Use the smaller-sized text Use the larger-sized text Use the very large text

Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

July 11, White Water Creek, Wis.: Gen. Atkinson's Frustrations and Failures

Editor's Note:

This letter largely speaks for itself. Atkinson's troops are mired in the soft ground and tall prairies east of the modern town named for him. He doesn't expect to catch Black Hawk anytime soon, and fears a defeat and dissollution of militia if he does come up with his enemy.

His correspondent and commanding officer, Gen. Winfield Scott, had his own problems as a cholera epidemic killed many of his troops and sent many others running for their lives before he could even get to the theater of war.

Despite his pessimism, Gen. Atkinson would finish the war without Scott's help in about three weeks.

Henry Atkinson to Winfield Scott
Genl. Atkinson -- To -- Genl. Scott.
Head Qrs: of the Army on Rock river
Camp on Rock river,
Mouth of White Water,
July 11th. 1832

General,... I am now sending out a light party of Regular Troops & Indians of about eighty in number under Capt Harney, to proceed up the Swamp on the Trail of the enemy to ascertain if possible where he may be found.

I am, however, now under the impression that he has advanced to a distance of some thirty or forty miles and the greatest difficulty in subduing him will be to come up with him, which is extremely doubtful unless he should stop to give us battle, & I look more to a defeat by his flight than any other apprehension.

This, as I have before observed to you, is the most difficult country to operate in imaginable and the enemy the most uncertain to find. He has no home or resting place, every part of the Country, from the Mississippi to the Lakes, is equally familliar and habitual to him; and his mode, and speed of Travelling such as to elude apprehension, as the openess of the Country affords his spies an opportunity of discovering us, before we can get within a day or two's journey of him. Hence a probable protraction of the War till the Winter season; nevertheless I shall strain every nerve to do something at once, particularly as it will be difficult to Keep the Militia Together unless actively employed. Besides, p[r]osecuting our march upon him will have the tendency of ascertaining his route, by which means I shall be enabled to advise you upon what point you should march. Upon the information I now have, this would be the point but it is altogether probable to day's search may change my opinion.

You will my dear Sir, find a prosecution of this War the most perplexing of all things of the sort, particularly as the Govt: expects it to be brought to a successful close at once.

I have too many Militia in the field, to get along without great difficulty. They must be fed and supplies are difficult to be carried to the remote points we have to traverse; were you not coming to command and may have made your calculations on this description of force, I would at once discharge at least a third or one half of them.

You will have it in your power to bring with you a body of Pottowattomies, should you want them, they will be faithful I have no doubt, but they eat highly, and will be of service only as guides, and probably to fight beside of you; they will not go alone any distance ahead. I speak, not however in disparagement of them.

It will be well that you should come well supplied with provisions, as my Depots are at a distance, and if you bring with you an auxilliary force of Indians, beef cattle should be driven along for their Subsistence.

(Signed) H Atkinson Brigr. Genl U.S. Army

[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), p.762]

  • Questions about this page? Email us
  • Email this page to a friend
select text size Use the smaller-sized textUse the larger-sized textUse the very large text