Monday, November 29, 2010

Little Alma Dora Dustin & the ‘Great Sioux Uprising’ During the American Civil War

Next year, the ‘Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War’ begins in earnest within the United States. Numerous commemoratory events will transpire throughout Pennsylvania and elsewhere, yet few realize that bloodshed, hardship, and even atrocities, were not events experienced only by residents living within the confines of the North and South. Other dramatic & tragic occurrences were transpiring within what is now the state of Minnesota.

For example, in June of 1863, little Alma Dora Dustin, age six, had witnessed it all--and was found by the rescue party alive—days AFTER the event, and though physically uninjured, one wonders of the emotional and psychological scars which may have haunted her throughout her remaining life--- since her mother, father, grandmother, and one brother, lay dead or mangled, tomahawked, scalped or “transfixed” with arrows by their murderers, who incidentally had also ‘cut off her father’s left hand and carried it away,’ as part of a bold, unprovoked attack on an innocent family.

As published by the Annual Report of the Attorney General, to the Legislature of Minnesota, Executive Documents of the State of Minnesota, For the Year 1863, little Alma Dustin:
At the commencement of the attack, {she} had crept under the seat occupied by her father, and his blood flowed over her, covering her hands and her face, saturating her hair and her garments to their utmost capacity of absorption, and even filling the shoes on her feet.
Writers such as Larry McCurty in his popular work, Oh What a Slaughter: Massacres in the American West: 1846-1890 {NY: Simon & Schuster, 2005), has plenty to say about the well-known and frequently written accounts of atrocities committed against Native-Americans by the military or white settlers, such as the famed ‘Sand Creek & Wounded Knee’ tragedies.

However, it is almost entirely forgotten in the annals of American history, nor mentioned within college textbooks, though widely reported in the nation’s newspapers at the time (and just a few years ago by Hank H. Cox in, Lincoln and the Sioux Uprising of 1862 {Nashville, TN: Cumberland House Publishing, 2005), that one of the greatest massacres of ‘innocent’ civilians occurred in the United States; but not against Native Americans, but upon white civilians by Native-Americans, with the slaughter of over 800 individuals, including numerous women and children. These events would culminate in the deaths of the family of Amos Dustin, in what is now McLeod County, Minnesota, on June 29, 1863, as they made their way by ox-cart to start a new home.

Though the assassins of the Dustin family were never brought to justice, the murders by the Sioux in 1862, resulted in the largest mass hanging in American history. Thirty-nine Native-Americans were executed at Mankato, under the direct order of President Abraham Lincoln, as being responsible for the murders of so many settlers and residents of Minnesota. The names and crimes of the guilty parties were printed for example, within the pages of the Philadelphia Daily Evening Bulletin, for January 2, 1863.

Though many, including myself, have enjoyed Kevin Costner’s highly acclaimed movie, Dances With Wolves, and its Hollywood portrayal of life among the Sioux during the Civil War era, one should always take into account the time-worn truism of the ancient Greek historian, Thucydides, who remarked centuries before Christ that, “Sad to say, most people will believe the first story they hear.”

Human nature has not changed since Thucydides spoke those words so long ago. Most people today still believe to a large degree what they see at the movies, read in a newspaper or scholarly journal, or hear from a professor in a university class, and forget that there are always, two-sides to any given event.

Thus individuals have existed among every race, culture, or ethnic group, who were either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in their relationships with one another or with outsiders. The early settlers and Native-American Sioux in Minnesota and elsewhere were no different. Thus these comments should not be misconstrued into believing that I feel ALL the Sioux were barbarous murderers. Equally, neither were all colonists, settlers, or military personnel ‘white savages.’ I relate this account in order to give the reader a balance to a subject, which is quite often one-sided in its portrayal of American pioneer history, and our history in general.

My wife and I still cherish the hand-made little moccasin booties, made many years ago, by a dear friend of ours, who happened also to be a female shaman of the Sioux, originally from South Dakota. I have made that tribe’s fascinating history, culture, and folklore, one of my life-long pursuits.

Thus in pursuing historical inquiry, one should be more concerned about accuracy rather than what happens to be academically fashionable or politically correct. To do otherwise, is an injustice to all peoples and cultures. The same is true when it comes to speaking of events which transpired during the Civil War, or any other given time frame within American history.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The 'Other' American Civil War: The Enemy, My Friend?

Next year the country will be celebrating the commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. Thus, it is only appropriate that today, on Veteran's Day, I relate one of my own favorite military accounts, derived from America's most bloody and violent conflict. Yet the following was an event truly 'civil' in nature; two men, though on opposing sides, quickly but tragically became friends, if only for a short period of time, during the 'Battle of Rome, Georgia,' fought on October 12th, 1864.

A native of Clinton County, Pennsylvania, Lutheran minister, Thomas F. Dornblazer, of Lee County, Illinois, writing within his work, Sabre Strokes of the Pennsylvania Dragoons in the War of 1861-1865, published in Philadelphia in 1884, recalled a remarkable personal incident he experienced during the 'War Between the States.'  Dornblazer was serving at the time as a Sergeant, in Company 'E,' 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Minty's Brigade.

One of the opposing 'Rebel' or Confederate forces at Rome, Georgia that fateful day, was the 8th Alabama Cavalry, part of Charles G. Armistead's Brigade. Perhaps it is best to let Sgt. Dornblazer recall his own memories of what transpired (though I have italicized certain words in his reminiscence):
After firing a few shots, I saw a Rebel officer leaping the fence twenty yards to my right, and starting to run across the open field to join his comrades. In his right hand he held a navy revolver, and in his left an officer's sword. I leveled my "Spencer" and ordered him, sharply, to halt and throw down his arms, which he did. But seeing that I was altogether alone, he seized his weapons again, sprang to the stump of a broken tree...fired two shots from his revolver, and said in a defiant tone, "I'll fight you!"...
I took my horse by the rein, and made a left about wheel, two paces to the rear...My antagonist in the meantime fired two more shots, wounding my horse in the hip; and mistaking my maneuvers for a retreat, he rushed forward and preemptorily demanded my surrender. He came to the fence...{and} was in the act of stepping across when I ordered him a second time to halt. My gun was leveled; he raised his revolver with a threat: I fired! His arm dropped without discharging his revolver. His tall form sank to the ground as he exclaimed, "I'm a dead man."
At once I dropped my carbine, and offered him my hand; he gave it a friendly grasp and said, "You have killed a good man."  "I'm sorry for it," said I,  "and why did you take up your arms again?" Said he, "I made a vow that I would never surrender to one man. You were the only man I saw, and I determined to fight you, and get possession of your horse--then I could have made my escape. You did your duty, but you might have surrendered to me."
After making him as comfortable as I could with overcoat and blanket, I inquired his name and rank. He said his name was William H. Lawrence, Captain and acting Colonel of the Eighth Alabama Cavalry. He said he had a wife and two dear children living at Tuscaloosa, Alabama. His wife and daughter were devoted Christians, and he lamented that he had not lived a better life in the army. He did not feel prepared to die. He knew that he must die.
The ball struck the corner of his belt-plate and passed through his body, inflicting a mortal wound. His mind was perfectly clear, anf for one-half hour we were alone, undisturbed, and we wept and prayed together, invoking the Infinite Mercy of God to forgive us both. Seeing the bugler of our regiment at a distance, I called to him to bring up a stretcher to carry back a wounded officer.
We carried him three-quarters of a mile to the field hospital, and had his wounds dressed.  Before I left him he gave me his diary, and requested me to send it to his wife, and tell her that he died happy. After his death next day, the surgeon found on his person a ten-dollar gold piece, and a signet-ring with his wife's photograph set in it, in minature.
Captain William H. Lawrence, was interred at Myrtle Hill Cemetery, in Rome, Georgia, in the Confederate Soldier's Section. After the War, Dornblazer wrote the Confederate officer's widow, informing her,
That he had in his possession a sword and revolver which belonged to her husband, who fell in battle near Rome, Georgia, and if she desired it, he would forward them to her by express. She said her husband wrote her on the morning of that fatal day, and feared the results of the approaching conflict.
She said her boy "Willie," eleven years old, would like to have his papa's sword. The sword and revolver were forwarded immediately, and a prompt answer came back, with many thanks from the mother and her son.
Such at times was the American Civil War. It is not only a subject devoted to 'blood and guts,' heroic actions in battle, atrocities, or animosities between 'Yankees' and 'Rebels.' Oftentimes, as recorded by the very men who served within America's worst national conflict, it was also a time of faith, charity, and brotherly-love, even for those participants whose politics were diametrically in opposition to one another.

American soldiers, regardless of the conflict, from the Revolutionary War to the current conflict in Afghanistan, have fought valiantly, yet simultaneously have also brought humanitarian aid and shown acts of kindness, to both civilians and enemy combatants alike, so that many of our former enemies, are now our most devoted friends.

As Alexander Pope remarked long ago, "To err is human, to forgive divine."

For further reading, one may wish to read:
Daniel N. Rolph, My Brother's Keeper: Union and Confederate Soldiers' Acts of Mercy During the Civil War (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books., 2002): 69-71. (for which I hold the copyright)

Thomas F. Dornblazer, Sabre Strokes of the Pennsylvania Dragoons in the War of 1861-65 (Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1884): 193-197.  Incidentally, Sabre Strokes has been reprinted by a descendant of Dornblazer.  Feel free to write me for that author's contact information, as well for further information about my above volume, at: drolph at