Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War
May 29, Edwardsville, Ill: Harriet Buckmaster to Her Husband Nathaniel
This letter from Harriet Buckmaster to her husband, a major in the Illinois militia, shows how townsfolk experienced the war in late May. It was written from Edwardsville, Ill., just outside St. Louis. She may be replying to a previous letter from Nathaniel written from the militia camp.
Buckmaster here complains of soldiers returning home, and suspects them of either faked injuries or desertion. This reveals the serious problems in the militia, who had lost their only battle with Black Hawk and now had no idea where he was. In the wake of several isolated raids on settlements across the region, rumors about possible Indian attacks flew through towns such as Edwardsville, which were filling up with refugees and returning militiamen.
The news to which Harriet alludes in her postscript was probably that she was pregnant -- she bore a daughter later in 1832.
Because she used little or no punctuation, we have lightly edited the text of her letter.
May 27th & 29th 1832
You say in your last letter you think you shall be at home in a few weeks. I hope you will be dismissed and get home soon. I would like to know why the Soldiers are coming back one, two, and three at a time. If they come away without leave I should be glad to see them whipped all the way back. Some come sick, some their eyes hurt with [gun]powder &c, but we do not hear much complaint from them after they get here. I think you had better, all of you, stub your toe, prick your fingers, or something of the kind and come home. I am glad to hear you have good health and have been trying to make up a party of Volunteers and send up to assist you, but if they keep coming [home] as they have done, they will come three to where we could send one. Since we got the news of some being killed, the people seem roused up and anxious to go...
...I am almost of opinion that the most of these men that come down here are runaways and cowards. If we were foolish enough to believe one half we hear, we would be frightened every day;
Grandma sends her love to you. We are all well; for my part, I never had better health in my life than I have had for a few weeks past. All I want now is to have you get home safe. Yes, I want all that are out on this experdition to come back and fetch Black Hawk with you...
Remember me to all inquiring friends and except [accept] the best wishes of
your Affectionate Wife,
[P.S.] I want you to get home as soon as you can for I have something to tell you.
[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), p.458]