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Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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New Thoughts on the Battle of Wood Lake

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Minnesota Dakota WarWOOD LAKE, MINNESOTA—The West Central Tribune reports that archaeologists Sigrid Arnott and David Maki, assisted by battlefield archaeologist Douglas Scott, have analyzed nearly two dozen pieces of ammunition recovered from the steep ravine and military road at Wood Lake Battlefield. On September 23, 1862, some 700 Dakota warriors, led by Little Crow and other chiefs, concealed themselves along the ravine and planned to ambush the 1,700 soldiers, led by Lt. Col. Henry Sibley, after they had broken camp and were spread out over the road. But the warriors opened fire when a number of members of the Third Regiment went out to look for food on the prairie just after daybreak. The positions of conical bullets, fired by the U.S. military, and handmade musket balls, shot by the Dakota, suggests that other members of the Third Regiment joined the fight. Sibley then ordered a retreat, under the cover of the Renville Rangers, a group of mixed-blood Dakota who had enlisted to fight in the Civil War. Arnott said the analysis also shows the final battle took place to the west, where the Dakota lacked the cover of the ravine and were vulnerable to Sibley’s artillery. For more on Civil War–era archaeology, go to “Life on the Inside.”

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