Capt John S. Marsh

Capt John S. Marsh

Death 18 Aug 1862 (aged 32)
Renville County, Minnesota, USA
Burial Nicollet County, Minnesota, USA
Plot Buried in the N. to S. trench on the E. side
Memorial ID 32720390 View Source

Pioneer, attorney, Civil War Union soldier and Captain of the 5th Minnesota Infantry Regiment. Born on Christmas Eve, he was the son of Israel Marsh and Eliza Huntington. He came to America with some of his brothers and sisters, settling in Fillmore County, Minnesota. In 1860, he was working as an attorney in Preston, where he lived with his older brother, Josiah, also an attorney, and his sisters Eunice and Francis. In 1861, he was commissioned as a First Lieutenant in the 1st Minnesota Infantry. When his company was dismissed because the quota for volunteers was filled, he enlisted as a Private in the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry. He fought with them in the Battle of Bull Run and in other engagements in Virginia.

In 1862, his brother Josiah raised a company in the 5th Minnesota Infantry and he was commissioned as its First Lieutenant. He was promoted to Captain and placed in command of the 5th Minnesota Infantry at Fort Ridgely in April, 1862. The fort was located by the Minnesota River and the Lower Sioux Agency trading posts were nearby.

In June, several hundred Dakota Indians had gathered at the Upper Agency, anticipating the arrival of the annuities the U. S. government owed them in payment for their lands. The payments which the government owed to the Dakota and that the Dakota depended on for their subsistence were often late or missed completely. By the summer of 1862, the Dakota were desperate for food. Crop failures the year before and an exceptionally brutal winter resulted in some Dakota starving to death, and many were hungry or near starvation. However, the warehouses at both the Upper and Lower Agencies were stocked full of the food and goods the Dakota were to receive when the annuities arrived.

On August 7, Captain Marsh attempted to diffuse the situation at the Upper Agency by holding council with the Indians and with Agent Galbraith. Galbraith, a stickler for policy, had refused to supply the Dakota with food and goods from the warehouse, because they didn't yet have their annuity money to pay for it. Marsh persuaded Galbraith to agree that all annuity goods would be issued immediately, after which the Indians would return to their homes, until advised by Galbraith that the annuity had arrived. Some goods were doled out by Galbraith on August 8 and 9 and it seemed that Marsh's diplomacy had satisfied both sides. By August 10, the Dakota had left the area.

Being no longer needed at the Upper Agency, Captain Marsh and his men returned to Fort Ridgely on August 12. On the morning of August 18, settlers began arriving at Fort Ridgely, bringing the startling news that a wholesale massacre of the whites was in progress at the Agency. Captain Marsh hastily wrote a note to be delivered to Lt. Sheehan, who was on his way to Fort Ripley:

"It is absolutely necessary that you return with your command immediately to this post. The Indians are raising hell at the Lower Agency. Return as soon as possible."

He then asked for volunteers to go to the Agency and his entire company stepped forward. Within 30 minutes, he organized 48 of his men, including Indian Interpreter Peter Quinn, to go to the Lower Agency. He left the rest of the men under the command of Lieutenant Thomas Gere at Fort Ridgely. Lieutenant Gere was only 19 years old and sick with the mumps at the time.

As Captain Marsh and his men hurried to the Lower Agency, they encountered citizens fleeing to the fort for safety, burning buildings, and dead bodies, including that of the ferryman who ran the Redwood ferry at the river crossing. When they arrived at the crossing on the east side of the river, the ferry was tied to the shore, ready for them to use. The river ran close to a bluff on the southwest side; the east side bottoms were covered with high grass - a perfect spot for an ambush. The soldiers recognized a solitary Indian standing on the west side as White Dog, a lesser Indian Chief known to be friendly to the whites. Being asked what he was doing there, White Dog said he was only visiting for a few days. He urged Captain Marsh to cross over on the ferry and attend a council with him. Marsh was suspicious and refused to cross. While he spoke with White Dog through his interpreter, some Dakota crossed unobserved further down the river and crept up on his flank. Suddenly, White Dog gave a signal and a volley of shots rang out from Dakota who had been hiding in the tall grass on the west side of the river and from Dakota on the flank.

Hand-to-hand encounters took place as the Indians rushed in. Some of the soldiers fought their way to a thicket just below the ferry, but the Dakota surrounded the thicket, yelling and shooting. The soldiers held their position until they were almost out of ammunition. Captain Marsh ordered his men to swim across the river and work their way down the west side, which would provide a safer route back to Fort Ridgely. Then he began to swim across the fifty-foot wide river. When he reached the middle of the river, a strong current pulled him down. He called for help. The water was only 6 to 9 feet deep, but three soldiers nearby could not save him. One of the men had reached Marsh and brought him to the surface, but the strong current pulled the captain out of his grip. He was swept away in midstream and drowned. One of his sergeants, John Bishop, took over to lead the men back to Fort Ridgely. Of the *55 men who left the fort that morning, 25 were killed and 10 wounded.

Four weeks after the attack, his body was recovered. He was buried at Fort Ridgely with the men of his command who were killed in the battle.


*Verify; 44,24,5