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Brackett's Battalion

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Black and white photograph of Major Brackett and his aide, Van Garren, at a camp in Dakota Territory, 1864.

Major Brackett and his aide, Van Garren, at a camp in Dakota Territory, 1864.

Recruited in the fall of 1861, Brackett's Battalion served longer than any other Minnesota unit during the Civil War. After campaigning in the Western Theater, the Battalion participated in the Northwestern Indian Expeditions of 1864 and 1865.

The men of Brackett's Battalion were recruited as the First, Second, and Third Companies of Minnesota Volunteer Cavalry. The captain of the Third Company was Alfred B. Brackett.

During the winter of 1861-1862, the companies were stationed at Benton Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri. Conditions were terrible and many of the men fell ill. The companies were assigned to a cavalry regiment in the Department of the Missouri called the Curtis Horse. Brackett was made major of the Third Battalion, which consisted of four companies.

In February, 1862, the Curtis Horse joined the Union Army of the Tennessee. The regiment was assigned to garrison duty because of its lack of training and weaponry. They garrisoned Forts Henry and Heiman in Tennessee for over a year.

The Curtis Horse did not fight in any major battles, instead serving a supportive role. The Minnesota companies escorted prisoners and dispatch riders. They repaired telegraph lines. Duties also included scouting for enemy forces, and occasionally engaging Confederate guerillas. In June of 1862, the Curtis Horse was renamed the Fifth Iowa Cavalry. Many of the Minnesota soldiers protested this change. They did not want to serve under the name of another state.

In June and July of 1863, the regiment participated in the Tullahoma Campaign. In little more than a week the Army of the Cumberland drove Confederate forces out of middle Tennessee. The Fifth Iowa screened the advance of the army and skirmished with enemy forces. The unit did not stay with the Army of the Cumberland for long. For the rest of the year they were stationed at Murfreesboro, Tennessee and patrolled northern Alabama.

In January of 1864, the unit was sent home on a thirty day furlough. Because of on-going conflicts with the Dakota in the aftermath of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, Brackett and Governor Alexander Ramsey arranged for the cavalrymen to be reassigned to the Department of the Northwest. The veteran soldiers were reorganized into a new battalion. New recruits were enlisted to fill the ranks. Major Brackett was given command, giving the unit the official name "Brackett's Battalion."

Brackett's Battalion began the second chapter of its service in February of 1864. The unit joined General Alfred Sully's army for the Northwestern Indian Expedition into Dakota Territory. The expedition was the continuation of a punitive campaign against the Dakota begun in 1863. It was also meant to subjugate any Indians considered hostile to overland routes that led to the gold-bearing headwaters of the Missouri River.

The expedition was punctuated by two battles. On July 28, 1864, Sully's army attacked an encampment composed mostly of Lakota including bands of the Hunkpapa, Sans Arcs, Miniconjous, and Blackfeet. One Wahpekute band of Dakota which had not participated in the U.S.-Dakota War was present as well.

The Indians defended themselves in a battle that lasted several hours, but were eventually defeated by superior firepower. Brackett's Battalion was noted for making a counter charge during the thickest of the fighting. The Battle of Killdeer Mountain ended with Sully's army burning the Indians' homes and the nearby woods.

After the victory, Sully marched south, and then west through the Badlands towards the Yellowstone River. During the march, a three day long skirmish called the Battle of the Badlands was fought. Sully's men were attacked by Lakota from August 7th through 9th. On August 17, Sully's command reached Fort Union. The campaign continued uneventfully for the next two months.

The Battalion's service was not yet over. After spending the winter at Fort Ridgley, the unit was assigned to a second expedition into Dakota Territory. The expedition of 1865 was more peaceful than the previous one, with no major battles. The following winter was spent garrisoning western posts.

In May and June of 1866, the men were finally mustered out. The soldiers of Brackett's Battalion had served a total of four years and nine months.

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P1568
BG4/.M522b
Battalion order book, 1864
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Copies of orders received by Brackett's Battalion while serving in the Northwestern Indian Expeditions (1864-65).

M438
Charles A. Bennett Diary, 1865
Manuscript Collection on microfilm, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Diary kept by Bennett during his service in the First Minnesota Volunteer Cavalry Regiment and Brackett's Battalion, 1862–1865.

Alfred B. Brackett Papers, 1861–1868
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Documents primarily related to the service of Brackett's Battalion in the Northwestern Indian Expeditions,1864–1865.

P2257
Narrative of the Civil War, 1861–1862
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Reminiscences of the recruitment and Civil War service of Brackett's Battalion.

Beck, Paul N. Columns of Vengeance: Soldiers, Sioux, and the Punitive Expeditions, 1863–1864. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013.

Bergemann, Kurt D. Brackett's Battalion: Minnesota Cavalry in the Civil War and Dakota War. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2004.

Brackett's Battalion, Minnesota Cavalry, 1861–1866. Minneapolis: Adeniram Publications, 1996.

Botsford, Isaac. "Narrative of Brackett's Battalion of Cavalry." In Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, 1861–1865, vol. 1, 572–93. St. Paul: Pioneer Press Company, 1891.

"City News, Capt. Brackett's Cavalry." St. Paul Pioneer and Democrat, November 5, 1861.

"Minnesota Cavalry Battalion in St. Louis." St. Paul Pioneer and Democrat, January 25, 1862.

Reynolds, Clark G. "The Civil and Indian War diaries of Eugene Marshall, Minnesota Volunteer." Master's thesis, Duke University, 1963.

"Sully's Expedition." St. Cloud Democrat, September 1, 1864.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83016836/1864-09-01/ed-1/seq-2/

Related Images

Black and white photograph of Major Brackett and his aide, Van Garren, at a camp in Dakota Territory, 1864.
Black and white photograph of Major Brackett and his aide, Van Garren, at a camp in Dakota Territory, 1864.
Black and white photograph of Major Alfred B. Brackett, c.1863.
Black and white photograph of Major Alfred B. Brackett, c.1863.
Black and white photograph of General Alfred H. Sully (here as a colonel, c. 1862) commanded the Northwest Indian Expeditions of 1864 and 1865.
Black and white photograph of General Alfred H. Sully (here as a colonel, c. 1862) commanded the Northwest Indian Expeditions of 1864 and 1865.
Oil painting done by Carl L. Boeckmann in 1910 depicting the Battle of Killdeer Mountain on July 28, 1864.
Oil painting done by Carl L. Boeckmann in 1910 depicting the Battle of Killdeer Mountain on July 28, 1864.
Black and white photograph of the headquarters of Brackett's Battalion near Sioux City, Iowa, 1865.
Black and white photograph of the headquarters of Brackett's Battalion near Sioux City, Iowa, 1865.
Black and white photograph of the camp of Brackett's Battalion near Fort Berthold, Dakota Territory, 1865.
Black and white photograph of the camp of Brackett's Battalion near Fort Berthold, Dakota Territory, 1865.
Black and white photograph of Brackett's Battalion veterans gathered for a Grand Army of the Republic Reunion, 1905.
Black and white photograph of Brackett's Battalion veterans gathered for a Grand Army of the Republic Reunion, 1905.
Color image of saddle case used by First Sergeant George W. Northrup, who served in Brackett's Battalion.
Color image of saddle case used by First Sergeant George W. Northrup, who served in Brackett's Battalion.

Turning Point

After campaigning in the Western Theater of the Civil War for over two years, Brackett's Battalion is reorganized and transferred to the Department of the Northwest in January 1864. The Battalion goes on to fight in a second war deep in Dakota Territory.

Chronology

September–November, 1861

The first, second, and third companies of Minnesota Light Cavalry are enlisted at Fort Snelling.

December, 1861

The Minnesota battalion is mustered into the Curtis Horse and serves near St. Louis, Missouri until February.

February, 1862

The Curtis Horse garrisons Forts Henry and Heiman and supports the Union advance on Fort Donelson in Tennessee.

April–May, 1862

The Minnesota companies support Union General Halleck's Army during the advance to Pittsburgh Landing and the Siege of Corinth, Mississippi.

May 5, 1862

Elements of the battalion are attacked and defeated at Lockridge Mill, Tennessee.

June, 1862

The Curtis Horse is renamed the Fifth Iowa Cavalry.

June–July, 1863

The Fifth Iowa joins the Army of the Cumberland for the Tullahoma Campaign in middle Tennessee.

February, 1864

After a thirty day furlough, the Minnesota cavalrymen are reassigned to Department of the Northwest. Brackett's Battalion is officially formed.

July 28, 1864

Brackett's Battalion fights in the Battle of Killdeer Mountain.

August 7–9, 1864

The Battalion is part of the Battle of the Badlands, the last major conflict they are involved in.

May–June, 1866

The men of Brackett's Battalion are mustered out of service after serving four years and nine months.