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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

July 16, Fort Hamilton, Wis: An Army Major Gives Up on the Militia

Editor's Note:

The author of this letter, William Davenport, was born in Pennsylvania and had joined the Army 20 years before, during the War of 1812. As an experienced professional soldier, he found the rag-tag militia whom he commanded to be nearly useless, and here asks Atkinson to be reassigned almost anywhere else.

After the war, Davenport was given a promotion and appointed commander of Fort Armstrong, on Rock Island. When that fort was closed in 1836, he moved with the garison to Fort Snelling, at modern St. Paul, Minn., and in 1841-42 he was appointed commander of Fort Crawford in Prairie du Chien. He resigned from the Army in 1850 and died in 1858.

Black Hawk and Davenport had been acquainted since the end of the War of 1812. In his autobiography Black Hawk wrote, "I here met my old friend, a great war chief, [Colonel William Davenport] whom I had known for eighteen years. He is a good and a brave chief. He always treated me well, and gave me good advice. He made a speech to me on this occasion, very different from that of the other chief. It sounded like coming from a brave." The editor added, "Those who have the pleasure of a personal acquaintance with Colonel Davenport will join in Black Hawk's spontaneous tribute to his character as a brave, and a gentleman of humane and noble feelings." (quoted in Drake, Benjamin. Life and Adventures of Black Hawk... Cincinnati, 1846, page 223)

William Davenport to Henry Atkinson
Hamilton's Station, July 16th. 1832

Sir I have the honor to inform that for good cause I am more convinced than ever that the position I hold with the Militia disables me from rendering you any profitable aid. I am so disgusted with their disobediance that I cannot longer consent to remain with them. I hope you will do me the justice to believe that this declaration is not made from the persuasion that it will have any influence with you in permitting my return to St. Louis, though I wish to do so for the reason, among others no less cogent, already given you.

Should you still have no command for me, or situation in which I could render some service, I would be glad, at least, to be allowed to go to Galena. Rather than remain here as at present, it will be greatly more agreeable to me to be ordered back to the head quarters of your army on any terms you may think proper. I cannot agree to remain buried at this most disagreeable place, and rather than do so, shall join you & claim a command in the 1st or 6th Infy. no matter who it may inconvenience. I should have earlier addressed you upon this subject & had I consulted my own reason would have done so, but from the belief that you are always ready to employ me when & where, in your opinion, I can best aid you in your ardious campaign.

With great respect I have the honor to be yr obt Servt.
Wm. Davenport, Majr. 6th Infy.

To Genl. H. Atkinson Comdg Army of the frontir near the mouth of white water

[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), p.812]

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