Mr. Lincoln Enlists

One of the more unusual aspects of Abraham Lincoln’s life is his service in the Black Hawk War in Illinois.  In later years Lincoln was fond of making light of his three months service, from April 21, 1832-July 10, 1832.

“By the way Mr. Speaker, did you know that I am a military hero? Yes sir, in the days of the Black Hawk War I fought, bled and came away . . . I was not at Stillman’s defeat, but I was about as near it as Cass was Hull’s surrender, and, like him, I saw the place very soon afterwards . . . If he saw any live, fighting Indians, it was more than I did; but I had a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitoes, and although I never fainted from the loss of blood, I can truly say I was often very hungry.”  (July 27, 1848)

This is classic Lincoln.  In a time when almost all politicians were eager to inflate any military service, he made fun of his.

From all that we know, Lincoln was an enthusiastic participant in the war.  He began his service being elected captain of the local militia company, his first political victory.  Lincoln was put in charge of a company of the 4th Mounted Volunteers after militia units assembled at Beardstown, Illinois.  The militia units were marched to Prophet’s Village in Whiteside County which they burned on May 11.  The Indians had abandoned the village prior to it being burned.

On May 14, 1832 a group of 275 militia under Major Isaiah Stillman was defeated at a battle that became known as Stillman’s Run, near what is now Stillman Valley, Illinois.  The militia panicked and ran from about 50 Indians and 12 militia men were slain.  On May 15, 1832 militia, including Abraham Lincoln’s company, arrived at the site of the battle and buried the dead.  The next two weeks Lincoln spent marching his company from place to place near the mouth of the Fox River.  On May 27 Lincoln’s company was mustered out of service.  Lincoln promptly re-enlisted as a private in Captain Elijah Isles’ company.  The officer who mustered him into service was United States Army Lieutenant Robert Anderson, the future commander of Fort Sumter in 1861. After Isles’ company was mustered out of service on June 16, Lincoln enlisted in the spy (scout) company of Captain Jacob Early and served in that company until his military service ended on July 10, 1832.

Lincoln never heard a shot fired in anger during his service, and never saw a hostile Indian.  Years later he explained his motivation for re-enlisting after his company was mustered out to his law partner Billy Hendon.  “I was out of work and there being no danger of more fighting, I could do nothing better than enlist again.”  Lincoln was well compensated for his time in service.  He received $125.00 and 160 acres of land.  During the Civil War Union privates by comparison made $13.00 a month.  More importantly, Lincoln’s experiences gave him first hand experience of raw militia at war, something he would learn more about at the onset of the Civil War almost three decades later.

Published in: on May 4, 2021 at 5:20 am  Comments (2)  
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  1. One story Lincoln told on himself about his time as captain:
    He didn’t know the command to order his men to scale a fence so he dismissed them, told them to rest for ten minutes & re-assemble on the other side o the fence.

    Perhaps his whole experience with McClellan could be summed up as trying to get him on the “other [offensive] side of the fence”.

  2. I’ve heard that one TC. Another one I’ve heard is that the first order Lincoln attempted to give to the company they responded by yelling back “Go to Hell!”. Leading frontier militia was an experience and a half.

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