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As the autumn and winter (1831-2) passed, his twenty-third year closing, it became evident that another change of his lot was impending. In the spring a steamboat, “ The Talisman,” to test the navigability of the Sangamon River, made a first (and last) trip from St. Louis up to the Springfield landing. This was easy during the floods of the season. Lincoln was called upon to pilot the boat from Beardstown upward. At Springfield the enterprise found a welcome all aglow with brilliant expectations. While enthusiasm grew and generous hospitalities were prolonged, the waters rapidly subsided. To return was now the labor. The same pilot had the troublesome though not profitless job of conducting the boat back to the steadier current of the Illinois. It was the last steam trip on the Upper Sangamon. Offutt, losing heart in his combined undertakings, sold his store, gave up the mill, and departed to the unknown from whence he came, leaving his late clerk free to take a hand in the Indian war, now brewing.
It was early a cherished purpose at the West and South to get the wild red man across the Mississippi. To do this, and to keep him there, counted for the time as an effectual riddance. Black Hawk, a chief of the Sacs and Foxes, had when young gone to Iowa with his tribe, under a treaty surrendering lands in the fair and · fertile valley of Rock River — a treaty which he personally confirmed on coming to the chieftainship. With something of the ambition of Pontiac, though without his capacity, he later tried to unite other tribes with his own in attempting to re-possess the ceded land. Gath
ering a few hundred warriors in the spring of 1831, he crossed over into his native valley and began a savage campaign, not free from the usual atrocities. Before encountering the regular troops stationed at Rock Island and the volunteers called out by the Governor of Illinois, however, Black Hawk and his marauders retreated beyond the Mississippi. After suffering some retaliatory chastisement, Black Hawk sued for peace, and agreed to a treaty requiring him to remain quiet on his side of the river. These events happened while Lincoln was on his last flatboat expedition to New Orleans.
He had scarcely returned from piloting “ The Talisman” back to Beardstown, in the spring of 1832, when news came that Black Hawk was again on the warpath in Rock River valley, and Governor Reynolds again called for volunteers to aid in repelling the invasion. Lincoln at once enlisted, as did enough of the “boys” of Clary's Grove and vicinity to form a company, and they were enrolled on the 21st of April as mounted volunteers. At Beardstown, the general rendezvous for the State troops, Lincoln was chosen Captain by vote of the company, much to his gratification as a token of personal favor.
The regiments and the spy battalion levied by the Governor were under the command of General Whiteside, an experienced Indian fighter. Marching northwardly to Oquawka, about eighty miles distant on the Mississippi, and thence into the Rock River valley, they advanced to Prophetstown, which was burnt, and continued as far as Dixon's Ferry without overtaking the flying enemy. There was an alertness among the volunters, an eagerness for giving battle, quite in contrast with the steadier move of the regulars, who were as yet far in the rear. Whiteside allowed two zealous battalions, lately added to his command, to make a reconnoissance under Major Stillman, on the 12th of May. Twelve miles above Dixon they pitched their camp for the night near an inviting creek, since known as Stillman's Run, which proved to be unexpectedly near Black Hawk's main force. When the Indian scouts were driven in, at dusk, the direction of the chase was suddenly reversed, followed by a panic among Stillman's men, which ended all prospect of a night's rest in camp. They rapidly countermarched, suffering considerable loss; but the red chief did not care to rush on three times his number at Dixon's Ferry, and was out of reach next morning. Whiteside's regulars and expected supplies — the latter now greatly needed — had at last arrived. As the end of their brief term of enlistment drew near, the martial ardor of the volunteers had so diminished with increase of experience that few re-enlisted.
Captain Lincoln's company was mustered out at the mouth of Fox River on the 27th of May. Of those honorably discharged there were, besides three Armstrongs and two Clarys, John M. Rutledge and David Rutledge, (the former a nephew, the latter a son of James Rutledge,) and William G. Greene. There were some turbulent fellows under the young Captain's command; his patience was occasionally tried pretty severely, and his utmost tact brought into play, where military training was almost unknown and discipline a word scarcely understood; for these men regarded individual bravery and good marksmanship the chief essentials in war, and were ill prepared, in advance of experience, to blend readily the independence of a citizen with the subordination of a soldier. When the real issue came, and a positive assertion of authority was demanded, Lincoln maintained his supremacy fully as much, it would seem, by his qualities as a man as by virtue of his office. One instance deserves to be specially remembered, in which, single-handed against the men of his company, he prevailed in saving the life of a really harmless and friendly Indian, who had come into camp bearing a written passport from higher authority, but whom the soldiers believed to be a pretender or a spy, and were bent on summarily executing. The Captain's bearing and his power on this occasion, according to accounts from some of the men in after years, impressed them as almost supernaturally grand.
When his company was disbanded Lincoln promptly re-enlisted, and served as a private in the scouting battalion of Captain Early, of Springfield. There was some fighting in the vicinity of Galena, and again at Kellogg's Grove in June. Black Hawk crossed the Wisconsin River in the latter part of July, and was finally overtaken on the eastern bank of the Mississippi, near the mouth of the Bad Axe River, and beaten there on the 2d of August. He was captured a few days afterward, to be received at Washington rather as a guest than as a prisoner. Already an old man, he survived for many years, comfortably sustaining the character of a hero in misfortune. Lincoln was not engaged in any battle or skirmish, and the scouting company which he joined was mustered out before the final defeat of Black Hawk. In a war so meager in military exploit, it is curious to note how many persons then or later distinguished had part-Andrew Jackson being Commander-in-Chief, ex-officio. Major-General Scott had set out with a small body of regulars, to put an end to the affair by taking the field in person. Arrived at Chicago, then beginning to grow from a mere military fort into a thin, straggling village, he met a more formidable foe than he was seeking, in the form of Asiatic cholera. He has himself told with some degree of indignation, even in remote recollection, how he was deserted by the only surgeon of his command who had capacity in the medical line, and had to assume the additional characters of nurse and medical attendant for the sick soldiers in camp. He had not fully restored the health of his convalescents when news came that Black Hawk was beaten and the war was over.
Other officers connected with this campaign were Zachary Taylor, then a Colonel of the regular army, and in command of the post of Fort Crawford, at Prairie du Chien; Jefferson Davis, later his son-in-law; Albert Sidney Johnston; Erasmus D. Keyes, a Lieutenant, lately graduated; and Robert Anderson, then Lieutenant of Artillery, acting as Assistant Inspector-General, by whom the volunteers were mustered into the service. Of more immediate importance to Captain Lincoln were two men in the volunteer service, both residents of Springfield: Major John T. Stuart, an educated Kentuckian and an able lawyer, who first met Lincoln at Beardstown at the time of the mustering-in, and John Calhoun, of a prominent Massachusetts family of Scotch descent, said to be related to the eminent Carolina statesman.