Black Hawk War

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The Black Hawk War was a brief conflict fought in 1832 between the United States and Native Americans headed by Black Hawk, a Sauk leader. The war erupted soon after Black Hawk and a group of Sauks, Meskwakis, and Kickapoos known as the "British Band" crossed the Mississippi River into the U.S. state of Illinois in April 1832. Black Hawk's motives were ambiguous, but he was apparently hoping to avoid bloodshed while resettling on land that had been ceded to the United States in a disputed 1804 treaty.

American officials, convinced that the British Band was hostile, mobilized a frontier army. There were relatively few U.S. Army soldiers in the region, and so most American troops were part-time, poorly trained militiamen. Hostilities began on May 14, 1832, when militiamen opened fire on a delegation from the British Band. Black Hawk responded by attacking the militia force, soundly thrashing them at the Battle of Stillman's Run. He then led his band to a secure location in what is now southern Wisconsin, and launched a series of often brutal raids against American settlers. He was joined by Ho-Chunk and Potawatomi warriors who also had grievances against Americans.

The U.S. troops were commanded by General Henry Atkinson, who spent much of his time trying to track down the British Band. Militiamen under Colonel Henry Dodge, who emerged as the most competent American commander in the war, finally caught up with the British Band on July 21 and defeated them at the Battle of Wisconsin Heights. Black Hawk's band, greatly weakened by hunger, death, and desertion, retreated towards the Mississippi. On August 2, American soldiers attacked the remnants of the British Band at the Battle of Bad Axe, killing or capturing most of them. Black Hawk and other leaders escaped, but later surrendered and were imprisoned for a year.

The Black Hawk War is now often remembered as the conflict that gave young Abraham Lincoln his brief military service. Other notable American participants included Winfield Scott, Zachary Taylor, and Jefferson Davis. The war gave impetus to the American policy of Indian removal, in which Native American tribes were pressured to sell their lands and move west of the Mississippi River.


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