Skip to main content

Alfred Sully papers

Call Number: WA MSS S-1311

Scope and Contents

The Alfred Sully Papers document the career of an United States Army officer who served on the western frontier. Although the collection spans the years 1816-1974, the bulk of the material dates from 1842-70.

Series I, Correspondence, contains letters between Alfred Sully and family and colleagues. Military Papers, Series II, consists of army records and Sully's financial papers. Both series are arranged chronologically. Sully's private notes, his artwork, and photographs can be found in Series III, Personal Papers. Series IV, Family Papers documents Langdon Sully's research for No Tears for the General. This series also contains a few miscellaneous papers related to Albert W. Sully, Alfred Sully's son by his second wife.

Correspondence (Box 1) contains both family letters and communications between officers. There is very little information on Sully's experiences in Florida and Mexico. In the 1840s, Sully's letters to his father Thomas Sully and his sisters describe garrison life in northern New York, while his correspondence with other officers focuses on recruiting duty in Buffalo. Later letters portray California before and during the gold rush. Sully praised Spanish society, including the old missions, and denounced the lawlessness resulting from mass immigration. A major problem for the army was the desertion of troops to the gold mines. Bitter complaints about military salaries are a recurring theme in his letters. Sully's letters from 1850 are filled with news of his new wife, her wealthy, aristocratic Spanish family, and the birth of their son. In March 1853 Sully wrote about Indian troubles in the Sierra Nevadas blaming "rascally whites" and "Pikes county men" for the uprisings.

Although there are not many letters for the period 1854-60, the correspondence for 1861 provides an interesting view of the frontier just before the Civil War. As a regular army officer, Sully complained about civilians being given commands and understood the resignations of southern officers. His letters describe the assembling of Union and Confederate troops and early skirmishes. In 1865 Sully was ordered to Washington where he searched for a command. Again his letters home criticize the army, bemoaning the politics of promotion and command. Sully's letters from the battlefield narrate events and comment on General McClellan's command.

Series I contains few family letters after 1862. Sully's correspondence in 1863-64 with General Pope and fellow officers discusses the "North Western Indian Expeditions." He also communicated with Spencer Baird of the Smithsonian Institution, for which he collected specimens during his campaigns. Indian affairs dominate Sully's letters for this period. A letter from Pierre Jean De Smet in 1866 discusses Indian missions. Correspondence for 1865-66 documents Sully's fight against charges of mistreating Indians brought by Walter A. Burleigh, an Indian agent, and involving an officer of inferior grade, Col. S. W. Pollock.

Sully's correspondence is sporadic after 1866. He sent a long autobiographical letter to a Pennsylvania historian on July 2, 1872. In 1877 Sully's letters to his wife describe his role as outfitter for General Howard's campaigns. To his sister Blanche he wrote about family life at Fort Vancouver.

Series II, Military Papers (Boxes 2-4) contains a variety of records: orders, reports, accounts, receipts, invoices, muster rolls, official letters, commissions, legal papers, and Sully's financial papers. As army officers often purchased supplies on the basis of future reimbursement, it is difficult to distinguish private bills from official records. Little of this material was used by Langdon Sully when writing No Tears for the General.

Most of the papers for 1842-45 are personal in nature, such as receipts for clothing, art supplies, and liquor. For 1846 there are recruiting records: expense accounts and orders. This series also provides a great deal of information on army life in early California. Sully kept records on garrison equipment, transportation expenses, and civilian labor.

Similar information can be found for the 1860s, when Sully was on the northern plains. Affidavits, letters of complaint, and special orders document the investigation of Sully for abusing Indians. These legal records describe the 1864 "North Western Indian Expedition" and life around Fort Randall, Dakota Territory. Sully commanded the Brackett's Minnesota Volunteer Cavalry, the 6th and 7th Iowa Cavalry, 2d Nebraska Cavalry, and the 4th U.S. Volunteers; however the papers only refer to the Iowa and Minnesota regiments. There is less information about 1865, although one report describes the topography of the area the expedition traversed (Box 2, folder 55).

Military Papers record the interaction between the federal government and the Indians of the Dakota Territory. Sully's written testimony to the Doolittle commission documents his opinion of federal Indian policy (Box 2, folder 53). Among the papers for 1865 are reports of a conference between Governor Newton Edmunds and the Two Kettles band, and Sully's meeting with the Rees (Arikara), Gros Ventres (Hidatsa), and Mandans. Finally, there are some records of the commission investigating the Fetterman Massacre.

As Superintendent of Indians for the Territory of Montana 1869-70 Sully was in charge of agencies for the Crow, Flathead (Salish), Blackfeet (Siksika), Gros Ventres (Atsina or Arapaho), and Bannock. The papers document buying, transporting, and distributing supplies to the Indians. There are contracts for the construction and maintenance of agencies, as well as reports on camp equipment.

Series II contains five maps. Sully owned a nineteenth century photoreproduction of a Virginia map made by the army engineers which he probably used during the Civil War (Box 8, folder 131). Also in collection is the map "Indian Territory with part of the adjoining state of Kansas, etc." printed by the Engineer Bureau of the War Department (Box 3, folder 56). Three other maps, all hand-drawn date from the 1860s-70s: "Map of region of country near the Yellowstone" showing the head of the river, a series of maps in notebook form, and a map of the conjunction of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington (Box 3, folder 69, Box 8, 136).

Series III, Personal Papers (Boxes 5 and 9) consists of notes, a watercolor, and photographs. The notes concern the reorganization of the army and other miscellaneous topics. Sully was an amateur painter, and the collection contains his framed watercolor depicting a Mexican battle as well as photographs of Sully's oil paintings. Other photographs depict scenes from Sully's years in the Dakota and Montana Territories.

Papers relating to Albert W. Sully and Langdon Sully can be found in Series IV, Family Papers (Boxes 6-7). Langdon Sully, author of No Tears for the General, transcribed many of Sully's letters and some of his military papers and collected material from the National Archives.

Oversize box 8 consists mostly of military papers.

The restricted fragile papers in Box 10 consist of originals for which preservation photocopies have been made.

Two other collections in the Yale Collection of Western Americana contain materials related to Alfred Sully's career. The George Washington Patten collection contains original drawings and watercolors by Alfred Sully. More information on the "North Western Indian Expeditions" can be found in the Records of the Quartermaster Department of the 4th U.S. Volunteers ("Galvanized Yankees"), who served under Sully.


  • 1816-1974


Physical Description

Other Storage Formats: Oversize, broadside folder

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Box 10: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Alfred Sully Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from Langdon Sully, 1976.


4 Linear Feet ((10 boxes) + 1 broadside)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers document the career of an United States Army officer who served on the western frontier. The papers contain correspondence between Sully, his family, and colleagues, army records from Sully's positions at posts in California and the northern plains, as well as records from his appointment as Superintendent of the Indians for the Territory of Montana.
There are some personal papers and research material on Alfred Sully gathered by his grandson Langdon Sully as he wrote the biography, No Tears for the General.

ALFRED SULLY, (1821-1879)

Alfred Sully, son of Thomas Sully the portrait painter, was born in Philadelphia. He graduated from West Point in 1841 and was commissioned a 2d lieutenant in the 2d Infantry Regiment. Sully spent a year at Fort Russell in Florida fighting the Seminole Indians before being assigned to Madison Barracks, Sackett's Harbor, New York, where he stayed from 1842-46. He joined the American forces in Mexico in time to participate in the siege of Vera Cruz. In 1847 Sully was promoted to 1st lieutenant.

In 1848 the 2d Infantry Regiment was ordered to California and stationed first in Monterey and then Benicia. Sully, now quartermaster and a captain, participated in Indian campaigns in northern California and southern Oregon. He married Manuela Jimeno in 1850 and the couple had a son in 1851; however, both mother and child died that year.

From 1854 to 1861 Sully served on the northern plains where he encountered the Northern Cheyenne and Sioux. He commanded troops in the Dakota and Nebraska Territories near Fort Pierre, Fort Kearney, and Fort Ridgely, Minnesota. In 1861 Sully was ordered to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to recruit forces for the Union and to drive the rebels out of St. Joseph and Independence, Missouri. The following year, as colonel and later brigadier general of the 1st Minnesota Volunteers, Sully fought in the Virginia Peninsula campaign.

By 1863 Sully was back on the plains serving under General Pope. From 1863 to 1866 he commanded the "North Western Indian Expeditions" directed against the Arapaho, Sioux, and Cheyenne. The battles of White Stone Hills and Tah-kah-ha-kuty (or Killdeer Mountain) proved Sully's skill as an Indian fighter, and when the Congressional Joint Special Committee to Inquire into the Condition of the Indian Tribes, often referred to as the Doolittle committee, came west, Sully was asked to testify.

In 1866 Sully married Sophia Henrietta Webster, was mustered out of the Volunteers, and returned to the regular army with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He spent his last years serving on various special projects. He chaired a commission to investigate the Fetterman Massacre at Fort Kearney and to establish peace with the Indians of the Powder River country. In 1869 he became Superintendent of Indians for the Territory of Montana and in 1877 served briefly with General Howard in the Nez Percé war. Alfred Sully died in 1879 at Fort Vancouver, Washington Territory.

For additional information see Langdon Sully's biography of his grandfather, No Tears for the General: The Life of Alfred Sully, 1821-1879 (1974), a copy of which can be found in Box 7, folder 124.
Guide to the Alfred Sully Papers
by Susie R. Bock
1978 December
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
(203) 432-2977


121 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.