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DURING the year that Lincoln was in the employ of Offutt, a series of Indian difficulties were in progress in the state. Black Hawk, a celebrated chief of the Sacs, a tribe that by the terms of a treaty entered into near the beginning of the century, were permanently removed to the western bank of the Mississippi, came down the river with three hundred of his own warriors, and a few allies from the Kickapoos and Pottawatomies, accompanied also by his women and children, and crossed to the eastern side with the avowed intention of taking possession of the old hunting grounds of the nation on the Rock River. As he was committing numerous outrages on the way, General Gaines, commanding the United States forces in that quarter, immediately marched a few companies of regulars to Rock Island, where he took up his position. Governor Reynolds seconded his efforts by sending to him several hundred volunteers, recruited in the northern and central portions of the state. Black Hawk, not being able to meet the force thus assembled, retreated, and, on receiving from General Gaines a threat to cross the river and chastise him on his own ground, sued for peace, and reaffirmed all the terms of the old treaty which confined him to the western shore of the Mississippi.
The old chief proved treacherous again, and showed in the spring of 1832 that his treaty was simply an expedient for gaining time, and raising a larger force. He gathered his warriors in large numbers, and crossed the river with the
intention, as he openly declared, of ascending the Rock River to the territory of the Winnebagoes, among whom he doubtless hoped to receive reinforcements. Warned back by General Atkinson, then commanding the United States troops on Rock Island, he returned a defiant message, and kept on. In this threatening aspect of affairs, Governor Reynolds issued call for volunteers, and among the companies that immediately responded was one from Nenard County. Many of the volunteers were from New Salem and Clary's Grove, and Lincoln, being out of business, was the first to enlist. The company being full, they held a meeting at Richland for the election of officers; and now the influence of the Clary's Grove Boys was felt. Lincoln had completely won their hearts, and they told him that he must be their captain. It was an office that he did not aspire to, and one for which he felt that he had no special fitness; but he consented to be a candidate. There was but one other candidate for the office, (a Mr. Kirkpatrick,) and he was one of the most influential men in the county. Previously, Kirkpatrick had been an employer of Lincoln, and was so overbearing in his treatment of the young man that the latter left him.
The simple mode of electing their captain, adopted by the company, was by placing the candidates apart, and telling the men to go and stand with the one they preferred. Lincoln and his competitor took their positions, and then the word was given.. At least three out of every four went to Lincoln at once. When it was seen by those who had ranged themselves with the other candidate that Lincoln was the choice of the majority of the company, they left their places, one by one, and came over to the successful side, until Lincoln's opponent in the friendly strife was left standing almost alone. “I felt badly to see him cut so," says a witness of the scene. Here was an opportunity for revenge. The humble laborer was his employer's captain, but the opportunity was never improved. Mr. Lincoln frequently confessed that no subsequent success of his life had given him half the satisfaction that this election did. He had achieved public recognition;
and to one so humbly bred the distinction was inexpressibly delightful
Captain Lincoln's company and several others formed in the vicinity, were ordered to rendezvous at Beardstown, on the Illinois River, and here for the first time he met the Hon. John T. Stuart, a gentleman who was destined to have an important influence upon his life. Stuart was a lawyer by profession, and commanded one of the Sangamon County companies. Captain Stuart was soon afterwards elected Major of a spy battalion, formed from some of these companies, and had the best opportunities to observe the merits of Captain Lincoln. He testifies that Lincoln was exceedingly popular among the soldiers, in consequence of his excellent care of the men in his command; his never-failing good nature, and his ability to tell more stories and better ones than any man in the service. He was popular also among these hardy men on account of his great physical strength. Wrestling was an every-day amusement, in which athletic game Lincoln had but one superior in the army. One Thompson was Lincoln's superior in “science,” and vanquished everybody rather by superior skill than by superior muscular power.
On the 27th of April, the force at Beardstown moved. A few days of severe marching took the troops to the mouth of Rock River. It was there arranged with General Atkinson that they should proceed up the river to Prophetstown, where they were to await the arrival of the regulars. General Whiteside, in command of the volunteers, disregarding the arrangement for some reason, burnt the Prophet's village, and advanced up the stream forty miles further, to Dixon's Ferry. These marches were severe; but to men bred as Captain Lincoln had been, they were but the repetition of every-day hardships, under more exciting motives.
Before arriving at Dixon's Ferry, the army halted, and leaving behind their baggage-wagons, made a forced march upon the place. Arriving there, scouting parties were sent out to ascertain the position of the enemy. At this time they were joined by two battalions of mounted volunteers from
the region of Peoria, who, having a taste for a little fighting on their own responsibility, had rashly engaged Black Hawk, and had been chased in disorder from the field of their boyish adventure, leaving eleven of their number behind them dead, an event which has passed into history with the title of “Stillman's Defeat.” They came to General Whiteside panicstricken, and a council of war was immediately held which resulted in the determination to march at once to the scene of the disaster. A battle seemed imminent, but the wily savages had anticipated the movement, and not one was found. They had pushed further up the river, and broken up into predatory and foraging bands, one of which pounced upon a settlement near Ottowa, murdered fifteen persons, and carried two young women away captive.
General Whiteside, finding the enemy escaped, buried the dead of the day before, returned to camp, and was soon joined by General Atkinson with his troops and supplies.
The twenty-four hundred men thus brought together made a force sufficiently large to annihilate Black Hawk's army, if they could have brought the cunning warrior to a fight, but this was impossible. Here a new trouble arose. The troops had volunteered for a limited period, and, as their time had nearly expired, and they were surfeited with hardship without glory, they clamored to be discharged, and Governor Reynolds yielded to their demands. The danger still continuing, he issued another call for volunteers. Captain Lincoln was among those who had not had enough of the war. He had volunteered for a purpose, and he did not intend to leave the service until the purpose was accomplished. The Governor, in addition to his general call for volunteers, asked for the formation of a volunteer regiment from those just discharged. General Whiteside himself immediately re-enlisted as a private, as did also Captain Lincoln. Then followed a whole month of marching and maneuvering, without satisfactory results. There was some fighting near Galena, and a skirmish at Burr-Oak Grove, but there was not enough of excitement and success to keep the restless spirits of the volunteers contented, and many
them deserted. Indeed, the force became reduced to one-half of its original numbers. Lincoln, however, remained true to
, his obligations, although it was not his good fortune to participate in the engagements which brought the war to a speedy close. The Indians were overtaken at last by a force under General Henry. The pursuit had led them to the Wisconsin River, and here the Indians were found in full retreat. They were charged upon, and driven in great confusion. Sixtyeight Indians were killed, a large number wounded, and at last, just as the savages were crossing the Mississippi, the battle of Bad-Ax was fought, which resulted in the capture of Black Hawk himself, with nearly all his warriors.
The Black Hawk war was not a very remarkable affair. It made no military reputations, but it was noteworthy in the single fact that the two simplest, homeliest and truest men engaged in it afterward became Presidents of the United States, viz: General (then Colonel ) Zachary Taylor, and Abraham Lincoln. Mr. Lincoln never spoke of it as anything more than an interesting episode in his life, except upon one occasion when he used it as an instrument for turning the military pretensions of another into ridicule. The friends of General Cass, when that gentleman was a candidate for the presidency, endeavored to endow him with a military reputation. Mr. Lincoln, at that time a representative in Congress, delivered a speech before the House, which, in its allusions to General Cass, was exquisitely sarcastic and irresistibly humor
By the way, Mr. Speaker,” said Mr. Lincoln, “ do you know I am a military hero? Yes, sir, in the days of the Black Hawk war, I fought, bled and came away. Speaking
I of General Cass's career reminds me of my own. I was not at Stillman's Defeat, but I was about as near it as Cass to Hull's surrender; and like him I saw the place very soon afterward. It is quite certain I did not break my sword, for I had none to break; but I bent my musket pretty badly on one occasion. * * * If General Cass went in allvance of me in picking whortleberries, I guess I surpassed him in charges upon the wild onions. If he saw any live, fighting Indians,