Upper Post: 1865-1897

 
The Department of Dakota Headquarters, 1880.
The Department of Dakota Headquarters, 1880.

Minnesota Historical Society

Divisions and Departments

Following the Civil War, the U.S. military shifted its focus to settling the West. In 1865, the Army established the Division of Missouri and placed its headquarters in St. Louis. The Division consisted of nearly all lands between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. Within the Division, four departments were created: the Department of Texas, the Department of the Missouri, the Department of the Platte, and the Department of Dakota. Each department was responsible for vast areas of unsettled territory, much of which was inhabited by American Indian tribes.

The Division selected Fort Snelling as the administrative head and primary garrison for forces assigned to the Department of Dakota and, in 1866, placed the headquarters for the department in St. Paul, Minnesota. Consisting of the modern states of Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Montana, and parts of Wyoming, the Department of Dakota oversaw the northernmost reaches of American territory. The task of maintaining peace over such a large territory cemented Fort Snelling's usefulness to the U.S. Army and guaranteed the Fort an important role in settling the plains.

Minnesota and the War Department

Though the Department of Dakota played a key role in the Plains Indian Wars, it also served many other functions. Troops from the Department protected railroad crews building the Northern Pacific Railroad and the workers who ran close to 2,000 miles of telegraph wire to various posts in the department. These tasks were accomplished while the Department was charged with protecting 375,000 square miles of territory.

During the 1870's, the Department of Dakota commanded one-fifth of the U.S. Army's strength, but still argued for more troops. Pointing out that the Army's soldiers were deployed to 20 different forts and camps, General William T. Sherman argued that to reinforce the Department of Dakota any further would require stripping the entire American seaboard. The completion of the railroad and telegraph network helped to alleviate some of the strain and eliminated the need for a large system of forts.

 
Buffalo Soliders stationed at Fort Snelling, 1883.
Buffalo Soldiers stationed at Fort Snelling, 1883.

Minnesota Historical Society

The Beginning of the Upper Post

In 1879, the headquarters for the Department of Dakota moved from St. Paul to the newly constructed Headquarters Building on the Upper Post. Many of the officers occupied the new homes on Officer's Row. Five years later, the Army opened four new barracks buildings across from Officer's Row, making room for a much larger garrison. Some of the first troops to use these facilities were the Buffalo Soldiers, the first all black infantry units in the U.S. Army.

As the U.S. Army began consolidating its small and scattered posts into larger, more centralized forts, Fort Snelling's end seemed near. appeared among those that might be closed. Instead, the newly appointed Secretary of War, Alexander Ramsey, from Minnesota, ensured its survival and expansion. As territories became states, the Division of Missouri began dismantling many of the Departments. By the end of the 19th century, the Department of Dakota relocated to Chicago, Illinois, where it assumed a purely administrative function. However, the Department had established Fort's Snelling's value to the U.S. Army.

Last updated: July 12, 2017

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