Walking tours show Battle of New Ulm sites

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Terry Sveine stands in front of the historical Erd building in Downtown New Ulm. Sveine tells the audience on the walking tour of the building significance. During the 1862 siege, women and children were kept in the Erd building. Gunpowder was place in the building to blow up the building and the people inside rather than allow the Dakota to capture them.

NEW ULM — The Brown County Historical Society (BACH) hosted a series of walking tours Saturday in commemoration of the 156th Anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War.

The morning walking tour was led by Opal Dewanz. The morning tour was intended for younger audiences and highlighted the historical events witnessed by Katie Gropper, who survived the two battles of New Ulm.

The afternoon tour was led by Terry Sveine along the same route, but was intended for the mature audiences.

Over 50 people took part in the afternoon tour. Sveine was surprised by the number of people on his tour. He said this was by far the largest tour group he ever led.

New Ulm was on the front lines of the conflict between U.S. and Dakota. The town was attacked twice by the Dakota, while white settlers defended from behind barricades.

The barricade extended around Minnesota Street from 3rd N. down to Center Street. Today, the entire downtown historical district qualifies as a Civil War era battlefield.

On Aug. 19, 1862 New Ulm learned the Dakota were likely to attack. Fleeing farmers from outside the town alerted the town to attacks from hostile Dakota.

Dewanz said the population of New Ulm was 900 at the time, but with refugee farmers arriving in town the numbers increased to 1,200. All these people gathered within a three block area on Minnesota Street and barricaded the town.

Dewanz said unlike today the building on Minnesota Street were not a wall of bricks. There were larger alleys with opening in between. The residents were forced fill in these gaps by throwing any object in between.

The first battle on Aug. 19 was relatively small. Only 100 Dakota braves attacked the city from the north side. Several buildings outside of the barricade were burnt down by either the Dakota or townspeople. Any building outside the barricade could serve as an aid to the other side and were typically destroyed at the start of the battle. This included the Gropper home.

The first battle lasted a few hours, before the Dakota withdrew. Weather was a factor. In August 1862, the weather had been hot and dry, but that evening a thunderstorm rolled in and neither side wanted to fight during the rain.

New Ulm was spared from further attacks for the next few days. The Dakota were focusing efforts on Fort Ridgely. After the two attacks on Fort Ridgely failed, the Dakota returned to New Ulm on Aug. 23. With a larger force of 500 to 600 they surrounded the town and attacked from all sides.

The second battle of New Ulm was an all-day battle. The battle came to an end after Charles Flandrau order a charge of the Dakota’s position on the other side of the Center Street barricade. The charge worked and the Dakota retreated, but the people of New Ulm did not know if it was a real retreat or a ruse to lure them out of the barricade.

The day after the battle of New Ulm, Flandrau ordered New Ulm evacuated. The people in the barricade were running out of food and the inside of the barricade was becoming unsanitary. The risk of disease spreading was high.

Dewanz said in addition to the people there were all the farm animals kept inside the barricade. Its unknown where the animals were kept during the fighting, but they were inside the barricade since horses were used to pull the wagons to Mankato after the fighting.

Around 150 wagons departed New Ulm on Aug 24th en route to Mankato. Sveine said the refugees managed the journey to Mankato in a day, but it was not an easy trip. The defenders and civilians had been kept in brutal conditions for the last week. Many had not slept or eaten a full meal in days.

It was estimated 650 white settlers and 150 Dakota were killed. The Dakota would eventually surrender and be placed on trial. A total of 38 Dakota were found guilty of war crimes and hanged in Mankato on Dec. 26, 1862. The remaining Dakota were banished from Minnesota.

New Ulm recovered relatively quickly from the conflict. Once the fighting had finished some settlers return to the town and began to rebuild.

A photograph of downtown New Ulm on the Chamber of Commerce show how the city looked less than 10 years later after the conflict.

Both Dewanz and Sveine commented that New Ulm could have been lost if a few things had gone different.

Dewanz said that unlike The U.S. Governments military the Dakota braves had a less strict hierarchy and many Dakota did not want to attack the settlers. Little Crow believed any attack on whites was doomed to failure, but was pressured into attacking.

Initially, Little Crow wanted to attack Fort Ridgely before New Ulm, but others disagreed with him and struck New Ulm first on Aug. 19. Fort Ridgely could have been an easy target as the fort was not at full strength.

By the time the Dakota did attack the Fort, the army was prepared. The second attack on New Ulm failed because the defenders were able to better prepare and bring in addition defenders.

The U.S.-Dakota War commemoration week will come to a close Sunday. A special tour of the Pioneer Section of the New Ulm Cemetery will be led by Darla Gebhard and Sue Ullery beginning at 2 p.m.