McLean County, Illinois
As we are chiefly concerned with the part McLean county took in this war we shall not attempt to describe it in detail, but confine ourselves to the part the soldiers from this county took in the campaign of 1832. At that time the northern boundary of McLean county was the township line between the townships 28 and 29 north, 21 miles north of the present north line of the county, including more than half of the present counties of Woodford and Livingston. This county was then the northern limit of the white settlements in this part of the state. There were small settlements of Indians at Old Town, in Blooming Grove, in Lexington township, large settlements at Indian Grove, just across our present northern line in what is now Livingston county, and scattering wigwams in most of our groves. The Indians were mostly Pottawattamies and Kickapoos, fierce savage tribes who only twenty years before had been in active conflict with the Americans. Owing to their methods of warfare a single painted savage could with his war-whoop terrify a whole settlement.
In 1831, the state and national forces removed Black Hawk and his tribe of Indians from their old town near the present city of Rock Island to the west of the Mississippi, Black Hawk, by treaty, agreeing not to return east of the river; but the next spring he did, with his band, some four hundred warriors and a thousand women and children, return and refused to go back, and a large force of state and United States troops were send to drive him back. On the opening of hostilities some of the settlers in the northern part of the county abandoned their little farms and fled to Bloomington and some fled from the county entirely. Fortunately the most distinguished citizen of this county at the time was a noted Indian fighter, Gen. Joseph Bartholomew, who had fought the Indians in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana, having had many personal conflicts with them and having been second in command at the famous battle of Tippecanoe, where he had been seriously wounded. Naturally his advice was sought, and at the request of his neighbors he visited the Indians at Indian Grove to ascertain their intentions. He reported that the warriors were sullen, but the chief of the tribe promised that they would take no part in the fight, but the old hero knew the treacherous nature of the savages too well to trust their words. He told his neighbors they could not afford to abandon their homes and lose their crops and improvements, and by his advice the settlers in that part of the county built on the northeast quarter of section 13, in Money Creek township, a log block house, capable of holding forty or fifty people, to which the settlers might retire in case of danger. Here they brought their arms, ammunition, and provisions, and kept constant guard until the war was over, ready for an attack if one came. There was also built on the east half, northeast quarter, section 30, township 25, range 5 east, a stockade fort, enclosing about one-half an acre, known as Fort Henline -- there was another of these “forts” on the Little Vermillion river, in the present county of Livingston.
Governor Reynolds called out the militia, which assembled to the number of several thousand. Of one of the companies from Sangamon county, Abraham Lincoln was captain.
McLean county furnished three companies of mounted volunteers for the campaign of 1832, two companies for thirty days and one for sixty. The two first belonged to the Fifth Regiment of Mounted Volunters, [sic] with James Johnson, of McLean county, colonel. The first of these companies was enrolled April 23, 1832. Its members were:
M L Covell
*Bailey H Coffee
*Martin C Ellis
Stephen F Gates
*Robert A Hurbert
*Robert F Harris
In the Adjutant General’s record the residence of all this company is given as Bloomington, but as a matter of fact, the members were from different parts of McLean county. Opposite the name of Joseph Draper is this entry, “Killed in battle May 14, 1832.” Those marked with star are marked on the muster-out roll as “Absent with leave.”
The second company was enrolled May 4, 1832. Its members were:
John R S Rhodes
Charles S Do_sey
James G Reyburn
John W Brown
Elliott H Baker
John E Davidson
Henry H Harrison
Thomas A McCord
William G Wright
“NOTE. The Adjutant General’s report gives the residence of the members of this company as McLean county, and the date of enrollment, May 4, 1832.”
Both companies were mustered out at the mouth of Fox river, May 27, 1832.
The third company was enrolled at Bloomington, June 3, 1832, and mustered out at the same place, August 3, 1832. It is designated as “Capt. M L Covell’s Company of Mounted Volunteers (Rangers),” being an odd detachment under the direction of McLean county; its members were:
M L Covell
Stephen F Gates
Robert F Harris
John J McGraw
John P Glenn
Joseph A Harbert
Hez M Harbert
John A Muffin
Franklin N Provo
James C Wright
Thos C Washburn
“NOTE: The Adjutant General’s report given the residence of this company as Bloomington, but as a matter of fact they were from different parts of the county.”
This company was evidently organized immediately on the return home of the first two companies, when the excitement arising out of Stillman’s defeat was at its height. It was a home guard company, and did not go out of McLean county, but spent its terms of enlistment scouting around the county. John Dawson says its principal scouting route was along the southern part of the present county of Livingston and the northern part of the present county of McLean, including Rock Creek in the southwest, and Indian Grove in the south part of Livingston and the Money Creek Block House, Henline Fort, the Indian Village at Pleasant Hill (or Selma, as it is now called), and the Old Indian Village on his father’s place at the head of Old Town timber, the company usually getting there every Saturday noon for dinner.
As a matter of fact the McLean county Indians were quite as much alarmed as the whites at Black Hawk’s movements; for though they were friendly they were well aware that in case of war no distinction would be made between the good and bad Indians, and that the rain of lead would fall upon the just and the unjust alike. They left the county in the spring of 1832 for the northern part of the state, and never returned here to reside. But after they left they sent back three of their numbers -- Peggy, Aunt Nancy, and Big Little John -- to notify John Dawson that he need not have any fears of the Indians, that they would protect him if there was any trouble. The son of this old pioneer, from whom I have this incident, says: “The Indians never had a better friend than my father.” It is a pleasant picture worthy the pencil or brush of an artist, -- the fugitive Indians, on the outbreak of hostilities that exiled them from their homes forever, and might involve the whole state in save warfare, sending back to their white friend, this courageous and humane old pioneer, who had won their gratitude by his generosity and justice, three of their tribe with assurances of friendship and protection.
So far as the records show, neither the Second nor the Third company form this county ever met the “noble red men” in the campaigns. But the First got its fill of fighting savages at Stillman’s defeat May 14, 1832. The tow battalions of rangers under Majors Stillman and Baily met the main army at Dixon’s Ferry, on Rock river, May 2. They had great confidence in their prowess and ability to annihilate the foe at the first onset. They had an abundance of both supplies and ammunition, and, as they refused to attach themselves to the main body, Governor Reynolds ordered them to advance to the head of Old Man’s Creek, where there was supposed to be some hostile Indians, who, in the words of Governor Reynolds’ order, they were to “coerce into submission.” By this time the Indian chief had seen the futility of his attempt to repossess himself of the former possessions of his tribe, and, as he says, had determined to recross the Mississippi.
At noon of the 14th, Stillman’s command, numbering 275 men, struck fresh Indian tracks, and to facilitate their march abandoned their baggage wagon, in which was a barrel of whisky which was broken open, every man helping himself, filling up canteens and coffee pots, some of the men emptying their powder horns into their handkerchiefs and filling their horns with liquor.
About sundown they camped at a little grove. Black Hawk, with a band of about forty warriors about six miles away, learned of the presence of the white troops, which he supposed was Atkinson’s main army, and to whom he determined to surrender. He therefore sent three young braves with a white flag to Stillman’s camp and also five young men at a distance to see how the envoys were received. The bearers of the flag of truce were discovered about a mile from the camp and captured. As soon as the other five Indians were seen some twenty or thirty men mounted and went in pursuit of them. The Indians fearing their hostile attitude ran and soldiers fired upon them and killed one and captured another, whom they sent back to the main body. Judge Moses, in his History of Illinois, well says: “It is difficult to account for the perpetration of an outrage so cruel and a violation of the rules of war so flagrant except upon the theory, confirmed by statements made at the time, that many of the rangers were excited and maddened by liquor.” (1 Moses, 367.)
The three Indians who escaped fled to their camp, where they found Black Hawk preparing to depart with a flag of truce to attend the interview he had proposed. Great was his rage when told the fate of his ambassadors, and he determined to avenge their death.
David Simmons, in Duis’ “Good Old Times”, gives quite an intelligent account of the battle. He says: “When the cry of Indians was raised all was confusion in the camp: the men commenced saddling their horses and some in their eagerness to catch the savages mounted bareback. When the two Indians came into the camp with the flag of truce the men gathered around them, but while they were talking with them, one of the men who had chased after the five Indians came back at full speed calling out ‘parade, parade.’ The men were formed into companies, and moved forward and soon met a few men coming in with an Indian prisoner. Sending the Indians to the rear, the whites moved on to a big slough where they halted. The officers then passed the slough to the top of a bluff beyond. Gridley, who seems to have been in the advance, came back with orders to march across the slough. The men started but the officers then came dashing back, one of them, Captain Eades, of Peoria, saying there were not less than a thousand Indians. The officers ordered the men to counter march and fall back across the slough; they went across and took a position on some high ground where the officers attempted to form the men in line but everything was in confusion. Just then Black Hawk raised the war whoop and rushed forward and fired. The whites were ordered to retreat to their camp ground and there reform. The retreat was commenced but immediately became a rout. Captain Covell and a few others of the officers tried to stem the mad panic without avail.” (p.221.)
These accounts are confirmed by Governor Reynolds’ “My Own Times” (p. 360). He says the Indians pursued the fleeing whites twelve to fifteen miles. Of this retreat, Moses says: “The gallant 275 incontinently turned tail and fled. The precipitation of the rout was only equaled by its completeness. Madly they dashed through their own camp, the content of which were abandoned. Neither swamps nor swollen streams served to check the impetuosity of their retreat. A gallant stand was made by Major Perkins and Captain Adams with fifteen men, but to no purpose. Singly and in squads the fugitives arrived at Dixon, thirty miles away, from whence many of them continued their mad gallop forty or fifty miles to their homes. Through all the country which they traversed they spread the story that the dreaded Hawk, at the head of two thousand blood-thirsty braves, was descending in one fell swoop upon the unprotected, outlying hamlets to the north. Consternation reigned supreme. The settlers who had returned to their farms, once more sought shelter in the forts, and the name of Black Hawk became a menace and dread in every household. The actual loss of the whites in the rout, greatly exaggerated at the time, was eleven killed and two wounded; that of the Indians, the two spies and one of the flag bearers.” (1 Moses, 368.)
The only man killed or injured from McLean county was Joseph Draper, of Randolph’s Grove, who was shot in the retreat, but in the dusk of evening crawled away and lived some days, and when his body was found he had marked his adventures and wanderings on his canteen.
Stillman’s defeat was another of the innumerable instances of the panic of brave but undisciplined men -- a thing that is liable to happen to the bravest men under untried circumstances.
Of the forty-seven members of the McLean county company present at this fight, thirty-four, including both Lieutenants, and every non-commissioned officer except one are marked on the muster-out rolls as “Absent with leave,” one Joseph Draper as “Killed,” leaving only twelve as present at muster-out of the company. The “leave” was probably the kind called “French leave,” those “absent” a part of the command that “continued their mad gallop forty or fifty miles to their homes.”
Several years ago the writer had a conversation about this event with John H S Rhodes, who was First Lieutenant of the second company. He said that General Gridley, the First Lieutenant of the first company, was the first man from the battlefield to reach Bloomington; that he never stopped from the time he “turned tail” on Black Hawk until he reached home, where he reported that he was the sole survivor of the battle; that he created great consternation which had not subsided when Captain McClure’s company returned to Bloomington about the last of May. This statement is confirmed by the rolls of the first and third companies. Among those of the form company who were not “absent with leave” were Captain Covell and Private William Dimmitt. In the organization of the third company, Covell was Captain, Dimmitt First Lieutenant, and Gridley, a private. Those who knew Gridley and Dimmitt can scarcely believe such a change could have taken place without some such reason as here supposed. It is evident, however, that it did not seriously detract from General Gridley’s military reputation, for soon after he was elected Adjutant of the McLean county regiment of militia, and fourteen years later, on the breaking out of the Mexican war, we find him a Brigadier-General in command of the McLean county militia. Too many of his neighbors had kept him company in his “mad flight” from Stillman’s Run to seriously impeach his character as a soldier.
Armed or unarmed, I cannot conceive of William McCullough as afraid of any one, savage or civilized. Doubtless many of Captain Covell’s company were as brave as he, for undisciplined soldiers are always liable to be stampeded in unreasoning panic, when as in this case, forty half-concealed warriors, in the gloaming of the evening, may appear to the excited imagination as a thousand men.
Among those “present” at the muster out of the company was William McCullough, afterwards, Lieutenant-Colonel of the Fourth Illinois Calvary, a man of reckless bravery, who was killed in battle near Coffeyville, Miss., December 5, 1862, while covering the retreat of our forces, and who lost his life rather than surrender to the enemy. The day before the encounter with Black Hawk, McCullough lost his gun, but during the fight he captured one from an Indian. Simmons mentions the incident, but it does not very clearly appear how it happened, and I at first supposed it was one of those myths that are so apt to spring up about the conduct of exceptionally brave men, but from a conversation with William J Rhodes, who heard the same story, I am inclined to believe that McCullough was one of the twenty or thirty men that mounted in such hot haste and pursued the five Indians and from one of whom McCullough captured the gun.
The second company arrived at Dixon the evening before Stillman’s defeat. After that fight they moved with the rest of the army to the battle ground and helped bury the dead, and from their marched to Indian Creek, where some whites had been massacred, and were soon after mustered out without having met the Indians. The third company seemed to have had a pleasant time scouting through the northern part of the county, ending each week’s work with a good dinner with John Wells Dawson, at the Old Indian town at the head of Old Town Timber, where the old pioneer Dawson then resided.
[War Record of McLean County and Other Papers, Transactions of The McLean County Historical Society, Bloomington, Illinois, Volume I. (1899)]
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