The Battle of Campbell’s Island

The Battle of Campbell’s Island

On the morning of July 19, before breakfast, the boats all set sail and started up the river, with a fine breeze. During the night a .party of Indians arrived at the Sac village from Prairie du Chien, coming down Rock River, Black Hawk said they brought the Sacs six kegs of powder and told them that the fort at Prairie du Chien had been captured by the British. These messengers also told the Sacs that the British wished them to again join them in the war against the Americans, which the Indians agreed to do. Black Hawk’s memory is at fault. He does not state exactly what these Indian messengers told him. Colonel McKay, whose army of British and Indians had attacked Prairie du Chien, in a letter to his superior officer, under date of July 27, 1814, says that on the 17th of July, about three o’clock in the afternoon, after the gunboat “Governor Clark ” had been driven from its position by the British cannon and had started down the river, that he immediately sent off a canoe with three men: an Iowan, who had come from Mackinac with him, and two of the six Sauks, who had joined him on the Fox River, that he gave them four kegs of gun powder and ordered them to pass the “Governor Clark” and get as soon as possible to the rapids at the Rock River, where he believed the gun-boat would run aground; that they should collect all the Sacks and annoy the” Govern-or Clark” and prevent their landing to get fire wood, etc. Early in the morning, Black Hawk collected his warriors and determined to attack the boats, which had now started up the river. As Black Hawk says: “I collected my warriors and determined to pursue the boats. I immediately started with my party by land in pursuit, thinking that some of their boats might get aground, or that the Great Spirit would put them in our power, if he wished them taken.” The boats had just passed the head of Rock Island when the boat commanded by Major Campbell was grounded on the rocks, and he was compelled to discharge and put off part of her loading into the other boats before he could release his boat. After proceeding about six miles the wind increased to a hurricane. Campbell’s boat being still heavily loaded, he says: “I was afraid of her dashing to pieces on the rocks, and ordered her to be put shore, which in doing from the severe gale of wind which was blowing, and the roughness of the water, dashed her so hard on shore it was impossible to get her off while the storm lasted.” The boat was driven on the north shore of an island lying about six miles east of Moline and which since that day has been known as Campbell’s Island. It lies near the eastern shore in Rock Island County and belongs to the State of Illinois. Black Hawk says: “About half way up the rapids I had a full view of the boats, all sailing with a strong wind ; I soon discovered one boat badly managed and was suffered to be driven ashore by the wind; they landed by running hard aground, and lowered their sail, the others passed on.” The ground where the boat landed was covered with high grass, hazel and willow bushes for a considerable distance up and down the shore. Campbell immediately placed two sentinels about sixty yards from the boats and the men then commenced getting their breakfast. They had not been on the island more than twenty-five or thirty minutes when the Indians commenced their attack, both sentinels were killed the first fire, and one other man on shore.. Campbell ordered the cable cut and the boat to be gotten off, in doing of which two men were killed and three wounded. Finding the gale blowed directly on land, and that it was impossible to get her off, he ordered his men to defend the boat to the last extremity. The boats of Lieutenants Rector and Riggs were about three miles up the river at this time, Lieutenant Riggs’ being in advance. He heard the report of the firing and saw the smoke rising from where Campbell’s boat lay. He tacked his boat and signaled Rector, who also tacked and both sailed for Campbell’s boat, Rector’s boat being the first to reach the scene of the battle. Savages were seen among the trees and bushes, and a large number of Indians were seen coming in canoes from the eastern shore. It was estimated that about four hundred Indians surrounded them. The savages commenced giving their war-whoop and pouring in on them a fire of musketry and arrows. Major Campbell’s right wrist was fractured by a musket ball during the first onslaught, and he was carried into the cabin of his boat and laid on a bunk, while his men gallantly returned the fire of the Indians. Campbell’s boat was so near the bank that the Indians were able to fire in at the port oar holes. The storm had now become so violent that it was fully an hour before the other boats were able to come to Campbell’s assistance. Riggs’ boat was driven ashore about one hundred yards below Campbell’s boat, and Rector to avoid a similar fate, had let go an anchor, and lay about twenty yards above Campbell’s boat. The rangers from both barges kept up a brisk fire on the Indians. This unequal contest waged for several hours, when the firing from Campbell’s boat becoming less frequent, led Lieutenant Rector to believe that most of Campbell’s men were either killed or wounded. Riggs’ boat was the best fortified, but his crew had been weakened. When Campbell’s boat was stranded on the rocks he sent a sergeant and ten men to help him off, and Camp-bell did not return the men. Rector’s boat had among its crew many of the French from Cahokia who were experienced sailors. The wind was still a raging tempest, and the fire of the Indians was becoming more destructive to the boats. “At this time,” Black Hawk says, “I prepared my bow and arrows to throw fire to the sail, which was laying on the boat, and after two or three attempts succeeded in setting the sail on fire.” Campbell’s boat was soon in flames. Lieu-tenant Rector could not remain inactive and witness the horrible death of Campbell and his companions. In the face of the tempest and the galling fire of the foe, he cut his anchors, a number of his men got out into the water, keeping the boat between them and the Indians, they pushed their boat against the fire of the Indians up to Campbell’s boat. The wounded in Campbell’s boat were first transferred to Rector’s boat, and then those who were unhurt; so loaded was Rector’s boat that the water was running in at the oar holes and almost all of the provisions were thrown overboard to lighten the boat. The Indians all the time kept up a murderous fire. In taking the men from Campbell’s boat the Major was shot through the body. Black Hawk in his autobiography states at this time : “We wounded the war chief.” Rector’s men still in the water, and keeping the boat between them and the Indians, hauled their boat out into the stream, swimming alongside of the boat until the channel was reached and the boat had been carried out of gunshot, when they climbed into the boat. Rector’s boat was crowded, but the men took to their oars and rowed night and day until they reached St. Louis. The casualties were: killed on Campbell’s boat, ten regulars, one woman and one child; on Rector’s boat, one ranger, and on Riggs’ boat, three rangers; a total of sixteen. Wounded on Campbell’s boat, ten regulars and one woman; on Rector’s boat, four rangers, and on Riggs’ boat four rangers; also Major Campbell and Dr. Stewart, the garrison surgeon, who was shot in the breast ; a total of twenty-one, making the total casual-ties thirty-seven. All fought with the courage of heroes. Rector and his men risked their lives to save their comrades, and the battle at Campbell’s Island has no equal for daring and heroism during the War of 1812 in the west. Lieutenant John Weaver, of the regulars, who was second in command on Campbell’s boat acted bravely; it was largely by his exertions that the wounded were safely transferred to Rector’s boat. Almost all of the ammunition for the expedition and the supplies for Fort Shelby, except a box of musket balls, was on Campbell’s boat and captured by Black Hawk. nothing being saved. The regulars fought with their shirts off, and saved only their arms and fatigue overalls.

Early Settlements of Rock County 


Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top