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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

July 5, Lake Koshkonong, Wis.: Gen. Atkinson Orders Troops "To Be Firm"

Editor's Note:

This order, lightly edited here, was intended to reinforce the sinking morale of the troops.

After a week of marching in search of Black Hawk through the swamps of southern Wisconsin, Atkinson's troops found themselves on the shores of Lake Koshkonong, where they found only the abandoned camp of their elusive adversary. They had thought that Black Hawk had camped on an island on the lake, which was actually a shallow mud pit, and that he would defend this spot to the end. However, the unpredictable Indians had in fact moved on, hoping to avoid a war by crossing the Mississippi and joining the rest of their nation in Iowa. Exhausted and demoralized, the American troops faced the prospect of a never-ending campaign through inhospitable swamps, in search of a faster and more stealthy enemy. To make matters worse, the army's supplies were running low, and in a few days they would be forced to abandon their campaign and return to a fort in order to eat.

Atkinson rightly feared that the militia volunteers would buckle under such circumstances and abandon the campaign. In this order he expresses the disappointment shared by the army and militia, but tries to rally their sense of discipline and preparedness. His assurance, however, that finding Black Hawk in a few days was "not at all improbable" could hardly have roused many soldiers' spirits. To no one's surprise, many militia would soon abandon the wearisome campaign.

Henry Atkinson: Orders
Head Qrs. Army of the Frontier Camp on Lake Cooshkeweink [Koshkonong]
5th July 1832
Order No. 48

The Comdg Genl. has been disappointed in not finding on his arrival at this place (day before yesterday) the enemy who had occupied a strong position in the immediate neighborhood for the last Six weeks & which it was understood he would not abandon without a struggle. He has however retreated precipitately in various directions with a view, it is thought, of concentrating at some more favourable point not far remote from us where he will make a stand on the defensive.

Hence it is necessary that the greatest vigilance should be observed; & the Comdg. Genl. therefore calls upon the officers & men composing his command to observe & enforce the strictest obedience of orders and discipline, & he admonishes every soldier against the smallest waste of the provisions issued to him as a contrary course will certainly subject him to suffering & want, detached as we all are at a distance from our depots.

It is not at all improbable but we shall come in conflict with the enemy in a day or two; on such an occasion it is only necessary for the troops to be firm, if they stand & more particularly if they advance upon the enemy success is inevitable

The several Corps & Brigades will be in readiness to move tomorrow morning

By order of Brig Genl. Atkinson (Signed) M. L. Clark A. D. Camp

[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), p.741]

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