St. Paul Daily Press April 26, 1861. Galbraith was in Washington D.C. giving his bond as Sioux Agent on April 12, 1861 when the Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter, prompting recruiting notices like this one in newspapers across the North. Galbraith said he would have enlisted on the spot if he hadn’t believed, then, that the war would be over by Christmas. A year later, the war was still on and Galbraith gathered his first batch of Civil War recruits from the Minnesota frontier. On August 18, 1862, the day the Dakota War broke out, Galbraith was marching his second group of volunteers, the Renville Rangers, toward Fort Snelling.
One hundred and fifty years ago, Thomas J. Galbraith was smarting. He’d lived through the siege of Fort Ridgely with no reason to doubt the report that his wife and children had been “massacred” at their home at Yellow Medicine. Later, he learned his family had escaped, sheltered overnight by Dakota people in the Upper Agency warehouse, then led off the frontier by a Dakota guide, John Otherday.
After Sibley relieved Ridgely, Galbraith accompanied the burial party of soldiers and civilians who fanned out through Renville County, burying settlers killed in the opening days of the war. Galbraith was wounded when Dakota warriors besieged the burial party’s camp at Birch Coulie on September 2-3.
Galbraith was sent to St. Paul to recover, where we find him on September 12, 1862. His leg wound likely still throbbed that morning as he opened the St. Paul Daily Press for the latest from two war fronts. Instead, he found himself the target of an editorial titled, “A Question of Responsibility.”
Whomever wrote the article did not interview Whipple, or Williamson, or anyone else about their pre-war perceptions of Galbraith as agent. Less than four weeks into the Dakota War of 1862, those assessments were eclipsed by the bald fact that Galbraith was Sioux Agent on the day the war broke out: the captain at the wheel of the Titanic the night it hit the iceberg.
The question was, and is, cogent: was Galbraith simply the man on watch when the inevitable happened? Or did he, by acts commission or omission, steer the Sioux Agency into catastrophe?
The next post will feature period reactions from people who weighed in on that question.
Today, we get Galbraith’s first reaction to “A Question of Responsibility.” It is classic for him. While Galbraith could compose solid rhetoric when time and his mood suited it, when he was mad, his words flowed, steaming, off the top of his head.
Thomas J. Galbraith to the Editor of the Saint Paul Daily Press September 12, 1862. [St. Paul] Pioneer and Democrat September 14, 1862, p.2.
Letter from Major T.J. Galbraith
From the St. Paul Press Saturday
St. Paul September 12, 1862
To the Editor of the Saint Paul Daily Press
In the Saint Paul Daily Press of this morning there is an editorial article headed “The Question of Responsibility,” in which occurs the sentence following: “You raise the question, Mr. Agent, answer it;” and “Who then is responsible? You have raised the question, Mr. Agent, answer it now if you dare;” and “The Indian Agents through the organ which they have subsidized to represent them and other attaches of Cyrus Aldrich, have chosen to raise the question of official responsibility in connection with the outbreak of the Sioux. They have dared to raise the question, now let them answer it.”
Now, who the Indian Agents and other attaches of Cyrus Aldrich are I do not know. But I do know who “Mr. Agent” is. It is my humble self, and I “dare” answer it.
In the first place, then, I never through any newspaper, or “organ,” or otherwise, raised the Question of Responsibility above referred to; not have I any connection, direct or indirect, with any “organ” or any such question; nor had I any knowledge in regard to said Question of Responsibility whatever.
I, therefore, as far as I am concerned, pronounce the above quoted paragraph purely and simply imaginary and false, and the writers and dictators of them calumniators and falsifiers.
In the same article occurs the following: “families perished from starvation, cold and hunger, and inhuman neglect, while Indian traders and officials were growing fat and insolent on the spoils pillaged from the Indian.”
Indian “families” are of course intended above….
Full text of letter in PDF: Galbraith Defends Himself 12 September 1862
Image credit: Minnesota Historical Society Civil War Day Book via Google Images.