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How War and Conflict Have Shaped the State

At Home and Abroad: Minnesota at War

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Black and white photograph of Minnesota soldiers on guard around Manila.

Men from the Thirteenth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry in trenches north of Manila while fighting Filipino insurgents in 1899.

While it was being fought, World War I (1914–1918) was dubbed “the war to end all wars.” Yet within the span of a single generation came World War II, a far bigger and bloodier conflict. Is war an inevitable consequence of our imperfect human condition? We may never know, but this is certain: more often than not, in Minnesota as in the rest of the United States, the tides of history have been driven by war or its threat, shaping who we are as a nation and a people.

The Dakota and Ojibwe

Dakota people in present-day Minnesota—their homeland—developed a sophisticated warrior culture long before the arrival of Europeans. From an early age, every male child learned the skills and mindset needed to become a warrior, a protector of and provider for the people. Upon reaching manhood, he took his place in the village as a scout, hunter, and peacekeeper as well as a fighter. The Ojibwe had a strong warrior tradition of their own. Ojibwe men were duty-bound to hunt, fish, and fight tenaciously in order to provide for and defend their people.

These two warrior traditions collided in the mid-1600s, when the Ojibwe began migrating westward from the Sault Ste. Marie region of Upper Michigan. They had acquired European trade goods from French fur traders, including knives, metal pots, wool blankets, and muskets. All of these offered significant advantages over traditional technologies.

Because the Dakota, too, wanted access to trade goods, they forged an alliance in 1679 with the Ojibwe, opening their lands east of the Mississippi River to the Ojibwe. In return, the Ojibwe traded with the Dakota, exchanging French trade goods for furs. It worked to everyone’s benefit until the French began trading with other Native nations that were traditional enemies to the Dakota. A Dakota attack on French traders in 1736 brought it all to an end. The Ojibwe sided with the French. On-again, off-again warfare between the Dakota and Ojibwe ensued for the next hundred years. Raids, skirmishes, attacks, and counter-attacks—sometimes to control territory and sometimes to avenge wrongs by individuals of the opposing side—alternated with periods of harmony and truce. Momentous battles, however, such as those at Kathio/Mille Lacs in 1750 and at the Crow Wing River in 1768, eventually enabled the Ojibwe to permanently inhabit much of northern Minnesota—once the exclusive domain of the Dakotas.

A series of treaties in the mid-1800s forced the Dakota and Ojibwe people onto reservations while opening much of present-day Minnesota to European settlement. This not only ended their intertribal warfare, it brought enormous changes to their way of life and set the stage for possible war with a powerful new adversary: the US government.

Fort Snelling and Statehood

The army played a central role in Minnesota’s formation as a state. The first permanent US settlement within the state’s current borders was at Fort Snelling, located at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. The Dakota people who lived there called it Bdote. Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, traveling under military authority, selected the fort’s site in 1805, but construction didn’t get underway until 1819.

By 1825, Fort Snelling had become the hub of the Upper Mississippi, the northwestern terminus of a string of strategically situated army forts intended to assert American control of the region and provide for its defense. The fort’s soldiers enforced laws, built the first sawmill, grew crops, hosted visitors, and supported the work of Indian agents like Lawrence Taliaferro, who represented the US government to Indigenous nations. Open warfare never came to the area, but by its very presence, the fort spurred settlement, offering protection for traders, missionaries, and farmers.

By the time Minnesota became a state in 1858, the army had added three new wilderness outposts, each of which established a government presence. Fort Ripley (1849–1877), on the upper Mississippi in central Minnesota, briefly supplanted Fort Snelling as the most distant on the nation’s northwestern frontier. Next came Fort Ridgely (1853–1867) on the Minnesota River and Fort Abercrombie (1857–1877) on the Red River. Each served its fleeting purpose, notably during conflicts with the Dakota, and was then shuttered.

Constitutional law mandated that states organize citizen militias to augment a national army and navy. Minnesota formed a territorial militia in 1850, but it existed only on paper until the late 1850s, when communities began organizing uniformed volunteer militia companies of their own. The Pioneer Guard of St. Paul, founded in 1856, was the first. The Minnesota National Guard traces its roots to these early companies.

War on Two Fronts: Civil War (1861–65) and the US–Dakota War of 1862

In April 1861, Americans found themselves at war with each other when Confederate bombardment forced the surrender of Fort Sumter, a US garrison in Charleston, South Carolina’s harbor. For the next four years, the American Civil War severed the country in order to resolve two fundamental issues: whether slavery should be allowed to continue, and whether the United States should be preserved as one indivisible nation or as a loosely allied group of separate sovereign states.

Minnesota was the first state to volunteer troops for the Union effort and eventually fielded twenty-two different volunteer organizations. These units played important roles in nearly every major campaign. The charge of the First Minnesota Infantry at the Battle of Gettysburg, however, was particularly crucial. It saved the Union position on Cemetery Ridge and possibly the larger battle itself, earning the soldiers of that regiment lasting recognition for their sacrifice and courage.

The war profoundly affected the destiny of the nation. It preserved the Union and abolished slavery, but the war was felt in innumerable ways within the state. Over 24,000 Minnesotans—nearly 10 percent of the state’s total population—fought in the Civil War by the time it ended in spring 1865. Of these, over 600 were killed in battle, and three times that number died of accidents or disease, leaving loved ones back home to grieve and cope. Because the South had seceded, Congress finally passed the Homestead Act in 1862, providing land grants that attracted thousands of newcomers to Minnesota and helped boost the population from 172,000 to 250,000 during the war years. The war also hiked demand for wheat and lumber, stimulating two Minnesota industries that soon became central to the state’s economy.

While Union and Confederate armies clashed elsewhere, another war broke out on the Minnesota prairie. Dakota people, deprived of traditional hunting grounds and confined to a reservation on the Minnesota River, were suffering from hunger and delayed annuity payments. A band of Mdewakanton men led by Ta Oyate Duta (His Red Nation, also known as Little Crow) struck back, attacking settler-colonists, Indian agencies, a company of soldiers, the town of New Ulm, and Forts Ridgely and Abercrombie. Whites throughout the Minnesota River valley and upland prairies fled their farms; citizens formed militias; and villages hastily constructed stockades. Minnesota Volunteer Infantry soldiers at Fort Snelling, awaiting orders to go south, departed instead to fight the Dakota. A mixed force of militia and volunteer infantry under the command of Henry Sibley defeated them after a six-week campaign.

About 500 white civilians, ninety-three soldiers, and an unknown number of Dakota militants were killed. Retribution was quick. Over 300 Dakota warriors were tried and convicted of rape or murder, 264 were imprisoned, and thirty-eight were hung en masse in Mankato. Others fled westward. Minnesota banished the tribe and interned 1600 Dakota women, children, and older men in a disease-ridden fenced encampment below Fort Snelling before relocating them the following spring to a reservation in Dakota Territory. For the next two years, immense punitive expeditions pursued the escaping Dakota and their Yankton, Yanktonai, and Teton (Lakota) relatives as far west as the Yellowstone River, commencing warfare that lasted into the 1880s.

Gaining an Empire: War with Spain (1898) and in the Philippines (1899–1902)

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, the US all but dismembered what remained of Spain’s colonial empire. Eager for an empire of its own, the US vowed to end misrule in Cuba, a Spanish colony since the days of Columbus. Congress declared war against Spain in April 1898 and, as expected, victory came quickly. Cuba gained independence, but the US gained Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, where Filipinos were already fighting a war for independence and self-government.

As during the Civil War, the federal government asked states to organize regiments of volunteers. Minnesota provided four infantry regiments, but only one—the Thirteenth Minnesota—saw foreign service. It went to the Philippines, aided in the Battle of Manila, and then fought against Filipino insurrectos who resisted America’s takeover of their country. The fight moved into the countryside north of Manila, a breeding ground for diseases like dysentery and malaria, before the regiment finally returned home in October 1899 to cheering crowds.

The Third US Infantry, a Regular Army regiment stationed at Fort Snelling, initially fought in Cuba. It returned home briefly and then shipped out to the Philippines, where it, too, fought Filipino guerillas until the insurgency ended in 1902.

Altogether, about 9,000 Minnesotans served during the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars; 222 died, most of them from disease. Although the US gained status as a world power, the war exposed military deficiencies that led to the modernization of its armed forces and greater federal control of the National Guard, which hitherto had functioned largely as a group of state armies.

Down There and Over There: Border Service (1916–1917) and World War I (1914–18)

Mounting attacks by Mexican revolutionaries on American border towns prompted President Woodrow Wilson to send the army into Mexico and to call up the National Guard to defend the border in 1916. After being brought to its full strength of 4,380 men, the Minnesota National Guard was sent to Camp Llano Grande, near Mercedes, Texas, where guardsmen trained and patrolled along the Rio Grande. Their border service was uneventful, but it prepared them for the bigger challenge soon to come.

Nationalism, military alliances, economic rivalry, and political pride had meanwhile thrust Europe into war in 1914. America declared war on Germany in April 1917 when efforts to stay neutral failed. Amid patriotic fervor, Minnesotans enlisted by the thousands and were soon joined by draftees. The Minnesota National Guard embarked for Camp Cody, New Mexico, to become part of a new Thirty-fourth Division, although its artillery regiment, re-designated as the 151st Field Artillery, went to the Forty-second “Rainbow” Division. A Minnesota Home Guard was organized to temporarily replace its National Guard. Most Minnesota draftees were sent to Camp Dodge, Iowa, where they were assigned to different units. Fort Snelling trained officers and became a processing center for inductees.

Minnesota citizens also mobilized. The Minnesota Commission of Public Safety declared the conflict to be “everybody’s war” and used its powerful authority to ensure an all-out, unified effort on the home front. But there was a dark side, too. Congress passed laws making disloyalty illegal, and the Commission heartily enforced them. It silenced dissent, vilified German immigrants, and encouraged neighbors to root out “slackers” and “enemy sympathizers” by reporting on one another.

America’s timely infusion of troops and resources tipped the balance, bringing Allied victory in November 1918. By then, Minnesota had sent 118,500 residents into the armed services, with 57,400 of them overseas in France. The 151st Field Artillery—nicknamed the “Gopher Gunners”—was the only truly Minnesota combat unit to see action on the front, where it fought with great distinction. It received a tumultuous welcome upon returning home in May 1919. Sadly, 2,133 Minnesota servicemen didn’t live to make it home; of these, 60 percent died from disease, most stemming from the 1918 flu pandemic.

The war not only demonstrated the lethal power of new weaponry, it also forever changed the social and political landscape. Monarchies fell. New countries were born. The US emerged as a superpower. America’s economy (especially agriculture) thrived and manufacturing capacity grew, aiding unionism. Women’s involvement in the war effort helped them achieve suffrage in 1920. But the terrible war also bred disillusionment, undermining the international ideals espoused by President Wilson, and the nation reverted to isolationism. The army stagnated in the 1920s and 1930s, although Minnesota did open a new training site in 1931 for its National Guard at Camp Ripley.

War on a Massive Scale: World War II (1939–45)

World War II was immense—the largest, most destructive war ever fought. Fifty-seven nations entered into a global struggle that began when Japan invaded China in 1937, grew when Nazi Germany seized most of Europe and North Africa between 1939 and 1941, and exploded world-wide with entry by the US in December 1941.

In response, America mobilized as never before. Minnesota’s reservists and National Guard had already been on active duty for nearly a year and were among the first to engage the enemy. A St. Paul Naval Reserve unit aboard the USS Ward fired the first shot against the Japanese when it sank a Japanese mini-sub at the entrance to Pearl Harbor at dawn on December 7. The Thirty-fourth Infantry Division, a Minnesota-based National Guard unit, became the first US division to ship overseas to Europe, where it fought doggedly in North Africa and Italy, acquiring the nickname “Red Bulls.” It amassed more days in combat than any other US division. Members of the Thirty-fourth Division’s tank company from Brainerd, re-designated as Company A of the 194th Tank Battalion, were sent to the Philippines, fought at Bataan, participated in the death march, and spent over three years as prisoners of war. Half the unit did not survive.

War permeated daily life on the home front. Minnesota’s iron mines and farms provided prodigious raw material and food, while its factories worked around the clock to produce everything from cargo ships to canteen covers. For the first time, women and people of color joined the mainstream workforce in large numbers. After a 1942 executive order relocated Japanese Americans to concentration camps, organizers of a Japanese language school in San Francisco transplanted their project to Minnesota. It reopened at Scott County’s Camp Savage as the Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) before outgrowing that site and moving to Fort Snelling in 1944.

Final victory came in August 1945. Over 304,500 Minnesotans served in the Armed Forces during World War II, and 9,797 died in the line of duty. For the first time in a major war, battle claimed more lives than disease and other causes.

Post-War Consequences: Onset of the Cold War, the Korean War (1950–53), and Defensive Measures

World War II and its aftermath changed Minnesota in fundamental ways, bringing middle-class prosperity, a baby boom, mobility, sprawling suburbs, an automobile culture, and whole new industries that grew directly from military research and development. The postwar years also brought the Cold War and a perilous nuclear arms race. America’s wartime ally, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), became its adversary, pitting authoritarian communism against democracy and capitalism. Winston Churchill coined the phrase “Iron Curtain” to describe the divide. Tensions escalated further when the USSR successfully tested its own atomic bomb in 1949. A policy of containment promised military and economic assistance to nations under threat of a communist takeover.

Soviet-trained troops from North Korea tested America’s resolve to stop the spread of communism in 1950 when they swept across the boundary into South Korea. President Truman rushed in American troops, augmented by the UN, to stop the advance. Communist China soon entered the fray, and open warfare continued until July 1953 when a truce was finally agreed upon, cementing the original division of North from South.

Most of the Minnesota National Guard was activated for two years during the Korean War, as were the state’s reserve units. Many Minnesota veterans of World War II were recalled to active duty, while others enlisted or were drafted. Nearly 95,000 Minnesotans served in uniform during the three-year fight in Korea, and 725 lost their lives or were missing in action.

From the early 1950s to the mid-70s, every Minnesotan lived under the real threat of nuclear attack by Russian bombers. Basement areas in most public buildings were designated as fallout shelters, marked with black-and-yellow civil defense signs. School children practiced “duck and cover” drills. Air-raid test sirens blared periodically. Less well known is Minnesota’s role in the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD). Air Force and Air National Guard fighter squadrons based in Duluth, flying jets routinely armed with nuclear-tipped missiles, stood ready to engage hostile aircraft at a moment’s notice. Bomarc anti-aircraft missiles designed to bust up Soviet bomber formations were located at Knife River, ready to thwart attacks against Duluth’s ore docks, steel plant, air base, and port facilities. Four Nike-Hercules anti-aircraft missile batteries ringed the Twin Cities, while a broad network of manned radar stations (six in Minnesota) delivered airspace surveillance monitored from a bomb-proof headquarters in Duluth.

The Cold War was peppered with tense incidents, close calls, and brinkmanship. At times, Minnesotans huddled around television sets, watching events unfold that could, through a miscalculation by either side, spark nuclear war. The Berlin Crisis of 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 stand out as especially dangerous confrontations.

Upheaval over Vietnam (1965–75)

When France ended its colonial rule of Vietnam in 1954, armies of the communist-run North began fighting with the anti-communist South. The United States, worried that a communist victory would spread to other Southeast Asian countries, began funneling massive aid, including military advisors, to the South Vietnamese in the early 1960s. The South, however, beset by growing internal strife, prompted President Lyndon Johnson to “get tough” by committing American ground forces, augmented by tactical air support and bombing. By 1969, the US had 540,000 troops in Vietnam, but the North’s army and Viet Cong guerillas displayed unforeseen tenacity. Despite official proclamations of success, the war dragged grimly on.

An anti-war movement erupted at home, gathering momentum as combat deaths mounted. For some Minnesotans, support for the war was a patriotic duty; others viewed it as politically and morally wrong, pitting father against son, neighbor against neighbor. By spring 1968, the tide of public opinion turned decidedly against the war. Protests on streets and campuses sometimes turned violent. Anger over the draft, racism, and poverty intensified the discord.

The US finally withdrew its troops in 1973, leaving the South Vietnamese Army to finish the fight, but it all came to an ignominious end when Saigon, the South’s beleaguered capital, fell to the communists in 1975.

Approximately 68,000 Minnesotans served in Vietnam. Of these, 1,007 died and many more suffered physical and psychological wounds that never fully healed.

Major Post-Vietnam Changes and the End of the Cold War

Conscription, in effect since 1940, became a festering bone of contention during the Vietnam War because it was fought mostly by youthful draftees. In 1973, Congress eliminated it in favor of an all-volunteer force. Minnesota men who didn’t want to be drafted breathed a sigh of relief. The size of the standing army was reduced—with higher pay for those who enlisted—but its global responsibilities remained. To compensate, a “total force” doctrine integrated reserve components more completely with their active duty counterparts.

The 1970s also marked a watershed for women in the military. As a result of the women’s rights movement and elimination of the draft, Minnesota women now joined with men in the regular ranks. Separate women’s branches, such as the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), were eliminated.

Tensions between the USSR and the US ebbed and flowed after Vietnam, but in the mid-1980s the USSR’s economic system became unsustainable. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev implemented pivotal internal reforms and a policy of rapprochement with the West. Minnesotans saw the results first-hand in June 1990 when Gorbachev made a whirlwind visit to the state to promote goodwill and business investment in his country. By then, the Soviets had lost control in Eastern Europe. Finally, in 1991, the Soviet Union itself collapsed from within, ending a Cold War that had lasted more than forty years.

Persian Gulf War (1990–91)

Strapped for cash, Iraq attacked and “annexed” its tiny but wealthy neighbor, Kuwait, in 1990. After a massive buildup, coalition forces led by the US ousted the invaders and liberated Kuwait. The swift, decisive victory seemed to exorcise the stigma of Vietnam.

Over 694,000 American service members deployed to the Persian Gulf—the largest concentration of American forces since World War II—with 148 (seven from Minnesota) killed in action. It was the first combat operation to include women and, unlike Vietnam, it made heavy use of the reserves. About 2,875 members of Minnesota-based National Guard and Reserve units were activated. Yellow ribbons and parades greeted them all when they returned home. From then on, however, deployments for Minnesota’s part-time civilian-soldiers became the “new normal.”

Terrorism and Radical Islam: Ongoing Conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq

Long-standing troubles in the Middle East took a new turn in 1979 when Islamic fundamentalists overthrew the shah of Iran and later seized the American embassy in Tehran. Embassy personnel were held hostage for more than a year. The incident emboldened Islamic hardliners throughout the region, prompting a chain of events that Americans still grapple with.

Since then, an ever-evolving stream of violence has been committed by militant jihadists intent on imposing their version of ultra-conservative theocracy in places like Lebanon, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria. Anti-Americanism was a common thread. The 1990s saw a resurgence of ethnic and tribal conflict in the Balkans and Africa, but the US went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon jolted the nation. Horrified by the scale of the attacks and loss of life, Americans also recognized this as an assault on Western values. President George W. Bush declared a “War on Terror,” beefed up homeland security, and sent troops into Afghanistan to find the perpetrators: Osama bin Laden and fellow al-Qaeda leaders. Bin Laden was eventually found (years later, in Pakistan) but American forces remain engaged in Afghanistan, attempting to keep Taliban insurgents at bay while aiding Afghan security forces.

In a controversial move in 2003, an American-led coalition invaded Iraq and toppled the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Plans to create a more democratically-inclined Iraq faltered, unleashing sectarian violence that snowballed until more troops and counterinsurgency measures tamped down some of the chaos. Aiding at the peak of this effort for sixteen months were 2,600 members of the Minnesota National Guard’s First Brigade Combat Team. American combat forces were withdrawn from Iraq in 2010, but several thousand remain stationed nearby in advisory and support roles. Suicide bombers, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and enemy fire took the lives of 260 Minnesotans in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2018, with no certain end in sight. In the meantime, Minnesotans have inured themselves to pervasive electronic surveillance, bag checks, and other security measures designed to reduce their vulnerability to homeland terrorism.

Looking Backward and to the Future

Over the years, beginning with the Civil War, more than 630,000 Minnesotans took up arms and headed off to war. They performed honorably, but not without sacrifice. More than 16,500 of them never got the chance to come back home. Tenfold more were wounded or scarred in other ways by their wartime experience; still more family members shared in their pain. It is a sobering fact that a major new war arose about every twenty years or so to confront the people of Minnesota, one for each succeeding generation. Such history casts a solemn shadow. We are moved by the uncommon courage and indomitable human spirit revealed in times of war, but we must be mindful of the horrors as well. Our remembrance of these events needs to include the hope that perhaps someday we can keep history from repeating itself.

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Blegen, Theodore C. Minnesota: A History of the State. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1963.

Boot, Max. Invisible Armies. New York: Liveright Publishing, 2013.

Carley, Kenneth. The Sioux Uprising of 1862. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1976.

——— . Minnesota in the Civil War. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2000.

Congressional Research Service. “American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics.”

——— . “U.S. Periods of War and Dates of Recent Conflicts.”

Defense Manpower Data Center, US Department of Defense. “Dod Personnel, Workforce Reports and Publications.”

Diedrich, Mark. Famous Chiefs of the Eastern Sioux. Minneapolis: Coyote Books, 1987.

——— . Ojibwe Chiefs: Portraits of Anishinaabe Leadership. Rochester, MN: Coyote Books, 1999.

Hall, Steve. Fort Snelling: Colossus of the Wilderness. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1987.

Holbrook, Franklin F. Minnesota in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection. St Paul: Minnesota War Records Commission, 1923.

Holbrook, Franklin F, and Livia Appel. Minnesota in the War with Germany. Vol. I. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1928.

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——— . Over Here: The First World War and American Society. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.

Kenney, Dave. Minnesota Goes to War. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2005.

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Related Images

Black and white photograph of Minnesota soldiers on guard around Manila.
Black and white photograph of Minnesota soldiers on guard around Manila.
Watercolor painting of Fort Snelling, c.1844. Painting by John Casper Wild.
Watercolor painting of Fort Snelling, c.1844. Painting by John Casper Wild.
Ta Oyate Duta
Ta Oyate Duta
Company E, Eighth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, Fort Snelling
Company E, Eighth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, Fort Snelling
Lithograph interpretation of the Battle of Birch Coulee, 1912.
Lithograph interpretation of the Battle of Birch Coulee, 1912.
Civil War veterans
Civil War veterans
Living flag at GAR National Encampment
Living flag at GAR National Encampment
151st Field Artillery
151st Field Artillery
Clifford N. Harris
Clifford N. Harris
 Draft registration at the Minneapolis Armory
 Draft registration at the Minneapolis Armory
Victory-garden poster
Victory-garden poster
Workers at the Twin Cities Ordnance Plant
Workers at the Twin Cities Ordnance Plant
Photograph of Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) Betty Strohfus, ca. 1940s.
Photograph of Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) Betty Strohfus, ca. 1940s.
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Map of the projected range of Soviet bomb attacks on the Twin Cities
Map of the projected range of Soviet bomb attacks on the Twin Cities
Anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Dinkytown
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Color image of a soldier of Second Battalion, 135th Infantry, Thirty-fourth Division, returning home after a deployment, 2008.
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“Protest Day 4 of the RNC" flyer
“Protest Day 4 of the RNC" flyer


Westward migration of the Ojibwe into lands occupied for centuries by the Dakota set off a long period of intertribal conflict that persisted until government treaties established reservations and opened most of Minnesota to European settlement.

The army played a central role in Minnesota’s early development as a state by establishing frontier forts that provided a government presence.

Uniformed militia companies—precursors of the National Guard—began forming in the late 1850s.

Minnesota fought a war on two fronts when Civil War broke out in the South and the 1862 US-Dakota War broke out on Minnesota’s prairies.

America sought, and got, an empire of its own as a result of the Spanish-American War in 1898. Its acquisition of the Philippines provided an important base of operation in the western Pacific but, to help secure it, Minnesota soldiers had to fight Filipinos seeking independence.

The National Defense Act of 1916 authorized the president to federalize the National Guard for national emergencies (prior to that, he could ask the state only for volunteers). President Woodrow Wilson immediately used his new authority to call up the entire Minnesota National Guard, which was sent to south Texas to protect the US–Mexican border.

Unable to remain neutral, the US finally entered Europe’s “Great War” in April 1917, sending Minnesota boys to fight in France while citizens at home worked to “save the world for democracy.”

Few wars were as clear cut as World War II: Americans knew what they were fighting for and rallied around it in common cause. When it was over, life in Minnesota dramatically changed.

The end of World War II ushered in the modern age, along with a Cold War that lasted forty-five years.

During the Cold War, Minnesotans prepared for the possibility of nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

An anti-war movement mushroomed in Minnesota in the 1960s as the Vietnam War grew increasingly unpopular. Demonstrations and marches, sometimes violent, divided Minnesotans as never before.

The deadly September 11, 2001, attacks on the US by Islamic terrorists brought on counter-measures—including wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—that changed how Americans live their lives.



Construction begins on Fort St. Anthony (later renamed Fort Snelling).


Citizens of St. Paul form Minnesota’s first organized militia company, the Pioneer Guards.


The American Civil War begins. Minnesota is the first state to volunteer troops for the Union army.


War comes to Minnesota when Mdewakanton Dakota warriors attack farms, settlements, and soldiers.


The Spanish-American War begins and ends; afterward, Minnesotan troops confront an insurgency in the Philippines.


The entire Minnesota National Guard is activated and sent to patrol the Mexican border in south Texas.


The US enters World War I, contributing the men and resources needed to bring the war to a conclusion the following year.


The US enters World War II, the largest, most destructive war ever fought.


The Cold War turns hot when communist North Korea attacks South Korea, setting off the Korean War.


The Vietnam War escalates when President Lyndon Johnson sends combat troops into South Vietnam.


The US mobilizes for the Persian Gulf War, which soon forces Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.


Attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, lead to on-going military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.