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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

July 25, Blue Mounds, Wis.: Meriwether Clark Describes Wisconsin Heights

Editor's Note:

Meriwether L. Clark, son of explorer and Superintendent of Indian Affairs William Clark, here describes the march across the Madison isthmus and the Battle of Wisconsin Heights on July 21 [these previous entries give Black Hawk's and Henry Dodge's accounts of the battle]. He wrote the letter from Blue Mounds Fort, where the militia returned after the battle to restock its rations and supplies.

Clark's brief mention on "an Indian named We-sheet" who "was distinctly heard giving commands," in the night was of more importance than he realized. Interviews This was, in fact, a surrender offer from the Sauk that was disregarded because no one in the American camp could understand its language. See this previous entry for the details of this incident.

This letter has been lightly edited to improve its readability, and a particularly gruesome final paragraph in which Clark's anticipates decapitating an enemy warrior and taking his scalp has been deleted.* It illustrates the savage excitement that overtook many militia soldiers at this late stage of the war. After four months of embarassing failures, terrifying attacks and long marches, Black Hawk was almost within their grasp, and the militia wanted revenge. Their brutal enthusiasm would culminate two weeks later in the massacre at Bad Axe, on August 2, when troops deliberately shot down men, women and children as the starving Sauk desperately tried to escape across the Mississippi.

Here is Clark's previous letter to his father, from July 7.

* We decided that students, young readers, and curious laypeople would find it offensive and repugnant, and that scholars could easily consult the original if necessary.

Meriwether L. Clark to William Clark
Camp on Blue Mounds
July 25th 1832

My Dear Father,

We reached here last night much fatigued after a march of 20 miles without water, which for footmen, is, as you know, very difficult. The General was on a march to drive out the Enemy from Cranberry Lake up the swamp when he rec'd express from Henry's Brigade telling him of the Enemy's having put off. We immediately returned after dispatching a Light Battalion to ascertain if the enemy had fled entirely, which they had.

Dodge & Henry made forced marches for three days, the last day marching 40 miles through the worst county & the heaviest rain. They killed 3 indians on the last day, one Kickapoo on the 1st 4 Lake [actually Lake Monona] & two Sacs just in rear of the enemy, the Engagement took place just about sundown & on the Ouisconsin swamp about a mile from the Bank & 15 from here.

Dodge saw them & being with his Battalion & the advance guard of spies under Majr Ewing dismounted & found the horses being held in the rear by a few men. They were not long formed when they saw the Enemy charging on horseback over the hill raising the yell &c. Dodge & Ewings men immediately returned the scream & if any thing hollowed louder than your children [As Superintendent of Indian Affairs, William Clark was the 'father' to the Native American 'children' on the frontier].

This the rascals did not look for, finding the men ready for them & hearing the white man's voice & also seeing our horses standing as well as theirs, they wheeled & ran. The troops under the Several Cols by this time had formed & come up, charged & pursued the enemy into the swamp where the grass was so high that they could not see the enemy, & so wet that their guns would be rendered useless, they therefore retired a few steps up the hill & as the enemy rose the hill on the opposite side of the swamp, our men let loose, & the way the scoundrels kicked was curious, night coming on & the men being fatigued & unable to pursue from the hard days march (40 miles) they encamped and remained 2 nights on the Battleground. the second night [other accounts say the first night] an Indian named We-sheet mounted a hill about a mile off & was distinctly heard giving commands.

We hope to catch them soon & finish this disagreeable business. I see that the young men of St. Louis have raised companies of Volunteers after their services were required but could not afford it before or at that time -- poor Set. I shall write you more at length soon...

Give my love to all
Your affect Son Lewis
(In great haste & on my knee I write.)

[Source: Whitney, Ellen M., ed. The Black Hawk War, 1831-1832. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1970), p.877]

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