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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

May 15: Militia Commanders Report on Stillman's Run

Editor's Note:

This is the first information General Atkinson, commander of U.S. Army forces in the Black Hawk War, received from the militia about the defeat at Stillman's Run.

Written the day after battle, this note by General Whiteside and Governor Reynolds reveals that they still had relatively few facts about the battle. Stillman's defeated militia of 275 had been straggling into Dixon's Ferry throughout the night and morning with tales of a "terrible slaughter," and many soldiers were still unaccounted for when the letter was written. In reality, only eleven Americans were killed.

As was so often the case, the militia at Dixon's Ferry (about 1500 in number) did not have enough provisions to set out against Black Hawk, who retreated with his warriors and non-combatants. Although he had won the battle, Black Hawk knew that he could not win the war against the Americans or trust them to obey the common conventions of warfare. Running dangerously low on food and fearing a wholesale massacre if the entire U.S. force caught up with him, he led his band north along the Rock River, hoping to eventually cross back to the west side of the Mississippi. It would be many weeks before the Americans caught sight of him again.

Samuel Whiteside and John Reynolds to Henry Atkinson
Camp at Dixon's 15 May 1832

Genl. Atkinson The party of men which I sent out to the Old Man's Creek have been defeated by the Indians. Some have returned, and we have no provisions so as to enable us to make persuit after the Indians to any great extent

It is impossible to inform you the number slain; but it is considerable enough so to be quite serious. We are waiting the provisions.

Genl. Whiteside will march soon in the morning without provisions so as to cover the retreat, bury the dead &c.

With sincer respect your obt. Saml. Whiteside
John Reynolds

[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), p.371]

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