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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

April 21: Abraham Lincoln in the Black Hawk War

Editor's Note:

On this day Abraham Lincoln was mustered into the Illinois militia for a period of 60 days, and won his first election. He had lived in New Salem for two years and in March 1832 declared his candidacy for the Illinois General Assembly, but lost that election. A month later he responded to the call for militia volunteers, where he was promptly chosen captain of a company. He did not see any combat, but historians agree that he gained confidence in his own leadership abilities as captain of an often unruly militia unit.

For more details on Lincoln's Black Hawk War service, see Captain Abraham Lincoln, a website built and maintained by the Illinois State Military Museum. Readers might also enjoy Jackson, Alfred A. "Abraham Lincoln in the Black Hawk War." Wisconsin Historical Collections 14 (1898): 118-136, and Nicolay, John G. and Hay, John. Abraham Lincoln: A History (N.Y., The Century Co., 1914), Vol 1, chapter V. Be aware that many of their conclusions may have been superceded by modern scholarship.

I was raised to farm work, which I continued till I was twenty-two. At twenty-one I came to Illinois, Macon County. Then I got to New Salem, at that time in Sangamon, now in Menard County, where I remained a year as a sort of clerk in a store. Then came the Black Hawk war; and I was elected a captain of volunteers, a success which gave me more pleasure than any I have had since. I went the campaign, was elected, ran for the Legislature the same year (1832), and was beaten -- the only time I ever have been beaten by the people. The next and three succeeding biennial elections I was elected to the Legislature.

[Source: Lincoln, Abraham. Autobiographical letter to J.W. Fell, December 20, 1859.]

By the way, Mr. Speaker, did you know I am a military hero? Yes, sir; in the days of the Black Hawk war I fought, bled, and came away. Speaking of General [Lewis] Cass's career reminds me of my own. I was not at Stiliman's defeat, but I was about as near it as Cass was to Hull's surrender; and, like him, I saw the place very soon afterward... If he saw any live, fighting Indians, it was more than I did; but I had a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes, and although I never fainted from the loss of blood, I can truly say I was often very hungry.

[Source: Lincoln, Abraham. Speech in the House of Representatives, July 27, 1848]

[Both documents are accessible in the online edition of The Papers and Writings of Abraham Lincoln, ed. by Arthur Brooks Lapsley (N.Y., G.P. Putnam's, 1905) at Project Gutenberg.]

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