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Doc. 192.-battle of New-Ulm, Minn.

Official report of Captain Flandrau.

St. Peter, Aug. 27, 1862.
His Excellency, Gov. Alexander Ramsey:
sir: Events have transpired so rapidly, and my time has been so taken up since my last communication, that I cannot with certainty recall the condition of things existing at its date, but believe I wrote you almost immediately preceding the second attack upon New-Ulm, which occurred on Saturday last.

During the morning, we discovered a succession of fires on the Nicollet county side of the river, very near the bluffs, approaching us from the direction of Fort Ridgely. Our supposition was, that the Fort had fallen, and the Indians were moving down upon the town, on that side of the river, to unite with another party on the side we were occupying.

As they increased in numbers very rapidly, I thought it best to send a detachment over, to ascertain the design of the enemy, and if possible, give him a check on that side of the river. Lieut. Huey, of Traverse des Sioux, volunteering to perform the service, I detailed seventy-five men with him, and they crossed at the ferry opposite the town, at about nine o'clock A. M. Very shortly after their departure, the Indians were discovered issuing from the woods above the town in large numbers, and assembling upon the prairie.

I at once posted all my available force upon the open prairie, outside the town, about a half a mile at some points, and at a greater distance toward the point at which I conceived the attack would be made, determining to give them battle in the open field, where, I conceived, would be to our greatest advantage.

At nearly ten A. M. the body began to move to ward us, first slowly, and then with considerable rapidity. The men were encouraged by their officers to stand firm and meet the attack, and all promised well. We had in all, about two hundred and fifty guns, while the Indians were variously estimated at from four hundred to five hundred. I fixed the number at not over three hundred and fifty.

Their advance upon the sloping prairie, in the bright sunlight, was a very fine spectacle, and to such inexperienced soldiers as we all were, intensely exciting. When within about one mile and a half of us, the mass began to expand like a fan, and increase in the velocity of its approach, and continued this movement until within about double rifle-shot, when it had covered our entire front. Then the savages uttered a terrific yell, and came down upon us like the wind. I had stationed myself at a point in the rear, where communication could be had with me easily, and awaited the first discharge with great anxiety, as it seemed to me that to yield was certain destruction, as the enemy would rush into the town and drive all before them. The yell unsettled the men a little; and just before the rifles began to crack, they fell back along the whole line, and committed the error of passing the outer houses without taking possession of them — a mistake which the Indians immediately took advantage of, by themselves occupying them in squads of two, three, and up to ten. They poured into us a sharp and rapid fire, as we fell back, and opened from the houses in every direction. Several of us rode up the hill, endeavoring to rally the men, and with good effect, as they gave three cheers, and sallied out of various houses they had retreated to, and checked the advance effectually. The firing from both sides then became general, sharp, and rapid, and it got to be a regular Indian skirmish, in which every man did his own work after his own fashion.

The Indians had spread out until they had got into our rear, and on all sides, having the very decided advantage of the houses on the bluff, which commanded the interior of the town, with the exception of the wind-mill, which was occupied by about twenty of the Le Sueur Tigers, and held them at long-range. The wind was from the lower part of the town, and this fact directed the larger part of the enemy to that point, where [594] they promptly commenced firing the houses, and advancing behind the smoke. The conflagration became general in the lower part of the town, on both sides of the street, and the bullets flew very thickly both from the bluff and up the street. I thought it prudent to dismount, and direct the defence on foot. Just at this point Capt. Dodd, of St. Peter, and some one else, whose name I do not know, charged down the street, to ascertain (I have since learned) whether some horsemen, seen in the extreme lower town, were not our friends coming in, and were met, about three blocks down, with a heavy volley from behind a house, five bullets passing through Capt. Dodd, and several through his horse. They both turned, and the Captain got in sufficiently near to be received by his friends before he fell. He died about five hours after being hit. Too much cannot be said of his personal bravery and general desire to perform his duty manfully.

Capt. Saunders, of the Le Sueur company, was shot through a part of his body shortly after, and retired, placing his rifle in effective hands, and encouraging the men. The fight was going on all around the town during the whole forenoon and part of the afternoon, sometimes with slight advantage to us, and again to the Indians, but the difficulty that stared us in the face, was the gradual but certain approach, up the main street, behind the burning buildings, which promised our destruction. We frequently sallied out and took buildings in advance, but the risk of being picked off from the bluff was unequal to the advantage gained, and the duty was performed with some reluctance by the men. In the lower part of the town I had some of the best men in the State, both as shots and for coolness and determination. It will be sufficient to name two as types of a class of the best fighting men — Asa White and Newell Houghton — known to all old settlers. They did very effective service in checking the advance, both by their unerring rifles and the good examples their steadiness placed before the younger men.

We discovered a concentration of Indians on the side of the street toward the river, and at the rear of the buildings, and expected a rush upon the town from that position, the result of which I feared more than any thing else, as the boys had proved unequal to it in the morning, and we were not disappointed, for in a few moments they came on ponies and on foot, furiously, about sixty in number, charging round a point of a little grove of oaks. This was the critical point of the day, but four or five hours under fire had brought the boys up to the fighting temperature, and they stood firmly and advanced with a cheer, routing the rascals like sheep. They received us with a very hot fire, killing Houghton, and an elderly gentleman, whose name I did not know. As they fled in a crowd at very short range, we gave them a volley that was very effectual, and settled the fortunes of the day in our favor, for they did not dare to try it over. I think, after once repulsing them in a fair fight, we could have successfully resisted them, had they returned a second time, as the necessary confidence had been gained.

White men fight under a great disadvantage the first time they engage Indians. There is something so fiendish in their yells, and terrifying in their appearance when in battle, that it takes a good deal of time to overcome the unpleasant sensation it inspires. Then there is a snake-like stealth in all their movements that excites distrust and uncertainty which unsteadies the nerves at first.

After this repulse the battle raged until dark without sufficient advantage on one side or the other to merit mention in detail, when the savages drew off, firing only an occasional shot from under close cover.

After dark we decreased the extent of our lines of barricades, and I deemed it prudent to order all the buildings outside to be burned, in order to prevent their having come from behind which to annoy us. We were compelled to consume about forty valuable buildings, but as it was a military necessity, the inhabitants did not demur, but themselves applied the torch cheerfully. In a short time we had a fair field before us of open prairie, with the exception of a large square brick building, which we held, and had loop-holed in all the stories, on all sides, which commanded a long portion of our front toward the bluff. We also dug a system of rifle-pits on that front, outside the barricades, about four rods apart, which completed our defences.

That night we slept very little, every man being at the barricades all night, each third man being allowed to sleep at intervals.

In the morning the attack was renewed, but not with much vigor, and subsided about noon.

During the day a body of men appeared in the lower town, and turned out to be a detachment of one hundred and fifty volunteers, from Nicollet and Sibley counties, under Capt. E. St. Julien Cox, which had been forwarded to our relief by Col. Sibley. They had about fifty Austrian rifles, and the balance were armed with shot-guns and hunting-rifles. Their appearance inspired us with gladness, as things were becoming doubtful.

I held a council of the officers, and we determined to attempt an evacuation of the town, carrying off all the inhabitants, women, children, sick and wounded, to the number of about two thousand. This movement was a very perilous one to undertake with the force at our command, but the confined state of the town was rapidly producing disease among the women and children, who were huddled in cellars and close rooms, like sheep in a cattle-car, and we were fast becoming short of ammunition and provisions. I feared the result of another attack by a larger force, and all the people decided that they would abandon the town the first opportunity, as residence there was impossible under the circumstances.

At daylight next morning the barricades were broken, and the wagons taken out and put in motion. The scene was one of indescribable confusion [595] and destruction. The poor people, naturally desirous of carrying off all they could, filled their wagons with boxes and baggage, to the exclusion (as we found before the train was complete) of many of the women and wounded. I was, therefore, compelled to order all articles of a bulky nature to be tumbled out, and their places supplied by more valuable freight. It was hard, but necessary, and the inhabitants yielded with less reluctance than I had anticipated.

About nine A. M. we moved with one hundred and fifty-three wagon-loads of women, children, sick, and wounded, and a large company on foot. Lieut. Cox took the general disposition of the escort, and the various commands were posted so as best to protect the whole in case of attack. It was a melancholy spectacle to see two thousand people, who, a few days before, had been prosperous and happy, reduced to utter beggary, starting upon a journey of thirty miles, through a hostile country, every inch of which we expected to be called upon to defend from an attack, the issue of which was life or horrid butchery. Beggary, starvation, and probable destruction were at one end of the road; a doubtful escape from the latter at the other. We took the latter alternative, and, under Providence, got through.

During the battle we lost, as near as I can ascertain, about ten killed and fifty wounded. I can give you no accurate detail of either, as the casualties occurred among citizens, soldiers, and strangers. The physicians, of whom, fortunately, we had a good supply, may have kept some hospital lists, but I have been too much occupied to ascertain. I was satisfied to know the wounded were well cared for, without knowing who they were.

I was seconded ably and bravely by all the officers and most of the men of the companies, and many citizens from different parts of the State, and strangers who were present, so uniform was their good conduct and valuable their services that one could not be mentioned without naming all. There were several cases of abandonment immediately preceding the attack, which, if designed to evade the struggle, were disgraceful in the extreme, and unworthy of Americans. But as they may have arisen from other causes, I will not report the names of the parties.

Many narrow escapes occurred during the protracted fight. Several persons were shot through the hat. One young man received three bullets through the pantaloons in rapid succession, without being hurt in the least.

We did not burn the town on leaving, thinking possibly that the Indians might not return and destroy it, and not deeming it much of a defence for them should they occupy it on our return.

It was my design that the country between New-Ulm and Mankato should be immediately reoccupied by our troops, and the ground, temporarily lost by our withdrawal, regained at once by fresh troops, well equipped, and capable of remaining on the field; and I looked for material of that sort for the business, on my arrival, but not a soldier from the regular service, except Capt. Dane with one hundred horses, has yet reached that part of the country, which is at this moment utterly defenceless, except so far as he is capable of holding it. The citizen volunteers that went to the assistance of New-Ulm, disbanded pretty generally on their return, being barefooted, overworked, and required at their homes.

I wish your Excellency would turn the tide of soldiers flowing into the valley to the Blue Earth region, from which the whole southern part of the State can be protected, and efficient cooperation afforded the column advancing upon the north side of the Minnesota.

Hoping my operations may meet your approval, I am truly your obedient servant,

Charles E. Flandrau, Commanding West of the Minnesota.

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Asa White (2)
Newell Houghton (2)
Charles E. Flandrau (2)
W. P. Dodd (2)
E. St. Julien Cox (2)
H. H. Sibley (1)
Saunders (1)
Alexander Ramsey (1)
Sioux Indians (1)
Huey (1)
Doc (1)
William Dane (1)
Americans (1)
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August 27th, 1862 AD (1)
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