March 28, 1864: The Final Solution to the Indian problem

General John Pope

Gen. Pope, banished to the Northwest to deal with hostile native Americans, pleads forgiveness for his delay in sending requested troops to the Army of the Potomac. He needs them to put down an expected Sioux uprising, and he uses a term that has an unfortunate sound to modern ears to describe his goal.

*Update: Thanks to readers (e.g. Scott Tyson) for directing me to other materials about Pope’s campaign against the Sioux. In 1862, he said “It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux if I have the power to do so and even if it requires a campaign lasting the whole of next year.” Apparently the statement in today’s post wasn’t just a poor word choice; it was his strategy.

Official Records:

HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE NORTHWEST,
Milwaukee, Wis., March 28, 1864.
Major General H. W. HALLECK,
Chief of Staff of the Army, Washington, D. C.:

GENERAL; I received yesterday an order from the Adjutant-General’s Office assigning the Sixth Minnesota Volunteers, now in this department on duty to the Second Corps, in the Army of the Potomac. I do not write to object to the order, but only to ask a suspension of its execution for a time. My reasons are, that if this regiment be removed from the Minnesota frontier before the new posts are fairly established and the expedition meet the Indians, there will be trouble and excitement on the frontier amongst the inhabitants which may entirely defeat our movements. There seems little doubt of a formidable concentration of the most powerful of the Sioux bands at some point on the upper Missouri. General Sully can only take into the field at most 1,200 men. I have directed Sibley to send him 1,600 men from Minnesota, which will give Sully about 2,800 men, by no means too many if the Indians make battle. Sibley is left with only 700 men on the Minnesota border, and they will be necessary for a time to keep the frontier settlers from abandoning settlements, precipitating themselves in the river towns, and spreading dismay and excitement through the State.

The result will be that the Department in Washington will be overwhelmed with petitions and remonstrances, and our whole military operations, which now promise a final solution of the entire Indian question on the northern plains, be brought to naught. As soon as I possibly can do so (and I am sure, general, the Department will acquit me of any fault hitherto in forwarding troops to the South) I will send this regiment en route for this corps on the Potomac. Unless I considered it essential to our success I would not think of keeping the regiment a day, and I hope still to send it off very shortly. In this connection, I send you extract from letters received from General Sibley, from which you will perceive the difficulties under which I have labored, and in fact, do still. Unless otherwise directed, I will suspend the execution of the order to the Sixth Minnesota for the present.

I am, general, respectfully, your obedient servant,
JNO, POPE,
Major-General, Commanding.

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