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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

July 4, Lake Koshkonong, Wis.: Morale Sinks Even Lower

Editor's Note:

This is an excerpt from the autobiography of John Reynolds, governor of Illinois and commander of the militia. On June 28, General Henry Atkinson led his troops troops searching for Black Hawk into southern Wisconsin. The militia, under Generals Dodge, Posey and Alexander, joined them on June 30.

Together they trekked through uninhabited swampland exposed to rain, mosquitoes, and intense summer heat and humidity. The Ho-Chunk chief White Crow guided them to Lake Koshkonong, where Black Hawk's forces had earlier camped, but by the time the troops arrived their enemies had long since departed. Disappointment and discomfort grew into the sorrow and doubt that Reynolds recalled here, as the army camped in the mud alongside Lake Koshkonong.

Black Hawk had chosen to rest at this miserable place because it provided a natural defense against the Americans, who could only move very slowly through the wetlands with their horses, supply trains and cannons. He also knew from experience the fickleness of the militia, who under tough conditions would probably give up and go home. His assumption was correct --- in less than a week many of the militia would desert the campaign, including even Governor Reynolds himself.

With a strong regular force and cannon, and the brigade under the immediate command of Gen. Henry [Dodge], Gen. Atkinson, and myself and staff commenced the march from Dixon up Rock River in pursuit of the enemy. This march was continued throughout the region of country on Rock River for sixty or eighty miles above Dixon for a long time without reaching the hostile Indians.

On the 4th of July the main army lay on the banks of Lake Koshkonong, which is an enlargement of Rock River, and experienced a melancholy and sadness of feeling indescribable. The provisions wasting away - almost gone - and the enemy not chastised. Two or three thousand fine soldiers under arms and nothing done, caused reflections in the breasts of the officers, and many privates, that were extremely mortifying and painful. But what could be done? We were almost hunting a shadow.

[Source: Reynolds, John, My Own Times: Embracing Also the History of My Life (Chicago: Fergus Printing Company, 1879), p. 251]

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