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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

July 24, Blue Mounds, Wis.: An Officer's Perspective on Wisconsin Heights

Editor's Note:

This account was written by Philip St. George Cooke (1809-1895), a U.S. cavalry officer. An 1827 military academy graduate, he spent his early career in the far west, and served as a second lieutenant in the Black Hawk War. He gained most of his fame as author of The 1862 U.S. Cavalry Tactics and for his memoir, excerpted at left.

This passage describes the author's encounter with the militia at Blue Mounds Fort just after their victory at Wisconsin Heights. The militia restocked food and supplies at Blue Mounds before setting out again in pursuit of Black Hawk, whom they supposed to be on his way to the Mississippi. For the first time in the war, the militia had apparently won a significant victory, and according to Cooke they were wearing their pride on their sleeves. Cooke, however, was skeptical of their boasting, and critically notes that despite their "victory," Black Hawk's Band had in fact escaped again. His critical attitude was typical of the professional military, who looked down on the undisciplined militia.

Here are the full texts of Cooke's Cavalry Tactics and Scenes and Adventures in the Army: Or Romance of Military Life.

That evening we formed a junction with the brigade and battallion of spies, at the Blue Mounds; whither they had retired, after their glorious victory, to meet us. It would be difficult to give a full idea of the proud, but modest complacency with which they all agreed -- for they must tell the truth -- in extolling the intrepidity and coolness exhibited in the battle; how they had, for example, cried out in the midst of it, 'Come forward, boys, and draw your ponies!' by which they had playfully expressed their intention of appropriating to themselves those little animals; (which the Indians found so useful that we could not learn they had been persuaded actually to part with any of them.) 'Wisconsin Heights' fairly promised to prove a watchword, before which 'Tippecanoe', &c., might hang its head; 'Pity it was, we had not been there; -- but they could not help it, -- how could they, if the Sacs would allow themselves to be used up?'

After all their boasting, the simple fact was, that Black Hawk, although encumbered with the women, children, and baggage of his whole band, covering himself by a small party, had accomplished the most difficult of military operations, -- to wit, the passage of a river, -- in the presence of three regiments of American volunteers! And they were now gone -- the victors could not tell us whither."

[Source: Cooke, Philip St. George. Scenes and Adventures in the Army: Or Romance of Military Life. (Philadelphia: Lindsay & Blakiston, 1857), p. 170-171]

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