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While the Civil War all but consumed Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, at least one other military matter caught his attention. The 1862 Dakota War in Minnesota resulted in the deaths of 358 white settlers, 106 United States soldiers, and 29 Dakota warriors. When the fighting ended hundreds of Indians were placed in prisoner camps, and after sham trials nearly 400 warriors were sentenced to death. Military leaders, politicians, and an enraged citizenry demanded that Lincoln order swift executions. Seeking to balance a sense of justice against the public’s insistence for revenge, Lincoln examined the trial records of each of the defendants, and ultimately approved the death penalty for only those Indians who had participated in massacres rather than battles. Ultimately 38 Indians were hanged in what remains the largest mass execution in American history. This paper examines how historians and authors have treated Lincolns’ role in the Dakota War in books, law review articles, and other works.



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