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Historic Diaries: Black Hawk War

Aug 2, Bad Axe: Accounts by Atkinson, Black Hawk and Others

Editor's Note:

Gen. Henry Atkinson's official report on the battle of Bad Axe, given here in slightly edited form, is an antiseptic analysis of troop movements and actions. The entire report is online in the Wisconsin Magazine of History vol. 50 no. 1 (1966): 54-58

Other eyewitness accounts available online include Capt. Joseph C. Plympton's Aug. 9, 1832, letter (Wisconsin Historical Collections, vol. 12: 287-288) and John Fonda's 1858 recollection of being on board the steamboat Warrior (Wisconsin Historical Collections, vol. 5: 262-264).

Black Hawk's account of the battle in his autobiography is second-hand, because he departed overland the previous night, hoping to find safety among the Ho-Chunk or the Ojibwe. Here is what he wrote:

"Early in the morning a party of whites being in advance of the army, came upon our people, who were attempting to cross the Mississippi. They tried to give themselves up; the whites paid no attention to their entreaties, but commenced slaughtering them. In a little while the whole army arrived. Our braves, but few in umber, finding that the enemy paid no regard to age or sex, and seeing that they were murdering helpless women and little children, determined to fight until they were killed. As many women as could, commenced swimming the Mississippi, with their children on their backs. A number of them were drowned, and some shot before they could reach the opposite shore.

"One of my braves, who gave me this information, piled up some saddles before him, (when the fight commenced), to shield himself from the enemy's fire, and killed three white men. But seeing that the whites were coming too close to him, he crawled to the bank of the [river] without being perceived, and hid himself under the bank until the enemy retired. He then came to me and told me what had been done. After hearing this sorrowful news, I started with my little party to the Winnebago village at Prairie La Cross."

To Maj. General Winfield Scott
Head Qrs., 1st Army Corps, North West Army, Fort Crawford, Prairie du Chien
9th August 1832


I informed you on the 5th Inst by a short official note of the action on the Morning of the 2nd Inst, between the Troops under my command and the Sac enemy on the left bank of the Mississippi opposite the mouth of Ioway River. Having received the reports of the officers commanding Brigades & Corps I have the honor of reporting more in detail the events of the day.
After having pursued the enemy five days by forced Marches from his passage of the Ouisconsin, we found ourselves at Dusk on the evening of the 1st Inst after a March of 25 Miles, within a few miles of his position. The troops were ordered to encamp and repose until 2. O.C. in the Morning and then take up the line of March. The signal to assemble was given about this hour, and at Dawn I marched with the regular Troops under Col Taylor and Dodge's Battallion, leaving Posey's, Alexander's, and Henry's Brigades to follow, as they were not yet ready to Mount, their horses having been turned out before the order to March was received by them.

After marching about three Miles, the advance of Dodge's Battallion came up with a small party of the enemy, attacked and Killed eight of them, and dispersed the residue. In the meantime the Troops then with me were formed in order [of] battle. ... finding the enemy to be in force in that direction [toward the mouth of the Bad Axe], the whole Brigade was ordered on that point. The order was promptly executed by the Brigade, having in its advance the small body of spies under Dixon who commenced the Action, seconded simultaneously by Henry. The enemy was driven across several sluices, down the river bottom, which was covered with fallen Timber, underwood and high grass. The regular Troops and Dodge at the head of his Battallion soon came up and joined in the action followed by part of Posey's Troops, when the enemy was driven still further through the bottom to several small willow Islands successivily where much execution was done.

The main body of the enemy being in the bottom and adjoining small islands, Alexander was ordered to move with his Brigade to the point of Action, but from the distance of his position he came up too late to participate in the Combat, except two companies of his Brigade that had previously joined the Brigade under Brigadier General Henry. The small body of Spies of Dodge's Battallion, and Henry's Brigade from their earlier position shared more largely in the combat than those who from the distance they had to march consequently came later into the engagement, as soon as the enemy were slain or dislodged from the willow bars. The regular Troops under Col Taylor, and a company or two of volunteers were thrown on board the steam boat Warrior that had just arrived, and were landed on two adjacent Islands to scour them of the enemy, assisted by a detachment from Henry's and Dodge's Commands on the river bank some three or four Indians were found and killed.

Both the regular and volunteer Troops conducted themselves with the greatest zeal, courage, and patriotism and are entitled to the highest approbation of their Country... The enemy sustained a loss of one hundred & fifty Men killed (the precise number could not be ascertained as a large proportion were slain in endeavouring to swim to the Islands), forty women and children were taken prisoners, seventy horses captured &c. The loss on our part was, of the U States Infy, five privates killed and four Wounded. Genl Posey's volunteers 1 private Wounded. Genl Alexander's one private Wounded. Genl Henry's 1 Lieutenant and 5 privates wounded. Genl Dodge's 1 Captain one Sergeant & four privates wounded...

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