The Battle of Omaha was a crucial battle in the Alaskan War, fought from August 25th to 31st, 1886. The war marked the farthest advance of the Army of the East under Andrey Zukhov into American territory, and was fought in and around the growing industrial and railroad city of Omaha, Nebraska.
While the tactical result of the battle was muddled and there was no decisive victory, the Alaskans could eventually not sustain their efforts after seven days of bloody, close-quarters fighting and eventually withdrew to north of the city, failing to capture or destroy the crucial railyard at the south end of the city despite entering the yard at one point. The valiant American defense of the railroad yard, with the defenders sorely outnumbered and outgunned, was the inspiration for the 1958 movie The Railyard Siege and its 2007 remake.
It elevated the commander of the Army of the Dakotas, Peter W. Urban, to hero status and helped give the American government more bargaining power when it came to designing a ceasefire and treaty in the ensuing two years than had Omaha been destroyed or captured. The significance of Omaha was not lost upon the Alaskans, where the failure to capture a major American city eventually helped topple Tsar Feodor II.
Order of Battle
Custer's Movements - August 27th
Alaskan Counterattack - August 28th
The Brave 17th
The focal point of the Alaskan counterattack against Omaha on the 28th and 29th was, of course, the Omaha railroad yards at the southern end of the city. Urban, ever prescient of this fact, had attempted to maintain a force as strong as 1,000 men in the railroad yards themselves with two battalions located west of the yard as a defensive perimeter, but by the 29th was so strapped for men that he had to cut the defenders of the railroad yard down to 300 men from the 17th Michigan Battalion, led by J. Roger Dunham.
Dunham and his men spread out around the railroad yard, aware that they would receive no reinforcements in the foreseeable future and with limited ammunition. In the late afternoon of the 28th, thanks to his maneuver at the western end of the city, the Alaskan 20th Regiment under Gennady Karakov (the son of the Grand Marshall) attacked the western end of the railyard. Karakov had strict orders not to damage the westbound rails, instead to secure the junction and destroy the rail bridge crossing the Mississippi.
The Brave 17th, as they were known, picked off Alaskan soldiers largely one-by-one as they attempted to enter the railyard until nightfall, claiming as many as 47 kills and 55 wounded against only three of their own killed. Karakov retreated during the evening and was reinforced by 700 more men, ordered towards the railyard by Zukhov himself. The 17th, in turn, received 20 fresh sharpshooters, extra ammunition and much-needed food, but no substantial reinforcement, as Urban was concerned with diverting his attention from the northern end of the city and being flanked should he turn his eye south.
In the early morning of the 29th, the Alaskans assaulted the railyard again, this time with the aid of a cannon and 50 Sioux warriors on horseback. However, despite suffering 103 casualties, most of whom succumbed to their wounds, Dunham and the Brave 17th managed to hold off the Alaskan attack, even as soldiers entered the railyard itself. When the early afternoon cavalry and infantry two-pronged counterattack began, the Alaskans retreated from the railyard lest they be flanked, thus saving the railyard from being completely overrun.
While the defense was celebrated later in newspapers and in popular culture, Dunham would remark that had the American counterattack only been delayed another hour, the railyard, and by proxy, the city would have been lost.