John Marsh

Fate of Original Company B Soldier
by Jeff Alderson

The March, 1997 issue of America’s Civil War magazine included an article summarizing the Sioux Uprising of 1862 in Minnesota. In the article "Sioux Terror on the Prairie" by John B. Kachuba, accounts of many of the atrocities and military actions taking place during the Sioux Uprising were presented. One incident depicted was the attempted relief of the Lower Sioux Agency by Captain John S. Marsh, commander of Company B 5th Minnesota Infantry. The article only mentioned in passing that he was a veteran of the First Battle of Bull Run with a Wisconsin Regiment.

John S. Marsh of Preston, Minnesota enlisted in Company B of the Second Wisconsin Infantry as a private on May 22, 1861. His experience appears to be uneventful while in service in a Wisconsin regiment. No notes regarding injury, illness, or bad conduct are present in the state rosters. He was discharged after First Bull Run in order to accept a commission of First Lieutenant in the 5th Minnesota Infantry.

In August of 1862 while his former Wisconsin comrades were seeing hard service at the Battle of Brawner Farm, Captain John Marsh had a number of troubles of his own. He was in command of a company near full strength in garrison at Fort Ridgely on the Minnesota River. For several days, refugees were arriving with stories of the Sioux raid on the Lower Sioux Agency outpost only 15 miles upstream. Marsh decided to act by first sending a corporal down the river to locate and retrieve a 50 man party of Company C 5th Minnesota that had recently departed Marsh’s post for Fort Ripley. He then set out with 46 other enlisted men of his command to relieve the Lower Sioux Agency. Remaining at Fort Ridgely were 29 of his soldiers led by a lieutenant sick with the mumps.

Marsh led his men upriver on the northern bank. At the ferry by the agency, a boat was found tied to shore as if it had been prepared for them. On the opposite bank stood White Dog, a lesser Sioux chief known to be friendly to white settlers. White Dog signaled for Marsh and his men to cross the river. Marsh chose to cautiously remain on the northern bank. Without warning, a number of Sioux sprung their ambush from hiding places in the dense forest. Marsh and his men found themselves being fired on from three sides. Twelve soldiers were wounded almost immediately. Marsh led his men out of the ambush by retreating in a wood thicket along the riverbank. The survivors made their way back towards Fort Ridgely in this manner until the wood thicket ran out.

Analyzing his options, Marsh looked across the river and decided that the south bank would provide a safer route to Fort Ridgely. He ordered his men into the river and to swim for the opposite bank. In the middle of the river, he was seized with a cramp and went under the water. No one was able to save him. One of Marsh’s sergeants took over for the fallen captain and returned to the fort with only half of the men that had set out. With a veteran of the 2nd ending up dead in an Indian uprising on the frontier, one can only wonder what other interesting fates were met by the men of the Ragged Ass Second once they left its ranks.