Camp Buell, the Sibley expedition’s overnight campsite of July 3, 1863, was named for Major Salmon Buell, a battalion commander in the First Regiment, Minnesota Mounted Rangers. It is located north of Highway 13 at Milnor, Sargent County.
The diaries of two men provide details of troop life. By 4:30 a.m. on July 3, the military column had left Camp Parker and was marching toward Devils Lake through withering heat, engulfing dust, and unrelenting drought. Near the middle of the day’s march, the troops discovered a pleasant lake with fresh, clean water. Two of the cavalry companies splashed their way into the lake using sabers to catch fish.
By afternoon, the delights of “Fish Lake” were a distant memory when the mules began to give out and one company’s pet dog died in the heat. After an eighteen-mile march, Camp Buell was established near a shallow, brackish lake, with water so “green and thick” that a quart of “vegetal matter” could be skimmed off of a kettle full of the muck. The men had to dig wells on the beach where sand clarified the seeping water for drinking.
As the troops arrived at Camp Buell, some men dropped out of formation and collapsed on the ground while others straggled in late into the night. The expedition’s ambulances, which had been filled with exhausted men most of the day, traversed between the campsite and the route of march, picking up men too sick or weak to continue. The only consolation was that the expedition’s sutler was allowed, this one night, to dispense whiskey, albeit at seventy-five cents a pint. Two years later the same site was used by the Third Illinois Cavalry, while en route from its temporary station at Fort Abercrombie to Devils Lake to participate in General Alfred Sully’s 1865 expedition.
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