January 19, 2021
“The Infamous Dakota War Trials of 1862: Revenge, Military Law, and the Judgment of History”
– John Haymond
January 19, 2021
The military commission trials that took place in the immediate aftermath of the US-Dakota War of 1862 remain an intensely controversial element of Minnesota’s most devastating conflict. The grim details of those proceedings –the frequently cursory nature of the 392 trials and the secrecy under which they were conducted; the total lack of defense counsel for the Dakota defendants; the 303 death sentences; the 38 men hanged on a single gallows in Mankato – have led many modern observers to conclude that the trials, executions, and subsequent expulsion of Dakota people from Minnesota were appalling injustices. The prevailing view also holds that Colonel Henry H. Sibley never had the necessary authority to convene the military court in the first place. Historian John A. Haymond examines the US-Dakota War and the military commission trials from the essential perspective of 19th century military law and reaches several surprising conclusions that directly challenge many long-held interpretations of this history.
John A. Haymond is a conflict historian who studies the history of military law and social justice issues. He has a BA in history from the University of Minnesota Duluth, an MSc in history from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and is working on a PhD based on his research on the Dakota War trials. He is the author of three books: The Infamous Dakota War Trials of 1862: Revenge, Military Law, and the Judgment of History (McFarland & Co, 2016); The American Soldier, 1866-1916: The Enlisted Man and the Transformation of the United States Army (McFarland & Co, 2018); and Soldiers: A Global History of the Fighting Man 1800-1945 (Stackpole Books, 2018). His fourth book, a study of the 1917 Houston Mutiny and courts-martial, a case that resulted in the largest mass execution of American soldiers in U.S. history, is currently underway. His work has been published in scholarly journals both in the United States and Great Britain, and he writes a regular feature about the history of the laws of war for Military History Quarterly. He served twenty-one years in the U.S. Army and currently resides in Washington, where his wife is an Army medical officer at Joint Base Lewis McChord.