1832 - Lincoln: Indian Fighter

PrintPrintEmailEmail175 Years Ago On April 5 Black Hawk, a chief of the Sauk tribe, accompanied by several hundred warriors and their families, crossed the Mississippi River and set out for Rock Island, in northwestern Illinois. Back in 1804 Sauk and Fox leaders had agreed to abandon their lands east of the river, but Black Hawk and others denied the validity of that treaty. Now he and his followers hoped to reclaim their ancestral village.

Gov. John Reynolds called for volunteers to repel the invasion, and on April 19 word reached New Salem, the central Illinois home of Abraham Lincoln. Two days later about five dozen local men formed a company and elected the 23-year-old Lincoln as their captain. The next day they traveled to Beardstown, on the Illinois River, where troops had been told to assemble. In a wrestling match with a member of another company, held to determine which unit would occupy the better campground, Lincoln was defeated in two straight falls.

Lincoln ran his charges through some perfunctory drills but spent most of his time on administrative details, preparing a roll of the company’s members and drawing and distributing supplies. On April 29 some 1,500 volunteers began moving north, and at dusk on May 7 they made camp near the scene of Black Hawk’s invasion.

Things were fairly peaceful along the Rock River, as federal regulars had already arrived in the area, causing the invaders to halt their advance. The newly arrived volunteers set out in search of Black Hawk. They didn’t find him, partly because their guides were Winnebagos who sympathized with the Sauks.

The game of hide-and-seek turned into a shooting war on the evening of May 14, when unruly volunteers attacked and killed a pair of emissaries from Black Hawk who sought to discuss a peace. In the ensuing battle, 12 whites were killed and the rest fled. Lincoln and his men arrived the next day and found the mangled and scalped bodies.

After two more weeks of marching around northern Illinois, Lincoln’s company was mustered out. He re-enlisted for 20 days in a mounted company, and when that term expired, he joined a company of spies and scouts and spent another 20 days performing reconnaissance.

On July 10 Lincoln’s military career came to an end. He had served a little less than 12 weeks without seeing combat. The troops he left behind decisively defeated Black Hawk’s band, massacring many Indians and taking the chief himself prisoner. Meanwhile, Lincoln pursued his previously announced candidacy for the state legislature, finishing eighth in a field of 13. While the future held no further military campaigns for him, he would take part in many more political ones.

Time Machine