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Historical Essay

Lincoln, Abraham (in Wisconsin)

Documented and Legendary Accounts of Lincoln's Visits to Wisconsin

Lincoln, Abraham (in Wisconsin) | Wisconsin Historical Society
Dictionary of Wisconsin History.
EnlargeAbraham Lincoln, 1860

Abraham Lincoln, 1860

Portrait of Abraham Lincoln before he grew a beard, taken from an ambrotype. View the original source document: WHI 23659

Lincoln visited Wisconsin twice, and may have visited on at least one other occasion.

Black Hawk War

On June 30th, 1832, while serving as a 23-year-old captain of the Illinois militia during the Black Hawk War, Lincoln crossed into Wisconsin at Beloit. Over the next 10 days, he and his unit scouted lands north as far as Lake Koshkonong, in the valley of the Rock River. When he travelled the same route 27 years later in a horse-drawn carriage, he recalled many details of his 1832 march between Beloit and Janesville, before either city had been founded. He was mustered out on July 11, 1832, and headed south for his Illinois home. Lincoln did not fight in any battles in Wisconsin during the Black Hawk War and there is no evidence that he ever crossed paths with Jefferson Davis, who also served in the war.

Second Visit

Lincoln spoke at the State Agricultural Fair in Milwaukee on Friday, September 30, 1859. The next afternoon, he addressed a Republican meeting in Beloit. At the end of this second talk, he was persuaded to accompany Janesville Republicans back to their city, where he gave a third address on Saturday evening, October 1. He stayed in Janesville at the Tallman House all day Sunday, and left on Monday October 3rd, 1859.

Myths

Many anecdotes have been recorded about supposed Lincoln visits to other places in Wisconsin. None of them are confirmed by documentary evidence. One that is validated by multiple oral accounts was in the autumn of 1835, a period unaccounted for by his biographers. Lincoln came to Wisconsin while grieving the death of Ann Rutledge. Independent oral accounts record that he told informants long afterwards that he had walked from Milwaukee to Port Washington and stayed with a prominent innkeeper there. It is also possible that Lincoln very briefly visited Milwaukee in early October 1848, when his steamer stopped there on the way to Chicago.

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Source: Wisconsin Historical Collections 14 (1898): 118-136; Wisconsin Magazine of History 4/1 (1920): 44-54; Wisconsin Magazine of History 10/3 (1927): 243-258. View more information in Jackson, Alfred Augustus. "Abraham Lincoln in the Black Hawk War." Wisconsin Historical Collections 14 (1898): 118-136. "Lincoln's 1859 Address at Milwaukee." Wisconsin Magazine of History 10/3 (1927): 243-258. Olson, Julius. "Lincoln in Wisconsin." Wisconsin Magazine of History 4/1 (1920): 44-54