Black Hawk War

"Indian Campaign of 1832," Edwin Rose, 1832

A[braham]. joined a volunteer company, and to his own surprize, was elected captain of it. He says he has not since had any success in life which gave him so much satisfaction.”Lincoln autobiography, 1860

During the 1810s and 1820s Indians had been pushed west by military actions, treaty agreements, legislation, and migration of settlers. In the South, military governor and general Andrew Jackson helped to displace members of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole nations. As president (1829–1837), Jackson expanded the nation geographically and economically, acting on his assumption that Indian communities were incompatible with the progress of civilization.

In 1830 Jackson pushed the Indian Removal Act through both houses of Congress, giving him the power to negotiate treaties with and fund deportation of Indians living east of the Mississippi River.

In the North, Indiana Territory Governor William Henry Harrison engineered a series of land cessions from Indians. In 1804 he persuaded some Sac and Fox men to sign away all land in northwest Illinois. The treaty had little effect until the 1820s, when new settlers sought to enforce it. By 1831 Illinois settlers and militia had forced Sac residents out of their village of Saukenuk, near Rock Island, and into Iowa.

In April 1832, Black Hawk led members of the Sac and Fox tribes east across the Mississippi to try to reclaim their land. The coalition was seeking refuge from its enemies, the Sioux, but instead found conflict with white settlers. Illinois Governor John Reynolds called in the Illinois militia and fighting began in May. Most of the members of Black Hawk’s party were killed in August 1832, as they tried to flee back across the Mississippi. The Black Hawk War effectively ended armed Indian opposition to white settlement of land in the Great Lakes region.

Lincoln’s company members elected him captain soon after he joined the Illinois militia in the spring of 1832. He was mustered out in July. Lincoln did not participate in any fighting, and he avoided the fate of fellow soldiers who suffered in the first major cholera epidemic on the Great Lakes. To compensate him for his service, the U.S. government awarded Lincoln a tract of land in Iowa. In later campaigns for political office Lincoln would claim facetiously that his military service entailed “a good many bloody struggles with mosquitoes.”