The trials, tribulations, and triumphs of average soldiers are often forgotten in the annals of war, for our eyes naturally settle upon the glorious victories, the bitter defeats, and the leaders whose names live on in history. Yet, it is the average soldiers who do the fighting, the marching, the dying, and their stories are just as fascinating as those more often remembered.
As Americans fought on the bloodied battlefields of the Civil War, the Union waged yet another campaign in the West, as the country struggled to force American Indians onto reservations. This, unsurprisingly, led to repeated Indian uprisings, in which innocent Indians and European settlers alike became casualties in the devastating warfare. After a particularly violent 1862 attack in Minnesota by Mdewakanton and Wahpekute Dakota, the US government sent out General Henry H. Sibley to take action against those responsible for the attacks. Marching with Sibley was private Henry J. Hagadorn, born on this date, 1832.
Hagadorn might have been forgotten to all but his descendants had he not left behind a journal detailing his time with Sibley’s expedition. Private Hagadorn stood as a faithful witness to the life of a nineteenth-century soldier. His journal provides us with vivid details of the misery caused by contemporary field-medicine, unable to cure even basic diseases. Hagadorn’s writings portray intensely the beauty of the Dakota prairies, which made bearable the long, tedious marches and the months away from home: prairies teaming with elk and wild birds, game with which the soldiers could supplement their basic rations.
Hagadorn’s journal further illustrates the bond between the Union soldiers. While Hagadorn and his companions were far from the battlefields of the South, they lamented each Northern loss, feared for the preservation of the Union, and conversely, cheered each US victory – praying that the fall of Richmond, and of Vicksburg, heralded the end of the mighty struggle. And sadly, Hagadorn’s letters remind us of the inevitable tragedies of warfare, of life snuffed out, and the callousness it fostered amongst the men.
While it is important to remember the famous dates, names, and battles of wars long past, it is equally important to remember the average men and women who fought and suffered through them – soldiers who gave up much in the hopes that their sons and daughters might have a better future.
Dakota Datebook written by Lane Sunwall.
Pritchett, John Perry. “Notes and Documents on the March with Sibley in 1863: The Diary of Private Henry J. Hagadorn.” North Dakota Historical Quarterly 5, no. 1 (1930): 103-129.