Civil War Wiki
Battle of Birch Coulee
Part of the Dakota War of 1862
Date September 2, 1862 (1862-09-02)
Location Morton, Renville County, Minnesota
Result Santee Sioux victory
United States of America Santee Sioux
Major Joseph R. Brown Chiefs Gray Bird, Red Legs, Big Eagle, and Mankato
170 about 200
Casualties and losses
13 soldiers and 90 horses killed
47 soldiers wounded

The Battle of Birch Coulee was a battle in the Dakota War of 1862 in September. After the Battle of Fort Ridgely and the Battle of New Ulm, Colonel Henry Hastings Sibley was planning to defeat and punish the Sioux and to obtain the release of the settlers they were holding captive. While Sibley was training soldiers and attempting to organize supplies, he was reminded that the bodies of many settlers killed by the Indians, still were left unburied in the battlefields. Sibley sent out a burial party from Fort Ridgely on August 31, 1862, with a detail of about 170 men. The party was commanded by Major Joseph R. Brown, according to Sibley's notes. Colonel Sibley decided against taking responsibility for the disaster. In his military reports and in press dispatches he started to refer to the encounter as the 'attack on J.R. Brown's party.' The monument at Birch Coulee Battlefield states that Captain Hiram P. Grant was in command, but historians generally acknowledge that Brown was in command.

The party left Fort Ridgely and continued to Redwood Ferry, stopping to bury about sixteen settlers' bodies along the way. The next morning, Brown and a group of cavalry crossed to the south side of the river, while Grant and his infantry stayed on the north side. At the end of the day, Brown's and Grant's soldiers met up again at a campsite near Birch Coulee. The two detachments had buried 54 bodies, and since neither group had seen any Indians, they figured they were safe. Meanwhile, Chief Little Crow was leading a force of 110 northeastward from New Ulm, while his chief warrior, Gray Bird, was heading down the south side of the Minnesota River with a force of 350 Indians. Gray Bird's party and Brown's troops missed encountering each other during the day, but some Indian scouts discovered that Brown's troops were moving toward the campsite at Birch Coulee. The Sioux planned to ambush Brown's troops in the morning, thinking that only the cavalry was present and that they could be easily destroyed.

The Birch Coulee campsite was not easily defensible, since the Indians could approach from all sides and still remain under cover. During the night, Gray Bird, along with chiefs Red Legs, Big Eagle, and Mankato crossed the Minnesota River and surrounded the camp. In the morning, the Indians commenced their ambush, wounding at least thirty United States soldiers and killing most of the cavalry's horses within the first few minutes. The heaviest part of the fight lasted about an hour, but the siege continued for many hours past then. Colonel Sibley could hear the sounds of the battle from Fort Ridgely, about sixteen miles away, so he sent out a relief party of 240 men. Colonel McPhail, heading up the relief party, thought he was almost completely surrounded by the Sioux and sent back for more reinforcements. Sibley returned with more reinforcements and an artillery brigade. The shelling forced the Sioux to disperse, and Sibley entered Brown's camp around 11 AM on September 3. He encountered a "sickening sight", with thirteen men and ninety horses dead, forty-seven men severely wounded, and others less severely hurt. The survivors were exhausted from a thirty-one hour siege without water or food.

The battle of Birch Coulee was the most deadly for the United States forces in the Dakota War of 1862. The battle may have distracted the Sioux from continuing down the Minnesota River toward more settlements, but the United States forces learned that it was foolish to travel in hostile Indian territory with too few untrained troops.

Captain Joseph Anderson Company of Mounted Men "The Cullen Guard" went to the relief of New Ulm and was at the Battle of Birch Coulee. Casualties:

  • Killed: 2nd Sergeant Robert Baxter; Privates Jacob Freeman;
  • Died of Wounds: Private Richard Gibbons;
  • Wounds: Farrier Thomas Barton {dangerously wounded}; Privates A.H. Bunker {wounded through both arms}; Peter Burkman {wounded in both thighs and ruptured}; James Buckingham {wounded through the left shoulder}; Geo Dashney {wounded in the right thigh}; John Martin.

Battlefield carnage three weeks after the incident.

The Birch Coulee battlefield is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.[1]


  1. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15. 
  • Carley, Kenneth (1976). The Sioux Uprising of 1862 (Second edition ed.). Minnesota Historical Society. ISBN 0-87351-103-4. 

External links[]

pl:Bitwa pod Birch Coulee