American Indian Wars
There is perhaps a tendency to view the record of the military in terms of conflict, that may be why the U.S. Army’s operational experience in the quarter century following the Civil War became known as the Indian wars. Previous struggles with the Indian, dating back to colonial times, had been limited. There was a period where the Indian could withdraw or be pushed into vast reaches of uninhabited and as yet unwanted territory in the west. By 1865 the safety valve was fast disappearing. As the Civil War was closed, white Americans in greater numbers and with greater energy than before resumed the quest for land, gold, commerce, and adventure that had been largely interrupted by the war. The besieged red man, with white civilization pressing in and a main source of livelihood, the buffalo, threatened with extinction, was faced with a fundamental choice: surrender or fight. Many chose to fight, and over the next 25 years the struggle ranged over the plains, mountains, and the deserts of the American West. These guerrilla wars were characterized by skirmishes, pursuits, raids, massacres, expeditions, battles, and campaigns of varying size and intensity.
In 1865, there was a least 15 million buffalo, ten years later, fewer than a thousand remained. The army and the Bureau of Indian Affairs went along with and even encouraged the slaughter of the animals. By destroying the buffalo herds, the whites were destroying the Indian’s main source of food and supplies. The only thing the Indians could do was fight to preserve their way of life. There was constant fighting among the Indian and whites as the Indians fought to keep their civilization. Indian often retaliated against the whites for earlier attacks that whites had imposed on them. They often attacked wagon trains, stage coaches, and isolated ranches. When the army became more involved in the fighting, the Indians started to focus on the white soldiers.
In 1862, when the north and south were locked in Civil War, Minnesota felt the fury of an even more fundamental internal conflict. The Santees, an eastern branch of the Sioux Nation, having endured ten years of traumatic change on the upper Minnesota River, launched the first great attack in the Indian wars. Eleven years earlier the tribe had sold 24 million acres of hunting ground for a lump sum of $1,665,000 and the promise of future cash annuities.