians under siege by the Dakota at Fort Ridgely. At the end of the war, over the winter of 1862-63, approximately 1,600 Dakota, mixed-race people and others are imprisoned in an internment camp located on the river flats below the fort. In 1863, most of the detainees are forcibly removed from the state to reservations in Dakota Territory and what is now the state of Nebraska.

1865 Dakota chiefs Sakepedan (Little Six) and Wakanozhanzhan (Medicine Bottle) are executed at Fort Snelling after having been captured in Canada and turned over to U.S. authorities.

1898 Troops from Fort Snelling are sent to fight in the Spanish-American War.

1941-45 Fort Snelling serves as a processing center for 300,000 inductees and as a training center for military railway and military police units. The fort also houses a Japanese language school.

1946 The fort ceases to operate as an active military fort and is turned over to the state of Minnesota.

1960 Fort Snelling is given National Historic Landmark status saving it from the path of highway construction. It is turned over to the Minnesota Historical Society for investigation, restoration and reconstruction in 1965.

1970 Historic Fort Snelling is opened to the public.

Trivia
  • Zachary Taylor, president of the United States from 1849-50, was commander of Fort Snelling from May 24, 1828, to July 12, 1829. During that time, he wrote that the region was a "most miserable & uninteresting country" and an "out of the way part of the world."
  • In 1830 Capt. Seth Eastman arrived at Fort Snelling. Convinced, as were many at the time, that the Dakota were headed toward extinction, the talented soldier/artist painted dozens of works depicting the Dakota and their daily life.
  • In the 1830s, French geographer, astronomer and mathematician Joseph Nicollet stayed at the fort and created the area's first set of accurate maps.
  • In 1838, Mrs. Alexander Hamilton, wife of the late Revolutionary War hero and the first Secretary of the Treasury, who was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr, was one of a group of "fashionable" people who made the trip upriver. Mrs. Hamilton arrived aboard the steamboat Burlington on June 26. During the course of the day, she visited St. Anthony Falls, watched the troops pass in review and was entertained at the commanding officer's quarters.
  • Following the Civil War, victorious Gen. Ulysses S. Grant made a whirlwind tour of the Upper Mississippi. He reportedly enjoyed lemonade on the fort's half-moon battery after a hero's welcome.
  • U.S. Cavalry horse Whiskey was buried on the fort's grounds in 1943. The trick-performing horse was a popular resident of the fort from the 1920s until his death. Labeled a renegade when he arrived in 1921, Whiskey soon came to the attention of Lt. William Hazelrigg, who spotted the horse's uncanny intelligence. Whiskey was the top horse of the Fort Snelling Blacks polo team and he and Hazelrigg performed widely, including at the Minnesota State Fair. In 1936, at age 25, he was officially retired and lived out his life in leisure in the fort's old cavalry stables with his old performing partners, mules Nat and Snelling. Whiskey's remains, which were in the path of the new light-rail system, were moved to a new location near the Fort Snelling Visitor Center in 2002. Ironically, this location is near the long-gone stables where Whiskey spent his last years.
Images

Historic Fort Snelling Images

Historic Fort Snelling Images

Historic Fort Snelling

Historic Fort Snelling

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Soldiers at Fort Snelling gate house

Soldiers at Fort Snelling gate house

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Laundresses

Laundresses

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Colonel Josiah Snelling and Mrs. Snelling

Colonel Josiah Snelling and Mrs. Snelling

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Soldiers executing cannon drill

Soldiers executing cannon drill

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Logos

Historic Fort Snelling Logos

Historic Fort Snelling Logos

Horizontal 2 Color Signature Logo

Horizontal 2 Color Signature Logo

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Horizontal Black Signature Logo

Horizontal Black Signature Logo

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Vertical 2 Color Signature Logo

Vertical 2 Color Signature Logo

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B-Roll Video

Civil War Weekend: Coming Home B-Roll - from Sat. Aug. 15, 2015

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Shot List

0:00-0:10 - Historic Fort Snelling grounds in the morning

0:10-0:26 - reenactor on the Jonathan Padelford riverboat (Reenactors recreated the Second Minnesota Volunteer Infantry's return home via riverboat to Fort Snelling by taking the Jonathan Padelford from Harriet Island to the fort.)

0:26-0:45 - reenactor musicians on board the riverboat

0:45-0:54 - far shot of reenactors floating down the Mississippi on the riverboat

0:55-1:23 - reenactors disembarking the riverboat at Fort Snelling 

1:23-2:08 -reenactors marching up the hill from the Mississippi landing to the fort parade grounds

2:08-2:18 - costumed civilian women reenactors and visitors waiting on the parade grounds for soldiers to arrive

2:18-2:30 - view of visitors and waiting crowd from the top of the Round Tower

2:30-2:53 -the 2nd Minnesota arriving through the Fort front gate and being greeted by civilian reenactors and visitors

2:53-3:06 - soldiers march onto the parade grounds

3:06-3:33 - reenactment of historic speeches given to the soldiers upon their arrival at the fort 

 

General Fort Snelling B-Roll 

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News Releases

November 30, 2016 MEDIA ALERT: Historic Fort Snelling Commemorates the Legacy of Dred and Harriet Scott
July 29, 2015 Historic Fort Snelling Remembers 150th Anniversary of Civil War’s End
July 2, 2015 New Traveling Exhibit on Lincoln Opens July 8 at Historic Fort Snelling
September 3, 2014 Solve Mysteries and Relive Ghost Stories at Historic Fort Snelling, James J. Hill House and North West Company Fur Post this Halloween
August 6, 2014 Explore History's Winding Roads on September Bus Tours at Historic Fort Snelling
July 2, 2014 Travel Back in Time Through Two American Wars this August at Historic Fort Snelling
June 11, 2014 Summer Workshops at Fort Snelling Teach Participants How to Care for Historic Houses
June 11, 2014 St. Paul Civil War Bus Tour and Independence Day Celebrations in July at Historic Fort Snelling
May 9, 2014 PHOTO OPP: Finishing Touches Put on Historic Clock Monday
April 9, 2014 Historic Fort Snelling Opens for the Season with New Exhibit and Memorial Day Programs
March 5, 2014 The Civil War in 1864 and WWII Battle for Rabaul Topics of Lectures at Historic Fort Snelling in April
February 12, 2014 World War II Roundtables at Historic Fort Snelling Discuss Operation Cobra and the War in China
January 15, 2014 World War II Officers Topic of Roundtable at Historic Fort Snelling Feb. 13
December 11, 2013 Meet Veterans of the Eastern Front at Historic Fort Snelling's WWII History Roundtable Jan. 9
August 7, 2013 Discover Historic Fort Snelling in September through Tours, Scout Camps and World War I Programs
May 1, 2013 Celebrate the Return of Summer With WWII Events and Summer Camps at Historic Fort Snelling in June
January 16, 2013 Popular Summer Camps Now Open for Registration
July 19, 2007 CEILING COLLAPSES AT HISTORIC FORT SNELLING, HISTORIC SITE OPEN DURING REPAIRS
July 19, 2007 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS HISTORIC FORT SNELLING OFFICERS' QUARTERS CEILING COLLAPSE
Historic Fort Snelling Images
Historic Fort Snelling Logos