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The Battle of Stillman’s Run Monument

Battle of Stillman’s Run Monument (From

The monument and graves of the Battle of Stillman’s Run sits at the surrender site of the Battle of Sitillman’s Run in current Stillman Valley Illinois. This monument was constructed in memory of the soldiers that lost their lives in the battle. The monument is marble and granite with an inscription on both sides and the graves of the fallen in front of it.

This monument was built as a reminder of the volunteers that lost their lives during that Battle of Stilman’s Run but, It also stands as another reminder. A reminder of what happened in the past and how people in the future should learn from the mistakes of the past.

Lead Up to the Battle

Like many things the Battle of Stillman’s Run did not just happen all of a sudden there were many things that when put together boiled over to create the battle an ultimately the Black Hawk War. The origins of this battle started in 1804 when a treaty a was made with the Sac and Fox Native Americans at St by General William Henry Harrison, in this treaty the Native Americans tribes gave control of their land that was bounded by the Mississippi, the Illinois and the Wisconsin rivers over to the United States and in return the tribes got paid for the land. Also the tribes did not have to leave the land they could hunt and live on the land as long as the government owned the land [7]. At that time there was a Chief Black Hawk that was a chief by nature but not a chief by birth [4]. Meaning that he was giving the title of Chief by his people and was not born into having the power. Well Chief Black Hawk even though the treaty was ratified many times did not agree with the treaty and insisted that his people did not have a say in the matter and therefore were not held to it [7]. He “declared that the deal was a swindle, that the chiefs were a lot of boodler” that the sale of the land was not made because the entire nation did not have a say [4].

The treaty did work for some time, but in 1828 the land the government got from the Native Americans people was offered up for sale to the people of Illinois. This was done because the population was growing so much that the only path to go was west [4]. In 1831, the tensions between the Native Americans population and the growing population of settlers resulted in many conflicts. So much so that the government required that tribes move to a reservation in Iowa [1]. Many of the tribe’s followed the orders and moved across the Mississippi river but, Black Hawk and a portion of the Sacs Indians refused to move. The Native Americans stayed were they were until they followed their custom and left the village in the winter months to hunt across the Mississippi. When they came back they were greeted with settlers that took possession of some of their land. Black Hawk threatened the life of any settler that refused to move from their land, because of this other friendly Native Americans that lived all around central Illinois started to become restless [7]. In response to this restlessness hastily build blockhouses and forts were built to provide settlers protection in event of a war [4]. When word of this got back to Gov. John Reynolds of Illinois he sent for General Edmund P. Gaines to call out volunteers to push the Indians back. A total of 1500 volunteers responded to the call and with that force Gaines moved the Black Hawk and his band of Indians peacefully across the Mississippi. This small peace did not last long and on April 6, 1832. Black Hawk and his band of Indians crossed back over the Mississippi. Reynolds saw this as an invasion of Illinois and called more volunteers to meet at Beards town on April 22 to drive the Native Americans back. After the call 2500 men under Generals Atkinson and Whiteside gathered in Dixon’s Ferry [5].

Abraham Lincoln’s Role

Inscription on the side of Monument (From

Part of those men that answered the call was none other than Abraham Lincoln. At the time of the call Lincoln was living at New Salem in Sangamon County. He quick answered the call of the governor, he traveled about 40 miles northwest of Springfield to join fight. When he got there he was made the captain of the company that he belong too. This decision was made by the two candidates standing apart and letting each of the members of the company stand behind the candidate that they wanted. He would later describe this moment is a brief autobiographical sketch, “Then came the Black Hawk War, and I was elected a captain of volunteers, a success which gave me more pleasure than any I have had since.” The company that Lincoln was now the captain of was a part of the Fourth Illinois Regiment, commanded by Col. Samuel Thompson and command by General Samuel Whiteside. On April 27, this regiment marched from Rack Island to Dixon’s Ferry. During this march Lincoln and he company got in some trouble. The first was when the regiment was building a bridge to cross the Henderson River. There was an order not to fire there weapons within fifty yards of the camp, which Lincoln violated resulting in him being arrested and deprived of his sword for a day. Another instants along that march was when Lincoln’s company stole liquor from the officers and got drunk the night before they were going to march [2]. Again Lincoln was punished and forced to wear a wooden sword for two days. Once the regiment reached Dixon’s Ferry they found two battalions of mounted men under the command of Majors Isaiah Stillman and David Bailey. Stillmans and his men became impatient and wanted to march father north and find the Indians and General Whiteside permitted them to do so. So began the march towards The Battle of Stillmans run. Although Lincoln did not part take in the battle himself he did march with his regiment to the site of the battle the day after and with the help of his company he help in burying the dead. He would latter in his career reflect on the fact of burying the dead. “I was not at Stillman’s defeat, but I was about as near to it as Cass to Hull’s surrender and like him, I saw the place very soon afterward [7].” This was one of the first experiences that Lincoln had with seeing battle and it helped shape his life. That is why on one side of monument you can see the quote “The presence of the soldier, statesman, martyer, Abraham Lincoln assisting in the burial of these honored dead has made this spot more sacred.”

The Battle of Stillman’s Run

It is the morning of May 14th, 1832, the band of Indians lead by Chief Black Sparrow Hawk or batter known as Black Hawk, camped seven miles north of were the Sycamore creek runs in to the Mississippi river [6]. Black Hawk got word from a local Potawatomi tribe that there is a military camp a few miles away from their position. The camp of 275 men lead by Major Isaiah Stillman of the Illinois militia, the men that moved away from the regiment at Dixon’s Ferry [5]. This was Major Stillman’s first time in any fighting and he and his men were eager to push the Native Americans back [4]. Under orders from Governor Reynolds, Major Stillman organized the 4th Brigade of the 1st division and was supposed to march on Old Man’s Creek and drive the Indians out. Despite the order Major Stillman continued beyond Old Man’s Creek to Sycamore creek.

After hearing of the camp Chief Black Hawk, not getting any support on his campaign from the British or fellow Native Americans, sent three emissaries to the camp waving a white flag [6]. The fact of the white flag is disputed among historians [4]. Along with these emissaries Black Hawk also sent five more men to remain as scouts to observe what was going on. These scouts remained in the surrounding hills. The three emissaries were instructed to tell the camp that the Native Americans did not want to fight the whites and that his people would return to their home in Iowa. When the emissaries got to there they were greeted by 275 untrained men who had no proper interpreter and very little formal military discipline. On top of all that some of the men were under the influence of alcohol and many just wanted to get into action and fight some Native Americans. After the emissaries had arrived the five Native Americans observers were spotted and this made the camp think that it was a trap [5]. All of this combined resulted in one of the emissaries being shot. After the shot was heard by the five Native Americans observers they rode back to their camp warning there people that the white flag had been disregarded [5]. Twenty men then went after the observers. These twenty men went under no orders from Stillman and with no commander. As these men were chasing the Native Americans they were able to overtake and kill two of them [4]. After the 20 men groups of three to five men continued to ride after the men creating a continuous long line of men [5]. When Black Hawk received this news he gathered up as many men as he could which was about 40-60 men to fight. He had so little men to fight because most of the warriors were out hunting [5]. Black hawk then proceeded railing the men that he by saying “Some of our people have been killed! Wantonly ans cruelly murdered! WE must avenge their death!” He hide behind trees and prepared to surprise the men when they came [1]. When the soldiers were 30 away from the bushes they were met with the warwhooping of the Native Americans and a full charge of the men firing as then charged [4].

This caused the small force of 40-60 men feel like thousands, because of this it also caused mass confusion in the ranks of the soldiers so much so that Major Stillman lost control of all of his men. In the mass confusion a full retreat was ordered, soldiers retreaded in hast. With the Native Americans feeling the tide of battle turning in their favor they mounted up and gave pursuit. When the soldiers got back to the camp they cause mass confusion and fear when they reported that there where thousands of Indians on their way. With those words they turned every tree and movement in the bushes in Native Americans. The men dropped everything and began running back to Dixon Ferry. As they were crossing Old Man’s Creek the Native Americans were on their tail and some soldiers stopped and tried to fight but in the confusion they were more likely to him their own men then the Indians in pursuit. One major fact in this point in battle is that Major Stillman was no were to be found, that meaning no orders were being given and it was every man for themselves, only adding to the confusion. The Native American pursuers eventually gave up there chase after Black Hawk gave the order not seeing any point [5]. So was the end of the Battle of Stillman’s run.

After Effect

The Battle of Stillman’s Run claimed about twelve militia men and about just as many Native Americans. When the report of this battle got back to Governor Reynolds, he called for more volunteers. The news also made its way all the way back to Washington and when it did The Secretary of War ordered Gen Scott, then in New York, to take a thousand soldiers and take command of this war.This battle was originally known as the Battle of Sycamore Creek or the Battle of Old Man’s Creek but eventually found the name of the person that ordered the full retreat. This battle became the first battle in what is now called the Black Hawk War.

Depiction of Battle (From

This battle is something that can be learned from as the Chicago Daily Tribune said “Stillman’s Run was not a famous battle or a decisive conflict, and it was an inglorious affair for far as the militiamen were concerned” [3]. It was not a pretty battle but it can be looked back and learned from in the way that command fell apart when it was needed the most. Also looking back on the battle began in the first place over the treatment and removal of Native Americans from their land. Overall it was a small battle in the grand plan of it all but is one that caused loss of life and should not be forgotten.

Primary Sources

  1. Hawk, Black. Autobiography of Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak, or Black Hawk. J.B Patterson, 1882.
  2. Davis, Varina H. Jefferson Davis: A Memoir by His Wife . Vol. 2, Nautical & Aviation Pub Co of Amer, 1991
  3. STILLMAN’S RUN. (1904, Apr 18). Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922)

Secondary Sources

  1. Atwood, J A. The Story of the Battle of Stillman’s Run: Fought at Stillman Valley, Ill., May 14, 1832. Place of publication not identified: publisher not identified, 1904.
  2. Dyar, S. D. (2006, 03). Stillman’s run: MILITIA’S FOULEST HOUR. Military History, 23, 38-44,72.
  3. Jansen, Theresa. “Black Hawk – The Journey Home.” 1-7 The Battle of Stillman’s Run. N.p., 01 Jan. 1970.
  4. Jackson, Alfred Augustus, and State Historical Society Of Wisconsin. Abraham Lincoln in the Black Hawk War. Madison: Democrat Printing Company, State Printers, 1898.