Military Subjects:  War of 1812


 

The War of 1812 Magazine

Issue 4: September 2006

Articles

A Gallant Defense: the Battles of Fort Madison

By David C. Bennett

Fort Madison was borne of an unhappy childhood. The Government Trading house, with a supporting garrison of Infantry for protection, was to be built to support the Governments Indian policy with the Sauk and Fox nation. On the 17th of March 1808, Secretary of War Henry Dearborn had ordered a trading house, commonly called a factory, to be built on the Osage River and also one at the “River Lemoine”, today the Des Moines River in Iowa.  Governor Lewis changed the location of the Osage Factory to the Missouri river.  However, the location of the Sauk Factory would be changed not by someone so well known as Meriwether Lewis, but by a mere Lieutenant. The site he chose would later be described as “objectionable.”[1]

Although Captain Ninian Pinkney’s company 1st U. States Infantry was ordered to build and garrison the new post, Pinkney never joined his company. He officially replaced the former commander, Captain Russell Bissell, who had died in December of 1807.  First Lieutenant Alpha Kingsley, a Vermont native, who had been with the company throughout 1807 and while it was still at Newport Barracks, Kentucky was now in command of the company.[2]  Government had also chosen an experienced officer that would lead Kingsley up the Mississippi river assisting the Factor and Company commander in choosing a location for their new Factory Fort.  However, Colonel Thomas Hunt of the 1st Infantry died on August 18th, 1808 leaving Kingsley alone to determine the site of the new Fort.

First Lt. Alpha Kingsley, with only five years experience in the army, appears too have never built a fort before.  Kingsley and his men departed Cantonment Belle Fontaine with their contractor supplies and escorting the government Indian Factor or trader, John Johnson, and his trade goods. The expedition consisted of several keelboats.  The boat crews used sails, oars and cordell their way up the Mississippi River toward the lands of the Osakiwugi or Sauk nation, whose villages stretched along the river from the mouth of the Des Moines River north to the Rock River.  The Sauk were still displeased and divided over the November 3rd, 1804 treaty, which resulted in the loss of 15 million acres of land that they held sacred.  The Sauk and Fox or Mesquakie, were two distinct nations that were closely connected by customs and language.  They became close allies during the 1720’s when the French attempted to exterminate the Fox who took refuge with the Sauk.

A shortage of keelboats and the untimely death of Colonel Hunt delayed Kingsley from departing until August 24th, 1808. Arriving about September 11, 1808 at the mouth of the Des Moines River, where Lt. Kingsley was ordered to build his new post and factory, he quickly determined the site was unsuitable.[3]  The Lieutenant was fixated on finding a location with a spring, good timber and on the west side of the Mississippi.  The expedition continued up the river, determining that the head of the rapids was also not suitable, until he finally settled for a “good situation, well timbered, an excellent spring...”  The site was known as “Belle Vue” on account of a spring and was more than 15 miles above the location that the Government had purchased from the “Sac Indians.”  Therefore, he sent word to the Sauk and Fox and asked permission to build, apparently waiting until they would agree to allow him to build there. The fall was rapidly approaching.[4]

Kingsley’s late arrival resulted in the building of temporary barracks, store houses and a low picket, perhaps not more than six feet high.  Meanwhile, a notable Sauk warrior Makataimeshekiakiak, or Black Sparrow Hawk, would remember that his warriors would playfully seize the muskets of soldiers when on wood cutting fatigues.   They would also stand on logs and barrels peering over the low picket, laughing at the soldiers inside. So far, the “weak and exposed situation of the Garrison” did nothing to gain the respect of the neighboring nations.[5]

Writing on November 22nd, 1808, the naive Lt. wrote that he would start building his fort in December and sent his proposed plan of the new fort to the Secretary of War, Henry Dearborn. The plan included two blockhouses near the Mississippi river, and one near the landside, barracks, a guard house, hospital, and two factory buildings. The stockade would be made from 14 feet high white oak logs from 12 to 18 inches in diameter, which were also hewn on two of the sides.    Kingsley also boasted to the Secretary of War that “this situation is high – Commands an extensive view of the River and the adjacent Country, also an excellent spring of water, and I believe there is no place on the River which will prove more healthy.”[6]  The garrison spent the winter months cutting timber, sawing plank, and generally preparing to build the fort in the spring.

One important piece of information that Kingsley forgot to mention to the Secretary of War was that the location he chose had a ridge running parallel with the river: about 250 feet behind where he was to build his new fort. Standing on the ridge, one would have a perfect view or line of fire directly into the fort. When Kingsley began the construction in earnest on the 1st of April, 1809, or April Fools day, he added another blockhouse to his plan, which was to be built on top of the ridge. This fourth blockhouse would be reached by a ‘covert way” and was described as an “extraordinary tail.”[7]  By 1811, two brass howitzers that fired 2 and ¾ inch shells were possibly mounted in the two blockhouses near the River.[8] He also decided that the Indian trade factory buildings should be built 100 yards outside of the pickets.  Kingsley was so focused on finding a site with good timber and water, that he forgot the primary prerequisite for locating a fort: its defensive abilities. This blunder would haunt the garrison until its evacuation in 1813.

Around the first of April, Kingsley received word that the Sauk and Puants, also called Winnebagos, had made an alliance and were planning to attack his garrison.  With the building materials already cut, dressed and prepared as well as a renewed sense of urgency, the fort was completed quickly. The garrison took quarters in the new post on the 14th of April, 1809.   Kingsley wrote Belle Fontaine for reinforcements due to the Indian threat.  He was the first, but not the last post commander to request troops who would be rushed up the river, rarely arriving in time, and generally after the threat had subsided. [9]

On the 12th of April, Captain House with reinforcements left Belle Fontaine for Madison, arriving there on the 23rd of April.  The Indian threat had ended about 10 days previously.  The Captain did not stay long: he drop off a “piece of ordnance” and soon returned to Belle Fontaine, arriving there on the 6th of May.  While going down river, he met another force of reinforcements comprised of Missouri Militia, who were also escorting food rations for the post.[10]

The birth of Fort Madison was delayed, and had a shaky beginning that left the garrison threatened from the very day of its construction and by the very nations that it was built to trade with.  Fort Madison was certainly assured of a discombobulated existence.

Since 1807, there was a steady drumbeat from the West, crying out “INDIAN HOSTILITIES”.  From Mackinaw to Chicago to Fort Madison to Fort Wayne, alerts were raised

of hostile Indians supported by the British.  On the 20th July, 1810, William Clark wrote

“One hundred and fifty Sacs are on a visit to the British agent, by invitation, and a smaller party on a visit to the island of St. Joseph, in Lake Huron.”  Indian hostilities were reported by Governor Harrison, General William Clark, Indian Agent Johnson, Governor Ninian Edwards and a host of others. War was coming.[11]

By the summer of 1809, Lt. Kingsley had been transferred to Nashville, Tennessee.  He served as a recruiting officer and district paymaster until he was relieved of duty in June of 1814.[12]  Kingsley was superseded by First Lieutenant Thomas Hamilton, a 30 year old New York native who had started his military career as a Sergeant and worked his way up the ranks, obtaining the rank of 1st lt. by December of 1808.  His transfer to Fort Madison from Fort Dearborn, modern day Chicago, was due to Hamilton and his father in law, Captain John Whistler, being embroiled in a controversy regarding the sutlery at that post.  When Hamilton challenged a local Indian trader, John Kinzie, to a duel, he was charged with conduct unbecoming to an officer. Instead of holding a court martial, Whistler was sent to Detroit and Hamilton was sent to Fort Madison.[13] Captain Horatio Stark, a Virginian with eleven years as an Officer, took command of Fort Madison by September, 1809. Stark was frequently absent from his post, as he found the winters and sometimes even the summers at Madison, contrary to his health.

Captain Stark wrote his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Daniel Bissell that he was of an opinion, that “in the event of War taking place between England and America” that a general alliance of all the Indians excepting perhaps a few bands of the Sioux would form, in favor of the British.[14] As the country plunged toward war, the western frontier was already at war.  The battle of Tippecanoe fought on November 7th, 1811, between forces of General William Harrison and the followers of the Shawnee Prophet and his brother, Tecumseh, did not have the desired effect.  A letter written on the 6th of January, 1812 informed Governor Benjamin Howard in St. Louis, that the Winnebagos had attacked the lead mines.  Two men were “Butchered in a most Horrid manner by the Puants or Winnebago Indians.” Howard was also informed that “Their chief, observed that the American s had killed a great many of their people at Tippecanoe and that they intended to kill all they saw.”[15]

Another report arrived in St. Louis in early February, again reporting that “the Winnebago’s are determined to have revenge for the loss of their men killed in the Battle of the Wabash.”[16]  The Louisiana Gazette, the St. Louis newspaper who changed the name of their paper four times from 1809 to 1815, printed more reports of the Winnebago menace on the 21st March, 1812. The Winnebago’s were lurking about the fort, and taking shots at anyone who ventured to far from the fort.  On the 3rd of March, Corporal James Leonard of Stark’s company, was out hunting when he was caught “near a half a mile” from the post. The Corporal was absent for two days, till friendly Indians brought his body in.  One writer penned “The sight was enough to chill the blood of any feeling heart. His head was severed from his body, both his arms cut off, and his heart taken out!”[17]  The residents of Fort Madison received daily reports from friendly Indians informing them of their impending demise and attack from the Winnebago’s, Potawatomis and Kickapoo’s.  The friendly Indians though not identified, were probably the Sauk and Fox.  Of course they were left off of the list of those Indian nations wishing to attack the post. The reports stated the hostile Indians were only waiting for the ice to break up.[18]

A hysterical letter written from Fort Madison reported that “I am convinced that an attack will be made here some time in the spring and it is my opinion that the Indians will take this post, and murder every white person at it unless we are reinforced in a very short time.”[19]  The Louisiana Gazette reported on the 25th of April, 1812, that another soldier at Fort Madison had been mortally wounded.  The soldier was actually inside a building when he was shot through a port-hole.[20]  Clearly the storm was coming, and the Winnebago, a formidable foe, were relentless in their attacks against Fort Madison.

A welcomed arrival to the fort near the end of February was Ensign Antonio Baronet Vasquez.  Born of French and Spanish parents, Antonio wrote in French and spoke fluent French and Spanish and was learning English. His friends called him Barony. The 29 year old St. Louis native had served as interpreter for Zebulon Pike in 1805 and recently fought at the Battle of Tippecanoe.[21] When Barony Vasquez returned to St. Louis after Tippecanoe, he brought with him a souvenir Indian scalp for his brother Benito.  Barony had previously written his brother that “I can supply you with as many as you wish, but my horror of cutting human flesh prevents my taking more than one which I shall have the pleasure of present to you myself.”[22]  As the Winnebago increased their attacks against Madison for retaliation of Tippecanoe, ironically, a veteran of that Battle arrived with his Indian fighting experience. Vasquez would learn of his promotion to Second Lt. in July[23]. Vasquez arrived with another reinforcement from Belle Fontaine, comprised of 14 enlisted men from Cross’s company of Artillerists. However, the 13 privates and one corporal would be back at Belle Fontaine by May 9th.[24]

Many of the enlistments of the soldiers were coming due and the men were being discharged.  As more and more reports of Indian hostility came in, the garrison’s strength was shrinking. Only 31 of the men had reenlisted leaving less than 45 men in the company, yet life went on.[25]  During the month of June 1812, a herd of cattle arrived, the troops were paid by the district paymaster and offenders faced a court martial.  Contractor’s boats laden with rations continued to dock at the forts landing, frequently escorted by detachments of Captain Owens’ Company of the 1st infantry.  Sergeant John Ritts, 29 years of age, along with Private Jacob Waggoner, 31 years old, took the opportunity to desert from Fort Madison during July. The two Pennsylvania natives had both just reenlisted the previous year.  They gave themselves up by August 1st, 1812, at Hardinsburg, Kentucky.  They both claimed that they were cruelly treated and asked to be transferred to the 17th Infantry regiment.[26]  Instead, they were on their way back to Fort Madison. They were referred to as some of the best men of the garrison by Lt. Colonel Bissell.  Ritts had served several times as an express Sergeant.[27]

Lt. Col. Bissell received word by the 12th of July of the Declaration or War and wrote Lt. Hamilton at Fort Madison of the news on the 14th of July.  Hamilton had recently reported to Bissell that the “Indians appear so peaceable” around Madison but the fall of Mackinaw to the British and the Massacre of the Fort Dearborn garrison in August would change all that.[28]  Hamilton reported on August 24th to Bissell that he was informed “Fort Dearborn was taken and burnt on the 16th inst. by 200 Indians, 60 men were killed and 20 taken prisoners.”  Hamilton also requested that ten to fifteen more men be sent to reinforce his post. An old Indian told Hamilton that he could depend on being attacked in ten or more days. This information was right as rain.[29]

Previous to Hamilton’s report on the 24th of August, Bissell had already ordered Captain Stark, who was vacationing for his health at St. Genevieve, Missouri, to return to his post.[30] Bissell also wrote the commanding officers of the posts in his district, that “A jealous eye must at all times be kept on the savages in your Neighborhood, even tho they profess friendship, for they are never to be trusted.”[31]

On the 2nd of September, 1812, upon the receipt of Hamilton’s letter of the 24th August, Bissell ordered Captain Stark to depart Belle Fontaine with 15 men from Captain Owens Company of the 1st Infantry and also four of Stark’s own men.[32] Two of Stark’s men were the recently returned deserters, Private Waggoner and former Sergeant Ritts. Captain Stark embarked for Fort Madison at 8am on Thursday September 3rd with reinforcements plus a brass 2 and ¾ inch Howitzer.[33] Governor Howard also arranged for a Subaltern officer and sixteen Rangers to join Stark at Fort Mason on the Mississippi “”to make his passage safe and Expeditious.”  Bissell felt that Fort Madison was too large a post for the men that garrisoned it, and asked Stark upon his arrival to see what he could do to curtail the works, especially “the tail.” Once arrived, the reinforcements would increase the garrison strength to 60 enlisted ranks. Would they arrive in time?[34] 

On the evening of September 4th, a boat arrived at the fort, but it was not reinforcements from Belle Fontaine, it was the wife of Second Lt. Vasquez, Emilie, who arrived with their young daughter Ophelia.  They found transportation on board a Mr. Graham’s boat, possibly a boat belonging to a contractor.  Graham was apparently in no rush, and left his baggage at the boat landing. With Emilie’s arrival, there was possibly up to six women in the fort, including washerwomen and also Mrs. Catherine Hamilton.[35] 

Since the mid 1700’s, Puants or Winnebago’s had been allies with the Sauk.  A Winnebago village was located near the head of the Des Moines rapids by 1811 and also on Rock River.[36]  Black Hawk recalled that the Winnebago’s displayed two scalps whose former owners had been killed at the mines. Black Hawk said, “Their success induced several other parties to go against the fort. Myself and several of my band joined....and were determined to take the fort.”  When Mr. Graham’s boat arrived, Sauk and Winnebago spies were already about the fort, and reported their arrival to their Chiefs. The Indians made plans to attack the fort the next morning, as they expected the garrison to leave the stockade to exercise in infantry drill.[37]

The location of Fort Madison now became its ball and chain. Behind the post, lay the infamous ridge. Even with the “tail” or covert way to a blockhouse upon the ridge, it was fairly simple for an enemy to be perched on the ridge with a clear shot into the fort.  Lt. Kingsley was eager to build there, partially on account of a spring.  Now the spring, and the ravine that it fed, became a defensive position for attacking natives. The ravine was described from “only 10 to 12 steps of the pickets” in a newspaper. Though the accuracy of newspaper reporting is well known, Lt. Hamilton’s report that the “spring branch but 110 paces from the Garrison” is likely more accurate.[38] The “chasm” afforded the oncoming attackers about 60 yards of shelter.[39]  That evening around 200 Winnebago and Sauk “approached the fort in secret.”  Black Hawk used his knife to dig a hole and with weeds he concealed himself.  When morning came, the garrison’s musicians drum calls alerted the lurking natives to prime their weapons.[40] 

When the gates opened that morning, it was only Private John Cox who had received permission to “attend to his necessities.”  When he was only 25 paces from one of the blockhouses, a Winnebago “killed, tomahawked and scalped” him.  The sentinel in the blockhouse fired on the Indian.[41]  Black Hawk said there were at least four more soldiers cutting wood, but as they ran to the gate, two of them were killed. Despite Blackhawk’s report, it is well documented that only one soldier was killed.  It appears that Blackhawk’s accuracy may match that of the newspapers.[42] 

Emilie Vasquez, who had just arrived the evening before was apparently petrified with shock as the battle commenced in earnest. Her husband later wrote “...after a few hours [of] “ruffles” [or reports] of guns, she regained her strength and resolution, for in the end she went as far as the door; I think she went there because I had gone out of it.”[43]  Hamilton recalled that “the balls and buck shot fell in like hail” before ceasing at dark.[44]

The next morning, September 6th, Indians were seen on all sides: some had taken cover under the river banks and firing directly into the loop holes.  A few of the warriors occupied their time killing the livestock, destroying corn and plundering some of the homes in the area.  By 4pm, it appeared that all of the hostile Indians had collected along the river bank, firing directly into the two block houses facing the water front and at the garrison flag that was flying over head. It was estimated that 400 rounds had been fired when a shot cut the halyards forcing the flag to fall.[45]  Blackhawk, of course, took credit for that shot.  Hamilton said that “A general shout was given by them as a triumph of victory.”[46] Sporadic firing kept up till after dark, as the body of Private Cox was hauled away.  Not knowing how many Indians were outside the walls prevented Lt. Hamilton from taking the risk of bringing him in.

As the sun rose on the morning of the 7th, a horrific view was in sight. Private Cox had been butchered, his head and heart was stuck upon sticks along the river bank. “The head painted after the manner of themselves.”[47]  The rifle and musket firing commenced, then trader Dennis Julien’s house was set on fire. Mr. Graham’s boat and all of his baggage at the river bank was also consumed by fire.  When Graham arrived on Sept. 4th, the garrison had offered to move his baggage into the fort, but he refused as there was no reason to at the time. Vasquez said “the poor unfortunate fellow is much to be pitied although it is his fault....one must not laugh about it.”[48]  Besides Graham’s boat, two other public boats were also set on fire.[49]  

It was at this time, fearing that the Indians would attempt to set fire to the blockhouses, that Hamilton approached a novel idea.  The garrison had 8 old musket barrels which they converted into “syringes” or “squirts”.  Drilling holes in the roofs, they were able to completely wet them down as “if there had fallen a shower of rain.”[50]  Attempts were made to burn the blockhouses near the Mississippi River. Blackhawk stated they used their arrows for this, but without any effect. Archibald McNabb’s home was set afire near sundown, which assured Hamilton that their game was to burn the garrison out.[51]

The Factory, with only part of its trade goods, lay only a few yards away from the post, outside the pickets. The winds had remained calm all day.  Hamilton suspected that the attackers were waiting until there was a strong wind coming out of the west before firing the factory. Vasquez recalled “but we got ahead of them by setting it on fire ourselves.”[52]  Another wrote “”it was generally believed they were only waiting for a favorable wind to burn the factory, ...which would have been the certain means of destroying us all”[53] Hamilton sent a soldier that night who set fire to the Factory by using an artillery port fire stick. Vasquez said, “What a pity! God! That made a big blaze, but it seems that God was helping us, because the weather was calm, like in a bottle.”[54] 

 On the 8th, shortly after 9am, some Indians took refuge in an old stable west of the fort and commenced firing again at the garrison. 2nd Lt. Vasquez took command of a brass howitzer firing two fixed shells into the stable, and “soon made their yellow jackets fly.”[55]  Vasquez recalled that “ammunition was plentiful, we shot at random.”[56]  Many of the Indians took their old post along the river bank and again continued to fire at the blockhouses while also shooting more fire brands or arrows at the fort.  Others attempted to throw an estimated 500 pieces of burning chunks of wood on the buildings.[57] Despite their best efforts, the gun “squirts” did their job and fire would not take. Their attempts did not stop till 10 o’clock that night. After this last effort, the garrison reported that they “heard but little from them.”[58]

Canoes were seen crossing the river, and by the 9th, not one Indian was seen nor was any shots fired. The garrison speculated that many Indians must have been killed, as they saw many fall.[59]  Blackhawk, the single reporter of the natives, stated only one Winnebago was killed and one Winnebago was wounded.[60]  The garrison suffered Private John Cox’s death at the beginning of the siege, and also one man wounded in the nose.  Vasquez later wrote “I assure you that I was bored when they went away, for it was a pleasure to shoot these red skins.” [61]

Lt. Hamilton summed it up so eloquently, stating “This garrison is in the most ineligible place that ever could have been chosen by any man...The Indians are much better fortified than we.”[62]  Hamilton was not exaggerating; the river bank on the south, only 30 paces away, gave complete cover to the attackers while the “spring run” or branch on the west was also excellent cover for 60 yards and only about 110 paces from the fort.  The east side of the fort was not much better while “on the north a hill commands us completely, which I know from experience, as I could not pass from one block house to the other without being fired upon.”[63]

The efforts of Lt. Hamilton, Lt. Vasquez and the garrison against an estimated 200 Winnebago and Sauk warriors brought recognition to their efforts.  Their district commanding officer, Lt. Col. Daniel Bissell wrote, “The brave and persevering defense, & the success of your arms, in repelling of the enemy, from their daring attack on that post, truly merits & receives my warmest Thanks.”[64] Reports of their deeds were printed in books and newspapers across the country.  A popular history of the war published in 1815 praised their efforts, “Liuets Hamilton and Vasquez did themselves great honour in so ably defending this fort.”[65]  Another popular history that was published in 1815 mocked the efforts of the Indian warriors by proclaiming, “[Fort] Madison...was attacked...by the Indians, with all the desperation that a want of real courage, could inspire...”[66]

Despite the accolades, Hamilton was ready to get the heck out of there. Bissell at first believed it would be “cowardly” to evacuate right after it was “Gallantly defended against an attack of a very superior force of Savages.”  However, Bissell did believe that Fort Madison was a most “unmilitary” site, and eventually agreed with Hamilton.[67]  However, Governor and soon to be General, Benjamin Howard, disagreed.  Though Howard “never considered it a happy selection ...for a garrison” he felt that evacuating Madison would be seen as weak Americans in the eyes of the Winnebago and Blackhawk’s Rock River Sauk[68]  One thing that could be counted on, Captain Stark and the reinforcements arrived, after the siege ended, about the 15th of September. Stark had 19 regulars and 17 rangers from Captain Nathan Boone’s Company on board plus a “howitzer.”  Captain Stark would eventually leave the post again, about eight days after arriving at Fort Madison, his wife and young child died in St. Louis.[69]

More reinforcements were coming however.  Captain Desha’s company of the 24th Infantry had arrived at Belle Fontaine by November 30th.[70]  On the 28th of March, 1813, Captain Horatio Stark was once more heading up the river to Madison, this time with First Lieutenant Silas Stephens and 40 enlisted men of the 24th Infantry. They were sailing on the “Madison Packet”, a fortified keel boat, and each soldier with 3 flints and 24 cartridges in their cartouche boxes were ready to battle with the Indians.[71] Stark’s Company of the 1st Infantry, a detachment of Owen’s Company 1st Infantry and a platoon from Desha’s Company of the 24th was now in garrison at Madison.   By the 3rd of April, there was one captain, two first Lieutenants, one second Lieutenant, and 100 enlisted men.[72]

Sometime in early June 1813, Captain Thomas Ramsey and his detachment of United States Riflemen recruits were ordered to leave Fort Russell in the Illinois Territory and report to Portage de Sioux, Missouri Territory.  Upon their arrival General Howard transferred his recruits to Starks and Clemson’s companies of the 1st U. States and sent Ramsey packing to Cincinnati to start all over.[73]  In early June, the garrison at Fort Madison consisted of 42 men and the 44 new ex-riflemen recruits swelled the company to over 80 men.  By July of 1813, 30% of the men were natives of Pennsylvania, 17% were from Virginia and 14% were born in Ireland, the third highest birth group and the highest of the foreign born.  The Fort Madison garrison boasted a diverse birth group with other soldiers from Connecticut, Indiana Territory, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Upper Louisiana Territory, Canada, England, Prussia and Poland.[74]

Despite the efforts of Governor William Clark to move the nearby friendly Sauk and Fox to the mouth of the Des Moines River, Fort Madison was still in constant danger from Blackhawk’s band of approximate 100 pro-British warriors and the Rock River Winnebago.   Hamilton’s men after much labor excavated a “subterraneous passage” to the river with a small blockhouse near the shoreline.  The Lt. also had the river banks cut down so that it was exposed to fire from the blockhouses. Hamilton decided to build a small blockhouse near the mouth of the ravine or “spring branch” on the west side of the fort.  Construction on this blockhouse began on July 5th.   However, Winnebago’s again used the spring branch to approach undetected and attacked the work party on the morning of the 8th of July, 1813.[75]  Private Samuel Heritage, from Desha’s company of the 24th infantry, was “killed in action” and Private John Minard of Owens Company of the 1st Infantry was “shot and killed.”  Minard, was a 36 year old farmer from New London, Connecticut.[76]  Another man was reported wounded.  Lt. Hamilton wrote “this hollow affords them about 60 yards of shelter and cannot be cut away so as to be raked by B.H.”[77]

The new blockhouse was finally finished up to “above a man’s head.” Hamilton felt that the new blockhouse, though not completely chinked, “did actually appear very strong.”  The Lt posted a Corporal and three privates inside as a guard by the 16th of July. Hamilton felt pleased when he over heard one the guards boast that they could hold out as long as they were inside the blockhouse. The guard was ordered not to open the door till they were relieved by the next mornings guard.  Three of the men who are known to have been in this guard, were all from Captain Starks Company commanded by Lt. Hamilton. Thomas Faulkner, age 28, was born in Ireland, and reenlisted at Fort Madison for five years on Christmas Day, 1811.  The Private stood five feet 9 ½ inches high with blue eyes, brown hair, and a dark complexion.  Private John Bowers, 21 years old, a former farmer and a Morris, New Jersey native, also stood at five feet 9 ½ inches tall, and like Faulkner he had blue eyes, brown hair but with a fair complexion. He had been recruited by Captain Ramsey originally for the Rifle regiment in May of 1812, and had just joined Hamilton’s company in late June of 1813.  Private John Ritts, the former express Sergeant turned deserter who had been returned to his Company, was 28 years old, stood at six feet one inch tall and he also had blue eyes.[78]

On the morning of the 16th, at about half past 6am, the door to the blockhouse was seen wide open. A sentinel was out side walking, between the stockade and the blockhouse, and the guard was actually sitting in the doorway.  “Like a flash of lightening,” Sauk and Winnebago warriors attacked the guard at the Blockhouse.  At 7am, the guard was shot at from the back side of the blockhouse, through the loop holes.  The guard sprung up and ran inside attempting to close the door as more shots rang out.  One Indian raced to the door and “sprung with his feet against the door to force it open” but he was shot down by the soldiers at the stockade.  Another Warrior approached the blockhouse from the river side, and was thrusting a long spear inside the blockhouse through cracks in the chinking.  Other Indians were springing high enough to shoot arrows into the blockhouse.[79]  Stark had the howitzers open fire on the attacking warriors.  Shells with about five second fuses were exploding into the ranks of Indians.  One Indian had his arm ripped off above the elbow while another suffered his arm broken above the wrist.  The artillery managed to “clear the valley.”  In less than 10 minutes, all four men of the guard were killed by a single warrior’s most effective weapon.[80] It is possible that the Sauk warrior with the “long spear” was Wee-Sheet or Sturgeon’s Head.[81]  His spear may actually have been a military espontoon.[82]  Meanwhile, other warriors were taking out the stone underpinning of the blockhouse and managed to drag two of the men outside and mutilated their bodies.  Hamilton blamed the Corporal in charge of the guard for disobeying “a most positive order!”  The Corporal was one of the men who had recently arrived from Captain Ramsey’s detachment.  Hamilton said this Corporal was “not accustomed to obey such injunctions, but opened the door sufficient to be surprised, and then laid himself liable to all the confusion that is generally attendant on such sudden occasions.”  The Corporal is not yet identified, but he and his comrades paid with their lives for disobeying an order.  Hamilton wrote “I never heard of great acts of desperation offered by any of the tribes than what has been shown in storming the small B. H.  Our incessant watching I fear is the cause why I have so many at present on the sick report...It certainly is very astonishing to me to find how instantaneously they were dispatched...I must begin again cursing the situation of this Garrison...If there is any necessity of one in this part of the country why can it not be removed to a more eligible spot?”[83]

The garrison at Fort Madison would suffer one more attack and a final defeat: this one was inflicted by the U. States government contractor that supplied the rations to the post. The failure to supply the post forced Hamilton to evacuate sometime in November, arriving at Belle Fontaine on November 25th, 1813.[84]  The Sauk and Winnebago would continue to harass the settlements in 1814 and deal defeats to Lt. John Campbell and Major Zachary Taylor.  Black Hawk would not stop fighting even after the war was over; his war did not end till 1832 and still he managed to strike the last blow by dictating his autobiography.  The garrison at Fort Madison would be sent to “The Canada line” in 1814, fighting at the “slaughter pen” of Fort Erie.[85]  Owens Company of the 1st Infantry would be assigned to newly promoted Captain Hamilton, and the old Madison Company would be broken up, the men going into the other companies.[86]   The officers and men of the 1st Infantry in Stark’s and Owens’ Company and the men of Deshas’ Company, 24th Infantry, had plenty to be proud of. Despite that Fort Madison was the “most ineligible position for defense upon the Mississippi”, they “did themselves great honour in so ably defending this fort.”  For their defense, was most certainly a gallant defense.[87]

[Presentation delivered at the 16th Annual War of 1812 in the West Symposium on March 25th, 2006 at Arrow Rock State Historic site, by David C. Bennett]



[1] Captain House to Secretary of War Eustis May 9 , 1809, RG 94 NARA, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780-1917. Fort Madison Reservation file microfilm.

[2] Clarence E. Carter, ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States Volume 14, Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office 1934-1962.  p 184 Secretary of War Eustis to Colonel Thomas Hunt, May 17, 1808; The Records of the U.S. Army 1st Infantry Regiment Orderly Book: 1804-1807 Mircrofilm Library of Congress.

[3] Carter, Territorial Papers, p. 208. William Clark to Dearborn, August 18, 1808.

[4] Kingsley to Secretary of War Dearborn, November 22, 1808; Johnson to Mason, September 19th, 1808. RG 94 NARA, Fort Madison Reservation file microfilm.

[5] Lt. Kingsley to Secretary of War Dearborn, November 22, 1808. RG 94 NARA, Fort Madison Reservation file microfilm; Donald Jackson, ed., An autobiography: Black Hawk, Prairie State Books edition, 1900, Previously an Illini Books edition, 1964. University of Illinois Press, p. 57.  Black Hawk was born in 1767 at Saukenuk which was established in the 1730’s. The Sauk called themselves Osaukiwagi, the yellow Earth People. ; Captain House to Secretary of War Eustis, May 9, 1809 RG 94 NARA, Fort Madison Reservation file microfilm

[6] Lt. Kingsley to Secretary of War Dearborn, November 22, 1808 RG 94 NARA Fort Madison Reservation file microfilm.

[7] Carter, Territorial Papers, p.595. Lt. Col. Bissell to Secretary of War  September 26,1812

[8] RG92 NA Records of the office of the Quartermaster General Philadelphia Supply Agencies 1795-1858 Bound volumes No. 28 (old volume 509) Entry 2117. Ordnance inventory 1808 to November 1811.  The 2 ¾ inch Howitzers had a bore about 2.85.  A three pound shell or solid shot was about 2.77 inches.  Several of the 16 each    2 ¾ inch howitzers produced in the early 1790’s for General Wayne found their way to western outposts by 1812.

[9] Lt. Kingsley to Secretary of War Eustis, April 19, 1809 RG 94 NARA Fort Madison Reservation file microfilm.

[10] Captain James House to Secretary of War Eustis, May 9, 1809 RG 94 NARA Fort Madison Reservation file microfilm.

[11] The Weekly Register Baltimore, Saturday, July 25, 1812, author's collection.

[12] Captain Clemson/Captain Symmes Company descriptive book, RG 98 NARA, Records of Army Commands, 1784-1821, number 53/128.  A substantial number of recruits for this company had been enlisted by Kingsley in 1813; Kingsley was removed from duty by Colonel Anderson of the 24th Infantry. See Carter’s Territorial Papers.

[13] Thomas Shaw and David Grabitske, Thomas Hamilton, First Infantry, undated, unpublished manuscript. author's collection.

[14] Captain Stark to Lt. Col. Bissell, February 10, 1810 RG 94 NA, Fort Madison Reservation file, microfilm.

[15] Captain Stark to Lt. Col. Bissell, January 6, 1812 RG 94 NA, Fort Madison Reservation file, microfilm.

[16] Louisiana Gazette, St. Louis, February 15, 1812, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis, Missouri.

[17] Louisiana Gazette, St. Louis, March 21, 1812.  MHS  Conflicting reports were printed in the newspapers, such as Corporal Leonard was “about 2 miles” from the fort and was “cut to pieces”; Connecticut Courant, Harford. Tuesday, April 21, 1812.   This paper reported that the same soldier was only “near half a mile from the fort, the sight was enough to chill the blood....” This letter was probably written by the Government Factor, John Johnson.

[18] Louisiana Gazette, St. Louis, March 21, 1812. MHS

[19] Connecticut Courant, Hartford. Tuesday, April 21, 1812, author's collection.

[20] Louisiana Gazette, St. Louis, April 25, 1812 MHS

[21] Vasquez Family, Missouri Historical Society. “Family of Benito Vasquez” Vasquez papers; Ensign Baronet Vasquez to Benito Vasquez, 9 November, 1811, Missouri Historical Society St. Louis, Missouri. Vasquez papers.

[22] Ensign Baronet Vasquez to Benito Vasquez, 25 November, 1811, MHS, Vasquez papers.

[23] Lt. Colonel Bissell to Lt. Vasquez July 21, 1812 Bissell letter book Missouri Historical Society.  Bissell Papers.

[24] Captain Joseph Cross Company descriptive book, Illinois Historical Society, Springfield, Illinois.

[25] Captain Stark Company descriptive book, RG 98 NARA 223/130

[26] Lt. Col. Bissell to Lt. Hamilton July 14, 1812 Bissell letter book,  MHS; Captain Stark Company descriptive RG 98 NARA 223/130.

[27] Lt. Col. Bissell to Lt. Hamilton July 14, 1812. Bissell letter book, MHS

[28] Ibid.

[29] Lt. Hamilton to Lt. Col. Bissell August 24, 1812 RG 94 NARA Fort Madison Reservation file microfilm

[30] Lt. Col. Bissell to Capt. Stark, July 22, 1812 Bissell letter book, MHS

[31] Lt. Col. Bissell to “Circular to the different Posts in the District” July 28, 1812 Bissell letter book, MHS

[32] Lt. Col. Bissell to Capt. Stark  September 2, 1812   Bissell letter book, MHS

[33] Lt. Col. Bissell to Governor Howard, September 4, 1812 Bissell letter book, MHS

[34] Lt. Col. Bissell to Secretary of War Eustis, September 19, 1812 Bissell letter book, MHS; Lt. Col. Bissell to Secretary of War, September 4, 1812 Bissell letter book, MHS

[35] Lt. Vasquez to Benito Vasquez, September 16, 1812 Vasquez papers, MHS.   Barony also mentions another woman at the fort in this letter: “I am talking about that young woman whom you consider pretty.”  Four washer women were allowed to every Infantry company. Washerwomen have been documented at Fort Osage, Fort Massac, and Fort Belle Fontaine. There is no reason to assume that Fort Madison was any more remote than Fort Osage.  The documentation has simply not yet been found.

[36] Helen Hornbeck Tanner, ed., Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History .Published for The Newberry Library by the University of Oklahoma Press: Norman and London. 1986.  P.106-107 Map 21 Includes a good history of the Mesquakie (Fox) Wars of the 1700’s, and explains the relationship between the Sauk and the Winnebago and Mesquakie.

[37] Jackson, Black Hawk p. 58 and 59

[38] The Weekly Register, Baltimore, Saturday, October 31, 1812, author's collection; RG 94 NARA Fort Madison Reservation file Microfilm. Lt. Hamilton to Lt. Col. Bissell, July 18, 1813.  Also found in Richard C. Knopf, Document Transcriptions of the War of 1812 in the Northwest. Published by The Ohio Historical Society, Columbus Ohio, 1961

[39] Lt. Hamilton to Bissell, July 18, 1813. RG 94 NARA Fort Madison Reservation File Microfilm. “Spring run” or “Spring Branch” or “ravine” or “Chasm” were all used to describe the same feature on the west side of the fort by various sources.

[40] Jackson, Black Hawk,  p 59

[41] John Brannan, Official letters of the military and naval officers of the United States, during the war with Great Britain in the years 1812, 13, 14, and 15. “Printed by Way & Gideon, for the Editor” Washington City. 1823.  Lt. Hamilton to Lt. Colonel Bissell, September 10, 1812, p-63 and 64.  Lt. Hamilton wrote that Cox “had liberty to go outside upon a necessary occasion.”  There are various descriptions in newspapers and popular history books that Cox had to “attend to his necessities” though some thoughtfully left out why Cox departed the fort that fateful morning out of their reports.

[42] Jackson, Black Hawk, p 59

[43] Lt. Vasquez to Benito Vasquez, September 16th, 1812 MHS, Vasquez papers.

[44]  Brannan, Official letters , p 63 and 64

[45] Samuel R. Brown, An Authentic History of the Second War for Independence, Auburn: Published by J. G. Hathaway. 1815. Vol. I, p 172 and 173; Brannan, Official letters, p 63 and 64

[46] Jackson, Black Hawk p 60, ; Brannan, Official letters,  p 63 and 64

[47] Ibid.

[48] Lt. Vasquez to Benito Vasquez, September 16, 1812 MHS, Vasquez papers.

[49] Brannan, Official letters ,  p 63 and 64;  The Weekly Register, 1 Oct 1812 author's collection.

[50] Brannan, Official letters, p 63 and 64

[51] Jackson, Black Hawk p 59 ; Brannan, Official letters, p 63 and 64

[52] Lt. Vasquez to Benito Vasquez, September 16, 1812 MHS, Vasquez papers.

[53] The Weekly Register, October 31, 1812  author's collection. Factor John Johnson probably authored the letter published.

[54] Lt. Vasquez to Benito Vasquez, September 16, 1812   MHS, Vasquez papers.

[55] The Weekly Register, October 31, 1812. author's collection.

[56] Lt. Vasquez to Benito Vasquez, September 16, 1812   MHS, Vasquez papers.

[57] The Weekly Register, October 31, 1812  Author's collection.

[58] Brannan, Official letters, p 63 and 64 ; The Weekly Register, October 31, 1812  author's collection.

[59]___, Sketches of The War between the United States and the British Isles: Intended as a Faithful History. Volume I and II Rutland, Vt. Published by Fay and Davison. 1815. p 78

[60] Jackson, Black Hawk,  p 60

[61] Lt Vasquez to Benito Vasquez, September 16, 1812   MHS, Vasquez papers.

[62] Brannan, Official letters,   p 64 and 65

[63] Ibid.

[64] Lt. Col. Bissell to Lt. Hamilton, September 24, 1812. Bissell letter book. MHS

[65] Sketches,   p 78

[66] ___, Impartial and Correct History of the War between The United States of America, and Great Britain; Declared by Congress, June 18, 1812, and concluded by a ratification and exchange of a Treaty of Peace, as the City of Washington, Feb. 17,1815.  New York. Printed and Published by John Low. 1815  p 67

[67] Carter, Territorial papers, Lt. Col. Bissell to Secretary of War, March 30, 1813  p 647

[68] Carter, Territorial papers, General Howard to Lt. Col. Bissell, April 4, 1813.  p 663

[69] Lt. Col. Bissell to Governor Howard, September 4, 1812.  Bissell letter book. MHS   “19 men and a howitzer”   Upon Starks arrival, the post now had three 2 ¾ inch brass howitzers. The post already had two 2 ¾ inch howitzers by 1811, and Belle Fontaine had two in stores, but by September 26th, 1812,  Fort Belle Fontaine only had one 2 ¾ inch howitzer. See Bissell to Howard, Sept 26th, 1812 Bissell letter book. See also Hamilton to Bissell July 18 1813, RG 94 NARA, Fort Madison Reservation file microfilm.  “100 2 ¾ inch shells fixed say in proportion from 5 to 10 seconds.” No other size shells were asked for except “2 ¾ “; Lt. Col. Bissell to Governor Howard September 1, 1812 Bissell letter book.  MHS

[70] Lt. Col. Bissell to Colonel Cushing, December 24, 1812  Bissell letter book  MHS

[71] Lt. Col. Bissell to Captain Stark, March 27, 1813 Bissell letter book.   Some of the men in Captain Desha’s Company of the 24th Infantry that served at Fort Madison included: James Prewitt, Solomon Taylor, William Rodgers, David Thacker, Joseph Thompson, Abraham Wadkins, Solomon Ward, Corporal Charles Williams, Thomas Williams, Thomas Allen, John Cotton and Horatio Boswell, and Joseph Manning. See NARA, Registers of Enlistments in the United States Army, 1798-1914. Microfilm M-233.

[72] Lt. Col. Bissell to Governor Howard,  April 3,  1813 Bissell letter book  MHS

[73] Captain Clemson/Symmes Company book and Captain Starks Company book RG 98; Lt. Col. Bissell to Captain Ramsey at Fort Russell  June 7, 1813, Bissell letter book, MHS; Knopf, Transcriptions, General Howard to Secretary of War John Armstrong September 1, 1813

[74] Captain Starks Company Book.  RG 98 NARA  There are various reports that Stark’s company was about 42 men  as of  June, 1813 before it received the ex-riflemen recruits. Reviewing the Descriptive book confirms that number.

[75] Lt. Hamilton to Bissell July 18, 1813   RG 94, NARA Fort Madison Reservation file Microfilm. However, a letter from Lt. Hamilton (dated August 23, 1813) printed in the Missouri Gazette, St. Louis, Saturday, September 11, 1813 MHS, states the attack was on the 6th of July. This may be an error by the newspapers or transcribers.

[76] Register of enlistments, M233. Heritage #5207; Ibid. Minard #4198

[77] Lt. Hamilton to Bissell July 18, 1813 RG 94 NARA Fort Madison Reservation file, microfilm; Missouri Gazette, September 11, 1813, MHS

[78] Ibid. ; Register of Enlistments, NARA M233 Bowers Roll No.2,# 3824 , Faulkner Roll No. 5,Ritts Roll No.10 #97; Missouri Gazette, September 11, 1813. MHS.

[79] Lt. Hamilton to Lt. Col. Bissell July 18 1813 RG 94 NARA Fort Madison Reservation file, microfilm; Missouri Gazette, September 11, 1813   MHS

[80] Ibid.

[81] George Catlin, Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians written during Eight Years Travel (1832-1839) amongst the Wildest Tribes of Indians in North America, Volume II, Dover Publications, New York, 1973. Plate 286, “This man held a spear in his hand when he was being painted, with which he assured me he killed four white men during the war; I have some doubts of the fact.” Catlin painted him in 1832 immediately after the Black Hawk war, and was obviously not thinking of the War of 1812 when Sturgeon’s head said “the war.” Most indications are that the Sauk did not think of “the Black Hawk War” as a war, especially when compared to the War of 1812.  There are no documented accounts of a single warrior killing four white men during the Black Hawk War of 1832. I am indebted to Mike Dickey for leading the author to this information.

[82] The blade and the hilt that Catlin painted, is very similar to American Espontoons or pikes. See Duane Military Dictionary, printed 1810.

[83] Lt. Hamilton to Lt. Col. Bissell July 18 1813   RG 94, NARA, Fort Madison Reservation file, microfilm; Missouri Gazette, September 11, 1813 MHS

[84] Captain John Cleves Symmes to “Brother” November 25, 1813 Symmes Papers 1WW No.54, Drapers Collection. Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison Wisconsin. Captain John C. Symmes was at Belle Fontaine when he wrote that the Fort Madison Garrison had just arrived, and like the St. Louis newspaper, blamed the contractor for the evacuation.

[85] Christian Wilt to Brother, April 23 1814, Christian Wilt papers, MHS St. Louis.; 

[86] Captain Ownes/Hamilton Company book.  RG 98 NARA

[87] Sketches, p.77 and 78

 



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