Review: Lincoln and the Sioux Uprising of 1862

Lincoln and the Sioux Uprising of 1862

By Hank H. Cox

For four young Sioux men returning home from an unsuccessful hunting trip August 17, 1862 was a day just like any other in Southwestern Minnesota. But what started as an ordinary Sunday ended in tragedy when juvenile taunts lead to the slaying of a number of white settlers that afternoon and ignited a rebellion of the Sioux and ended in the largest mass execution in American history.

If you’ve never heard of the Sioux Uprising of 1862 you are not alone. Had it not happened during the cataclysmic events of the American Civil War, it would surely be as well known as the Battle of Little Bighorn. But American attention was diverted elsewhere to the South and East. For many white and black Americans, the Indians on the western frontier were not a going concern.

Since the close of the Civil War tens of thousands of books have been written about the war and its participants, and few of them mention the bloody events which occurred in Southwestern Minnesota during the late summer and early fall of 1862. If they do at all, it is only a passing mention. It was David Donald’s mentioning of this episode of American history in his biography of Abraham Lincoln that caught the attention of author Henry H. Cox. His book, Lincoln and the Sioux Uprising of 1862, attempts to fill this historical void.

Mr. Cox has written an entertaining and easily read narrative of the Sioux uprising, alternating between events in Minnesota and juxtaposing them against those of Washington and the battlefields to the south and east. The author early on points out the injustices done to the Native Americans, the broken treaties, the late payments, and corrupt agents, and though that does not justify the Indians’ actions it does help illuminate their feelings of mistrust and betrayal towards the white settlers and the United States government.

Though Mr. Cox’s narrative is engaging to read his book is not without its share of problems. Primarily among them is the complete lack of either footnotes or endnotes. Without proper noting it is impossible for readers to track back and verify sources of a particular piece of information. Glancing at his skimpy bibliography, it appears that Mr. Cox has gathered most of his information from secondary sources. One extraordinary title listed in his bibliography is Gore Vidal’s “Lincoln,” a novel, which surely leads to a credibility issue.

Secondly the book’s bias is heavily tilted toward the white settlers, he seems to have lifted descriptions of the Native Americans directly from the accounts of the white survivors, though judging from his bibliography, it’s more likely that he pulled those references from only secondary sources. At least once he uses the politically incorrect “squaw” to describe a Native American woman. He also tends to lean to the sensational, mentioning several times an episode that he claims to be the largest and most prolonged gang rape in American history with no supporting evidence or documentation of the event. There is no Native American viewpoint to counter balance that of the white settlers.

Mr. Cox does a great job painting a larger picture of the events transpiring in the United States, explaining the difficulties and political realities President Lincoln faced during the summer and fall of 1862, but by presenting information about those events, as well as the political mechanizations in Washington, D.C., he spends too much time away from the events in Minnesota, resulting in the obfuscation of his subject matter.

John Pope was sent to put down the Indian insurrection in Minnesota, and judging from Mr. Cox’s work, doesn’t seem to have done much to bring the conflict to an end. Rather, he gives credit to ending the conflict to the local troops garrisoned in the forts in the area. When the rebellion was ended, 303 Native Americans found themselves in the custody of Federal Troops and condemned to be executed for their crimes. It was only through the direct intervention of President Lincoln who, at great political peril, prevented General Pope from executing them all. In the end he sentenced 38 Native Americans to be executed for their part in the uprising.

With Lincoln and the Sioux Uprising of 1862, Hank Cox does an admirable job of bringing to public attention this little known historical event. It is a great starting place for someone interested in this topic, but by no means, should this book be the only book one should read.

ISBN 1-58182-457-2, Cumberland House Publishing, © 2005, Paperback, 242 pages, Appendix, Bibliography & Index. $14.95

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