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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

May 18: Gen. Samuel Whiteside Describes His Pursuit of Black Hawk

Editor's Note:

In this letter to his commander, militia General Samuel Whiteside describes the events leading up to and including the Battle of Stillman's Run. He is adamant about placing responsibility for the battle on Governor Reynolds, who ordered the attack despite Whiteside's reccomendation to wait for more troops and supplies.

Samuel Whiteside (1783-1868) moved to Illinois from North Carolina with his family in 1793. He served as a member of the Illinois house of representatives, 1819-21, and as a brigadier General in the Black Hawk War. Whiteside County, IL is named after him.

Head Quarters, Brigade of Mounted Volunteers,
Dixons, May 18, 1832. Brig. Genl. H. Atkinson

Sir In pursuance of your order of the 9th. Inst., the Brigade of Mounted Volunteers under my command, arrived at this place on the morning of the 10th. by the route of the Winnebago Prophets Village, with a view of reaching the hostile band of Sac Indians, supposed to be assembled on Rock river, near and above this place.

Having arrived at the Prophets Village on the llth. about 12 O'Clock, I took one Indian prisoner, and believing, from the best information that could be obtained that, by a forced march, the hostile Indians could be overtaken, I moved on the same day within eight miles of this place, making no longer stay in the Village than was necessary to burn most of the Indian huts. On my arrival here I received information which I thought could be relied on if that the Indians had gone about 40 miles up Rock river, and had dispersed in every direction, not more than five trails going together. Having only one or two days provisions, I deemed it imprudent to take any farther steps until your arrival.

Previous to my arrival at this place, about two hundred and sixty men had been assembled by order of his Excellency, the Governor of Illinois under the command of Majr Stillman. I was requested by his Excellency [Gov. Reynolds] to take the command of those men, and give them marching orders, but did not feel myself authorized to assume the command, or give them any instructions whatever. Contrary to my wish, however, his Excellency, on the 12th gave Majr Stillman an order to move against the hostile Indians, and take all necessary steps to reduce them to submission. No report of the circumstances of that unfortunate affair which took place near Sycamore Creek on the 14th. between the Indians and Majr Stillman [the Battle of Stillman's Run] has yet been received, either from Majr Stillman, or any officer under his command. He will probably report to the Governor, or to yourself.

On the morning of the 15th., as soon as I could after hearing of the disaster, I moved with my whole Brigade to the battle ground, about 30 miles from this place, partly with the view of burying the dead, and partly in hopes that the Indians, flushed with victory over Majr Stillman, might be induced to risk a battle with me. I found and buried eleven of the dead bodies of our own men, who had been cut and mangled in a most barbarous manner. On entering the Indian Village, I found that they had decamped in great haste, leaving most of their heavy articles, and a large quantity of peltry &c. Our men were at this time entirely out of provisions, and I returned to this place to await your arrival and to receive further orders.

I have the honor to be your obdt servt.
Saml: Whiteside
Brig. Genl Commanding Brigade of Mounted Volunteers

[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), p.386]

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