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John Pope: Commanding Officer
General John Pope was in charge of the Department of the Northwest while the U.S.-Dakota War was under way in Minnesota. He issued the orders that propelled Generals Sibley and Sully into Dakota Territory on a campaign to capture the Santees and subdue the rest of the Dakotas.
Pope was born in 1822 in Kentucky. His father was a judge and a friend of Abraham Lincoln. Pope attended West Point Military Academy and graduated in 1842. As a young officer, he served in Florida and fought in the Mexican War under General Zachary Taylor. As an officer of the Topographical Engineers, he helped survey the U.S. border with Canada. He was later posted to Minnesota where he demonstrated that the Red River of the North was a navigable river. Before the Civil War broke out, he surveyed a route for a transcontinental railroad.
After the election of Abraham Lincoln, Pope served as an aide to the president. Shortly after the war with the Confederate States began, Lincoln promoted Pope to the rank of Major General. As Pope prepared his troops for battle, he told them that “Success and glory are in the advance, disaster and shame lurk in the rear.” Despite his brave words, his troops were defeated at Second Manassas (Second Battle of Bull Run) by General Lee’s Confederate army on April 28–30 1862.
This disastrous defeat caused Lincoln to relieve Pope of his command. Pope was sent to St. Paul, Minnesota to command the Department of the Northwest. At first, Pope considered this a form of banishment, but it turned out to be a period of success for him. He directed the military efforts of 1862, 1863, and 1864 in Minnesota and Dakota Territory.
Success in the northwest brought Pope another promotion and another chance at glory. He was transferred to the Division of Missouri and was promoted for his service at Island No. 10. After the war, Pope commanded the Department of Missouri under General William Tecumseh Sherman, commander of the Division of Missouri.
After service in the South during Reconstruction, Pope returned to the West and served ably in the Apache Wars (1849–1886). He quarreled with the Indian Bureau stating that Indian reservations should be managed by the Army, not by civilians or the Indian Bureau. He called for more humane treatment of Indians, but this position was always challenged by his own words of 1862 calling for the army to “utterly exterminate the Sioux.”
Pope retired from the Army in 1886. He died in the Soldiers’ Home in Sandusky, Ohio in 1892.