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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

May 12, Dixon's Ferry: Gov. Reynolds sends Maj. Stillman against Black Hawk

Editor's Note:

By May 12th, the militia was hot on the trail of Black Hawk through northern Illinois. In these two short documents we see their eager commanders scheming to catch up with the Sauk, while Gen. Atkinson and the regular Army were proceeding more cautiously. The militia's impatience would soon lead to the most embarrassing American defeat of the war.

The first letter was written by militia General Samuel Whiteside at Dixon's Ferry, Ill., when Black Hawk's forces were further east at the Kishwaukee River, several miles above Old Man's Creek at the site now called Stillman Valley. Following orders, Whiteside here promises to wait for General Atkinson to arrive with more troops and rations before sending the militia against Black Hawk

But on the very same day, another Whiteside memo -- actually forged by his superior, militia commander and Illinois governor John Reynolds -- ordered Major Isaiah Stillman to start an attack on Black Hawk.

The Governor and his two militia battalions were eager to capture the credit for ending the crisis. They did not have the patience to wait for the cautious General Atkinson and his professional troops. That evening, unknown to Atkinson (who was their true commander), Major Stillman began the march towards Old Man's Creek and the first battle of the war.

Samuel Whiteside to Henry Atkinson
Head Quarters, May 12th. 1832. Dixons Ferry, Camp No. 10 General Atkinson

Sir I arrived here this day at 10 Oclock A.M. with the intention of pursuing the hostile Indians, but from the best information I have been able to gather, they have left their former encampment, and have dispersed in different directions. From the best information I have been able to obtain as to their movements, they were last at old mans creek, supposed to be twenty five miles above this place, on the south side of rock river. The route being different from what we anticipated when together, with the scarcity of rations, has brought me to the conclusion to remain here & await your arrival. I will keep out scouts for the purpose of receiving information as their present location, the better to enable you to direct our future movements.

I have the honor to be your obedient servant. Saml. Whiteside


Samuel Whiteside: Orders
Head Quarters Camp No. 10. Dixon's ferry 12th May, 1832

The troops under the command of Major Stillman, including the Battalions of said Major Stillman, and Major Bailey, will forthwith proceed with four day's rations to the head of Old Man's Creek, where it is supposed the hostile Sac Indian are assembled, for the purpose of taking all cautious measures to coerce said Indians into submission, and report themselves to this department as soon thereafter as practicable.

By order of Brigadier Samuel Whiteside commanding Brigade of mounted volunteers

[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), p.366-7]

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