The Illinois Militia

The Illinois Militia

Governor Reynolds in defending his position in calling out the militia said: “If I did not act, and the inhabitants were murdered after being informed of their situation, I would be condemned from Dan to Beersheba; and if I levied by raising troops, when there was no necessity for it, I would also be responsible.” Governor Reynolds knew that the settlers had applied to the Indian agent and the military officers of the United States and had obtained no relief, and he says: “I considered it my duty to call on the volunteers to move the Indians to the west side of the Mississippi.” It was but seventeen years after the close of the war of 1812 and these same Sacs and Foxes had fought the Americans in that war. There were many of the old soldiers still young enough to enlist and they inflamed the young men to appear against their old foe. The governor had extracts from the petitions sent him circulated throughout the counties from which he had asked for troops. Moreover, he made, as he says, “both private and public speeches to the masses,” and urged the people and his friends to turn out for the defense of the frontier. He adds: “The warm feelings of the late election for govern-or had not yet died away, and my electioneering friends converted their electioneering fever into the military, which was a powerful lever in the crusade for Rock Island.” Although it was the most busy time in the year with the farmers some 1,600 responded to the governor’s call and appeared at Beardstown on or about the 10th of June. Some were armed with muskets, some with shot-guns and some with no firearms whatsoever, but all were mounted. The governor managed to purchase enough muskets from a Beardstown merchant for the remainder of the troops. These muskets were light pieces, made with brass barrels for the South American service, and answered the purpose. The governor appointed Joseph Duncan, then a member of Congress and afterwards governor of this state, brigadier general to take immediate command of the brigade, and Samuel Whiteside a major, to take command of a spy battalion. This army left its encampment near Rushville for Rock Island June 15, the governor marching with the brigade. After a pleasant march the army encamped at Rockport, now Andalusia. Here there had been previously erected a small log cabin or stockade, which was used as headquarters. During the after-noon a steamboat arrived at the encampment, coming from Fort Armstrong, loaded with provisions. The camp at Rockport was laid out according to military practice, pickets were placed, as it was feared the Indians might make a night attack, and the utmost vigilance was observed. The night was a beautiful one and it passed off quietly without any disturbance.

On the 18th of June, General Gaines sent from Fort Armstrong the steamboat Enterprise, carrying one company of soldiers and one cannon. The boat steamed up Rock River, and passed the Indian village, the object being to overawe and intimidate the Indians. Black Hawk said: “The water being shallow, the boat got around, which gave the whites some trouble. If they had asked for assistance, there was not a brave in my band who would not willingly have aided them.” Judge John W. Spencer who was on the boat says: “Strange to say, although a steamboat was seldom seen in those days, the Indians seemed not to take the least notice of the boat, not even looking at it, and even the women and children showed no signs of wonder or fear.”

On the morning of June 20th, bright and early, General Duncan marched his army from Rockport to a position on Rock River opposite the Sac village. An attempt was made to ferry the troops across, but it proved too slow, and General Gaines being shown a ford by George S. Miller, the army marched across through the water to Vandruff’s Island. General Gaines left Fort Armstrong on the steamboat Enterprise, which had been fortified, and which carried one company of regulars and several cannon. The Enterprise entered Rock River and steamed up stream until opposite the Sac village where it met General Duncan’s army with which it was to cooperate. The other nine companies of regular, together with the Rock River Rangers, under command of Captain John Bliss, the then commandant of Fort Armstrong, marched from the fort to the Indian town. Judge Spencer in his Reminiscences says: “Major Bliss formed our company of Rock River Rangers in an extended line of a half mile in front of the regulars, with one cannon in the rear, for our march for Rock River. We marched near where the road is now traveled until we reached General Rodman’s land, then turning to the left until reaching the top of the bluff, taking the direction of Black Hawk’s Watch Tower. On arriving there, we planted the cannon on the brow of the bluff and then commenced throwing grape and canister into the bushes on Vandruff’s Island.” Vandruff’s Island at this time was covered with bushes and vines so as to be impenetrable to the sight at a distance of twenty feet. The Enterprise was run to the lower point of the island and several rounds of grape and canister were shot into the bushes to see if any enemy was there. The spy battalion under Whiteside then formed a line of battle and swept the island, and it was then learned that the north bank of Rock River was so near and so high that the firing had no effect. General Duncan’s army followed in the wake of Whiteside’s spy battalion and before they got to the north side of the island the army was so jammed up and mixed together that no one knew where his company or regiment was. In the mean-time Captain Bliss with the regulars and the Rock River Rangers had learned that it was impossible from that distance to distinguish Indians from regulars or volunteers, and that their shots were as likely to kill friend as foe. The Indian village now became exposed to view but no Indians were to be seen. The river, narrow but deep, lay between the army and the village, and the main part of Duncan’s army remained on the island until scows were found in which they were ferried across.” Black Hawk says: ” We crossed the river during the night and encamped some distance below Rock Island.” He said he would have remained and been taken prisoner by the regulars but that he “was afraid of the multitude of pale-faced militia, who were on horseback, as they were under no restraint of their chiefs.”


Indian Wars 


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

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