Battle of Stillman's Run

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Battle of Stillman's Run
Part of the Black Hawk War
Stillman's Run artist depiction1.jpg
An 1854 artist's depiction of the Battle of Stillman's Run.
Date May 14, 1832
Location Near present day Stillman Valley, Illinois
Result British Band victory
 United States Sauk and Fox of Black Hawk's "British Band"
Commanders and leaders
Isaiah Stillman
David Bailey
John Giles Adams 
Black Hawk
275 40-50
Casualties and losses
12 3-5

The Battle of Stillman's Run, also known as the Battle of Sycamore Creek or the Battle of Old Man's Creek, occurred on May 14, 1832. The battle was named for Major Isaiah Stillman and his detachment of 275 Illinois militia which fled in a panic from the smaller number of Sauk warriors. The engagement was the first battle of the Black Hawk War (1832) which had developed when Black Hawk crossed the Mississippi River from Iowa into Illinois with his British Band of Sauk and Fox. The militia pursued a group of Sauk scouts back to the main British Band camp following a failed attempt at truce negotiations by Black Hawk's emissaries.

During the engagement 12 militia men were killed while making a stand on a small hill. The remainder of the militia fled back to Dixon's Ferry. A 2006 article corroborates that militia volunteer Abraham Lincoln was present at the battleground's burials; although there is little else agreement amongst other sources. This claim, however, was still under investigation as of 2013. In 1901 a monument was erected in Stillman Valley, Illinois commemorating the battle.


Black Hawk supported the view that the Treaty of St. Louis (1804) was invalid. It ceded Sauk territory to the US that included his birthplace. He led a number of incursions across the Mississippi River beginning in 1830. Each time, he was persuaded to return west without bloodshed. In April 1832, encouraged by promises of alliances with other tribes and the British, he again moved his "British Band"[1] into Illinois.[2] Finding no allies, he attempted to return to Iowa, but ensuing events led to the Battle of Stillman's Run.[3] A number of other engagements followed, and the state militias of Wisconsin and Illinois were mobilized to hunt down Black Hawk's band. The conflict became known as the Black Hawk War.

Map of Black Hawk War sites
Red Battle X.png Battle (with name) Red pog.svg Fort / settlement Green pog.svg Native village
Symbols are wikilinked to article

On April 5, 1832, Black Hawk and around 1,000 warriors and civilians recrossed the Mississippi River into Illinois in an attempt to reclaim their land. About half of Black Hawk's band were combatants and the rest were a combination of women, children, and elderly. The band consisted of Sauk, Fox, some Potawatomi, and some Kickapoo; in addition some members of the Ho-Chunk nation were sympathetic to Black Hawk.[4][5][6] Black Hawk's reason for crossing into Illinois was that he wanted to reclaim lost lands, and perhaps, create a confederacy of Native Americans to stand against white settlement.[6][7] Promises of aid from other Illinois tribes were made to the British Band and Black Hawk believed that promises of assistance were made by the British in Canada.[6]

Black Hawk led the march of the group along the Rock River into Illinois. Illinois Governor John Reynolds perceived the return of Black Hawk as an invasion and he immediately called up the militia.[8] The military expedition was turned over to General Henry Atkinson, who Black Hawk addressed as "White Beaver."[9][10]


Atkinson was not told about Governor Reynolds' decision to order Major Isaiah Stillman's militia to march on Old Man's Creek, despite being in overall command. Stillman's orders were issued by General Samuel Whiteside's as written by Reynolds, for Stillman to find Black Hawk and coerce him into submission. Following these orders, Stillman moved on Old Mans Creek.[11][12] In fact, Whiteside had refused to accept Stillman's battalion under his command, thus leaving it "orphaned" and under the direct command of Reynolds.[13] The militia that was under the authority of Whiteside grew restless as they awaited the arrival of Atkinson and his Army regulars, many of the volunteer militia wanted to quit the war and head back home.[13] When diplomacy failed to bring Black Hawk back's band west, Stillman and Bailey's battalions of Illinois Militia was marched up the Rock River.[14]

Prior to the battle at Stillman's Run, Black Hawk's grand vision of British support, and an Native American confederacy had collapsed.[5] There would be no one to aid him or his followers. The British Band started to weaken with hunger, and Black Hawk soon realized that the only option was to return across the Mississippi River. When he detected the U.S. militia camp eight miles (13 km) away, Black Hawk sent out peace envoys in order to negotiate a truce. They were told to wave a white flag at the militia.[15]


275 militia under the command of Isaiah Stillman fled Black Hawk warriors at what became known as Stillman's Run.

On May 14, 1832, a detachment of 275 militia under the command of Majors Isaiah Stillman and David Bailey, under orders from Illinois Governor Reynolds, were encamped near Old Man's Creek, not far from its confluence with the Rock River.[12][16] The militia camp was located about three miles (5 km) east of the Rock River near present-day Stillman Valley, Illinois, and seven miles (11 km) south of the Sauk encampment.[12] It is believed that the militia and its commanders were unaware of their proximity to Black Hawk's British Band.[12]

Black Hawk, in conference with the local Potawatomi, learned of Stillman's presence and sent three emissaries to the militia camp under a flag of parley in order to negotiate a peace with the soldiers.[8] The already suspicious soldiers took the three emissaries to their camp, and during the proceedings the militia became aware of several of Black Hawk's scouts in the surrounding hills, watching the proceedings.[8] Once the scouts were spotted, soldiers shot at the three emissaries, killing one. The other two fled back toward their camp, located near the confluence of the Rock and Kishwaukee Rivers.[15]

The scouts fled but were pursued by the disorganized militia and several were killed. The surviving scouts arrived at Black Hawk's camp ahead of the militia and reported the events. At the camp, the warriors then set up a skirmish line in order to fend off the pending militia attack.[8] The militia soldiers, intent on pursuing the scouts, chased them back toward the main force of Black Hawk's warriors and their skirmish line.[8] Black Hawk and his force concealed themselves and ambushed the pursuers.[3] The soldiers, believing that thousands of Sauk and Fox were chasing them, panicked and fled back to the main force camped at Dixon's Ferry.[17] Stillman's exact whereabouts are unknown during this point in the battle, a later newspaper account written by him did not mention his location and noted his only order was to retreat. Stillman's account, published in the Missouri Republican, has been called fanciful.[12]

Twelve of Stillman's militia were killed in the melee.[18] A band of volunteers under the leadership of Captain John Giles Adams made a stand on a hill south of the main militia camp. The men fought by moonlight as the main body of the militia fled back to Dixon. The entire 12-man detachment, including Adams, was killed in the fight.[16] It has also been asserted that Adams may have, in fact, been killed by his own men as he futilely attempted to muster them to battle.[12] The number of Sauk and Fox killed in the engagement is largely unknown; the militia party that was sent to locate the "missing" 53 militia men found no dead Sauk.[12] Black Hawk is quoted as saying at least three and maybe as many as five of his warriors were killed.[19]

Lincoln's role[edit]

This image has been claimed as the earliest of Abraham Lincoln and dates to around 1847, 15 years after the war.

Abraham Lincoln's service during the Black Hawk War has been a source of discrepancies and questioning, with two major battle sites, including Stillman's Run, being affiliated with Lincoln in the aftermath of combat. A number of sources assert that on June 26, 1832, the morning after the Second Battle of Kellogg's Grove members of the company of Captain Jacob M. Early arrived at Kellogg's Grove to help bury the dead. One of the soldiers in the company was Lincoln. Lincoln assisted with the burial and later made a statement about the experience that has been connected with both the battle at Kellogg's Grove and the fight at Stillman's Run.[20][21][22]

The Lincoln quote appeared both in William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Wiek's Life of Lincoln and Carl Sandburg's Lincoln biography, Abraham Lincoln The Prairie Years.[20] Lincoln's presence at Stillman's Run was still under investigation as of 2003, but his presence at Kellogg's Grove has been corroborated by several sources.[20][22][23] In a 2006 article, author Scott Dyer asserted that Whiteside's men, including Captain Lincoln, "paraded" the area the morning after, and buried the dead from Stillman's Run. Their movements were in an unsuccessful effort to draw out the Sauk, after which they returned to Dixon's Ferry.[12]

Inscription on the monument in Stillman Valley concerning Lincoln's role in the aftermath of the battle.

Lincoln made a humorous remark during an 1848 speech before the U.S. Congress in which he referenced his Black Hawk War service, mentioning Stillman's Run by name.

The marble facade on the Stillman Valley monument, erected in 1901, commemorating the battle, includes the reference to Lincoln's presence at Stillman's Run, "The presence of soldier, statesman, martyr, Abraham Lincoln assisting in the burial of these honored dead has made this spot more sacred."[21] Still, other sources assert that it was General Whiteside who originally buried the dead in a common grave on a ridge south of the battlefield, marked with a rudimentary wooden memorial. These sources make no mention of Lincoln.[25][26]


Monument and graves located in Stillman Valley

Following the first confrontation at Stillman Valley, the exaggerated claim that 2,000 "bloodthirsty warriors were sweeping all Northern Illinois with the bosom of destruction" sent shock waves of terror through the region.[14] Past midnight on May 15 soldiers from Stillman's ill-fated detachment began streaming back into Dixon's Ferry, wide-eyed and panic-stricken, telling tales of a horrible slaughter that had ensued during the battle. In the immediate aftermath of the battle 53 militia men were missing, though it was later determined that the majority of those had simply passed Dixon's Ferry by on their way home.[12]

The memorial cemetery at the Stillman's Run Battle Site.

After this initial skirmish, Black Hawk led many of the civilians in his band to the Michigan Territory.[14] On May 19, the militia traveled up the Rock River trailing and searching for Black Hawk and his band.[14] Several small skirmishes and massacres ensued over the next month in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin before the militia was able to regain public confidence in battles at Bloody Lake and Waddams Grove.[27]

The debacle at Stillman' Run added fuel to the fire for critics of the Illinois Militia, mostly members of the Regular Army. Critics began, almost immediately, to refer to the battle at Old Man's Creek as the Battle of Stillman's Run, because Stillman had apparently fled with the panicked militia.[12]

Armed hostilities during the Black Hawk War began at Stillman's Run and the victory was unexpected for Black Hawk and his British Band.[3] Black Hawk feared that the white militia and its allies would seek revenge through his total and utter defeat.[28] Leading his starving band, Black Hawk fled from Atkinson's pursuing army. The chase would take them as far as present day Madison, Wisconsin, and end at the Battle of Bad Axe, where the militia and its allies would massacre a weakened foe, by then made up of mostly women and children.[29]

The remains of the soldiers were originally buried in a common grave, but who buried them remains an open question.[21][23][25] A memorial, erected in 1901, stands near their marked graves today.[21] The monument and battle site are listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, and located along Illinois Route 72 a block west of present-day Stillman Creek.[30][31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The group was referred to as the "British Band", because of their earlier support to the British during the War of 1812 and continued reliance on British trade, as well as flying a British flag in their camp in defiance of American authority. See Lewis, "Background."
  2. ^ Lewis, James. "The Black Hawk War of 1832," Abraham Lincoln Digitization Project, Northern Illinois University. Retrieved August 1, 2007.
  3. ^ a b c "May 14: Black Hawk's Victory at the Battle of Stillman's Run," Historic Diaries: The Black Hawk War, Wisconsin State Historical Society. Retrieved August 6, 2007.
  4. ^ Lewis, James. "Introduction," The Black Hawk War of 1832, Abraham Lincoln Digitization Project, Northern Illinois University. Retrieved August 1, 2007.
  5. ^ a b Harmet, p. 13.
  6. ^ a b c "April 6: The U.S. suspects Black Hawk is crossing the Mississippi," Historic Diaries: The Black Hawk War, Wisconsin State Historical Society. Retrieved August 1, 2007.
  7. ^ Lewis, James. "Background," The Black Hawk War of 1832, Abraham Lincoln Digitization Project, Northern Illinois University. Retrieved August 1, 2007.
  8. ^ a b c d e Lewis, James A. "The Black Hawk War of 1832," Abraham Lincoln Digitization Project, Northern Illinois University, p. 2A. Retrieved August 11, 2007.
  9. ^ Lewis, James. "The Black Hawk War of 1832", Abraham Lincoln Digitization Project, Northern Illinois University, p. 2D. Retrieved August 1, 2007.
  10. ^ Hagan, William T. "General Henry Atkinson and the Militia," Military Affairs, Vol. 23, No. 4. (Winter, 1959-1960), pp. 194-197.
  11. ^ Last Stand at Old Mans Creek
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Dyar, Scott D. "Stillman's Run: Militia's Foulest Hour," Military History, March 2006, pp. 38-44, 72.
  13. ^ a b Miller, Richard Lawrence. Lincoln and His World, (Google Books), Stackpole Books: 2006, (ISBN 0-8117-0187-5), p. 164. Retrieved September 27, 2007.
  14. ^ a b c d "Black Hawk War," Historical Events, Illinois State Military Museum. Retrieved August 6, 2007. Archived November 5, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ a b "May 14, Old Man's Creek: The Militia Ignore Black Hawk's White Flag," Historic Diaries: The Black Hawk War, Wisconsin State Historical Society. Retrieved August 11, 2007.
  16. ^ a b Braun, Robert A. "Black Hawk's War April 5 - August 2, 1832: A Chronology," September 2001, Old Lead Historical Society. Retrieved August 12, 2007.
  17. ^ "Battle of Sycamore Creek, Abraham Lincoln Digitization Project, Northern Illinois University. Retrieved August 6, 2007.
  18. ^ "Major Isaiah Stillman," Abraham Lincoln Digitization Project, 2002, Northern Illinois University. Retrieved July 31, 2007.
  19. ^ Hawk, Black, LeClaire, Antoine, interpreter; Patterson, J. B., ed., Autobiography of Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak, or Black Hawk, Embracing the Traditions of his Nation, Various Wars In Which He Has Been Engaged, and His Account of the Cause and General History of the Black Hawk War of 1832, His Surrender, and Travels Through the United States. Also Life, Death and Burial of the Old Chief, Together with a History of the Black Hawk War, Oquawka, IL: J. B. Patterson, 1882, "History of the Black Hawk War," Section 169. Retrieved August 1, 2007.
  20. ^ a b c Dameier, Evelyn. "Kellogg's Grove," (PDF), National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, January 18, 1978, HAARGIS Database, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Retrieved July 26, 2007.
  21. ^ a b c d "Stillman's Run Memorial," Historic Places, Abraham Lincoln Online. Retrieved August 11, 2007.
  22. ^ a b Davis, William. Lincoln's Men (Google Books), Simon and Schuster: 1999, p. 12, (ISBN 0-684-82351-9). Retrieved August 11, 2007.
  23. ^ a b Braun, Robert A. "Abraham Lincoln's Military Service During the Black Hawk War: An Introduction, November 2002 and March 2003, Old Lead Historical Society. Retrieved August 11, 2007.
  24. ^ Browne, Frances Fisher. The Everyday Life of Abraham Lincoln, Browne & Howell Company: 1913, p. 40. Retrieved August 11, 2007.
  25. ^ a b Ford, Thomas and Shields, James. A History of Illinois, from Its Commencement as a State in 1818 to 1847, (Google Books), Ivison & Phinney: 1854, p. 123. Retrieved August 12, 2007.
  26. ^ The Lakeside Classics, (Google Books), R.R. Donnelley and Sons, Co: 1903, p. 179. Retrieved August 12, 2007.
  27. ^ "James Stephenson Describes the Battle at Yellow Creek, Historic Diaries: The Black Hawk War, Wisconsin Historical Society. Retrieved July 31, 2007.
  28. ^ "May 15: Militia Commanders Report on Stillman's Run," Historic Diaries: The Black Hawk War, Wisconsin State Historical Society. Retrieved August 12, 2007.
  29. ^ McCann, Dennis. "Black Hawk's name, country's shame lives on," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, April 28, 2007. Retrieved July 30, 2007.
  30. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 
  31. ^ Tyler, Bob C. Canoeing Adventures in Northern Illinois: Apple River to Zuma Creek, (Google Books), iUniverse: 2004, p. 125, (ISBN 0-595-31010-9). Retrieved August 12, 2007.


Coordinates: 42°6′24″N 89°10′33″W / 42.10667°N 89.17583°W / 42.10667; -89.17583

  • Harmet, A. Richard. "Apple River Fort Site, (PDF), National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, March 31, 1997, HAARGIS Database, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Retrieved August 1, 2007.
  • Wallace, Anthony F. C. Prelude to Disaster: The Course of Indian-White Relations Which Led to the Black Hawk War of 1832, (Google Books), Springfield, IL: 1970, {ISBN 0-912226-11-0}.

External links[edit]