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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

July 30: Army Lieutenant Describes Black Hawk's Trail of Dead

Editor's Note:

This account is from a letter by Robert Anderson (1805-1871) to his brother Larz Anderson, written on August 5, 1832. Anderson was an army lieutenant stationed in St. Louis who joined Gen. Atkinson in Illinois when the war began. After Black Hawk was captured, Anderson and Lieutenant Jefferson Davis [see this previous entry] escorted the defeated chief to Jefferson Barracks. He would later earn fame as a Union general in the Civil War.

As the 1,300 infantry and militia under General Atkinson closed in on Black Hawk's starving band, now reduced to about 400 people, they witnessed the desperate state the Sauk were in. Racing to reach the Mississippi, Black Hawk's followers left behind their kettles and blankets and other supplies along the road. Starving, they ate the bark from trees, searched for wild roots, and ate their horses. The weak and wounded who could not keep up were left behind, many falling victim to the guns of the militia scouts.

Anderson's later "Reminiscences of the Black Hawk War", along with several o ther Wisconsin documents from the Black Hawk War, is available online in vol. 10 of Wisconsin Historical Collections.

On our march across the country and during and after the action, I [Lieutenant Robert Anderson] witnessed scenes of distress and misery exceeding any I ever expected to see in our happy land. Dead bodies, males & females, strewed along the road -- left unburied exposed -- poor -- emaciated beings -- some dead from wounds recd. [received] in the engagement on the Ouisconsin [Wisconsin] -- others by disease. The elms -- the limbs along their routes were barked to give them food. Scattered along the route lay vestiges of [horses] tired out by travel -- and killed to give life & sustenance to their master.

[Source: Thayer, Crawford B. Massacre at Bad Axe. (Banta Company, 1984), p. 101]

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