Friday, January 29, 2016

Fighting in The Black Hawk War

Here, on May 14, 1832, the first engagement of the Black Hawk War took place. When 275 Illinois militiamen under Maj. Isaiah Stillman were put to flight by Black Hawk and his warriers. So thoroughly demoralized were the volunteers that a new army had to be called into the field. - Historical Marker at the site of Stillman's Defeat in Stillman Valley, Illinois

List of volunteers including Geo. Copperberger [should be Coppenbarger] as 3rd corporal,
Elisha Butler & Obediah Hooper as privates
My great, great, great grandfather, Peter Coppenbarger, was 14 years old in the spring of 1832. He was too young to fight, but he must have watched his older brother, George, and brothers-in-law, Elisha Butler and Obadiah Hooper, as they set off to defend their land. They were living in Macon County (soon to became De Witt County), Illinois.

The land ceded to the U.S. in the 1804 treaty
is shown in yellow (image from wikipedia)

The Battle of Stillman's Run, also known as Stillman's Defeat, was one of the first conflicts in what would become known as the Black Hawk War. Black Hawk was a member of the Sauk tribe who did not want to give up his homeland which had been signed away in the St Louis Treaty of 1804. In 1832, he returned to Illinois bringing women, children & warriors with him. A panic started among the white settlers and the governor called for mounted volunteers. Peter's family answered the call.

"Scion's of County's Best Families Fought in War Against Indians in '32",
Decatur Review; Decatur, Illinois, 11 Sep 1927, page 12, column 1; digital image, ( accessed 22 Aug 2014)

Sadly, the main action that these three brothers-in-law faced was at Stillman's Run on May 14th, 1832. I say "sadly" because this battle was such a fiasco. Although the stories differ, it appears that these militiamen killed some of Black Hawk's warriors who had come under a white truce flag. According to an article in a 1927 "Decatur Review", here's what happened:

"Stillman's Run", public domain image from wikipedia
Benjamin Drake, 1st published in 1854 book,
"Great Indian Chief of the West"
We don't know how valiantly or efficiently Macon county troops fought in this campaign, but we are assured that they fought as valiantly and efficiently as other untrained, undisciplined troops fought, and one man was killed, several wounded and some had their horses shot. Major Stillman's brigade and that under Major Bailey were ordered to proceed without delay to the head of Old Man's creek, twelve miles north of Dixon. The first clash with the Indians was at this point and it was due to foolhardiness and boneheadedness.

Black Hawk sent out three men under a truce flag. These men were captured. Another squad of five men under a second flag were sent out. These were fired upon and two o[f] them were killed. Infuriated by this treatment and without stopping to collect his main force and with only forty warriors, he fell upon the whites with the fury of a tornado. The white troops were put to ignominious rout and some of them never stopped running till they reached Dixon. Eleven white soldiers and seven Indians were killed. 

In other articles I've read it was reported that the volunteers believed there were over 1,000 warriors fighting against them while, in reality, there might have been between 20-50.

I wonder what kinds of stories young Peter heard when these three young men returned home. At the time, the war was still going on. What kinds of fears did my family face? And, how did they feel about this battle?

George Coppenbarger was 3rd corporal in this battalion. The 4th corporal, James Milton, was killed in this battle. Were they friends? Were George, Elisha or Obadiah injured during this battle? Were their horses shot out from under them? Were they some of the men who didn't stop "running until they reached Dixon?"

Black Hawk
"Chicago Daily Tribune", 12 Jul 1891, page 25, column 6;
On August 27th, Black Hawk surrendered in Wisconsin and the Black Hawk War was over. He gave an incredible surrender speech which can be read here or listened to performed by Don Cheadle here. His speech ends: "Farewell, my nation. Black Hawk tried to save you, and avenge your wrongs. He drank the blood of some of the whites. He has been taken prisoner, and his plans are stopped. He can do no more. He is near his end. His sun is setting, and he will rise no more. Farewell to Black Hawk."

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