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Major Dement’s Battle with the Indians
Posted By Dennis Partridge On In Native American | No Comments
On the evening of the second day, after crossing Rock river, the Major’s command marched to the stockade at Kellogg’s Grove and encamped. In the morning, learning that Indian traces had been seen four or five miles from the grove, twenty-five volunteers were called for to go out and reconnoiter. This number was quickly filled, nearly every one volunteering being an officer, and, as it afterward turned out, they were unfortunately accepted. These volunteers had not yet gotten out of sight of their camp, before three Indians were seen on their ponies between the fort and a small grove on the prairie, riding backward and forward. The reconnoitreing party started after them in one, two and three order, according to the speed of their horses, while the Indians made straight for the small grove. Major Dement, who was watching the movements of the volunteers from his camp, and seeing the movements of the Indians, at once suspected a trap, mounted with a portion of his men, and went to their aid. His men that had first started were a mile out upon the prairie in pursuit of those few Indians. Being well mounted, the Major and his relief party soon overtook the hindermost of the little band, but several were too far in advance in their mad pursuit of the fleeing Indians for him to reach them in time. The fleeing Indians were making for a grove some three miles away, hotly pursued by the Major’s men. In this grove, as the commander feared, a large number of the Indians were concealed. When within four or five hundred yards of this grove he halted and dismounted his men and formed them in line. Some six or seven of his men were still in advance following the Indians toward this grove. On nearing the grove, his men who were in advance, were received with a galling fire, which killed two and wounded a third. With hideous yells the Indians emerged from the grove and rapidly approached. They were all mounted, stripped to their waists and painted for battle. As they reached the bodies of the dead soldiers, a large number surrounded them, clubbing and stabbing their lifeless remains. A volley from the rifles of the whites killed two or three at this point, but by the time the last of the little band had reached the ridge upon which their comrades were drawn up in line, the Indians were close upon them and on both flanks. At this point three men who had been out of their camp hunting for their homes, came in sight and were massacred in sight of their friends. The main portion of the battalion had been ordered to hold themselves in readiness for any emergency, but hearing the yelling, instead of obeying the order, mounted in hot haste and started to the rescue of their companions. On discovering the force of the Indians, they retreated to the grove, and almost neck and neck with the Indians, sprang over their horses and occupied the Block House.
On the least exposed side of the Fort was a work bench; over this the Major threw the bridle rein of his horse, and most of the horses huddled around this as if conscious of their danger. The Indians swarmed around the Block House under cover; an ominous stillness pervaded the air, which was soon broken by the crack of the rifles of the white men. The best marksmen with the best guns were stationed at the port holes, and a lively fire was kept up by the little garrison. The Indians finding that they were making no impression, turned their attention to shooting the horses, twenty-five of which they succeeded in killing. After sharp firing for two hours they retreated, leaving nine of their men dead on the field. This was the first engagement in this war, in which the whites had held their position until reinforcements arrived, without retreating. If the main force had remained in the grove at this Block House after the volunteers went out, without making any demonstration when the Indians came charging up and still in the open prairie, they could have been easily repulsed. This was the Major’s plan of action, but the men became excited by the firing, and having no commissioned officers to guide them, started without order to assist their exposed comrades in the open prairie, when they were flying for their lives to the block house.
That evening Gen. Posey came up with his brigade, and although the Indians were encamped a short distance away, he made no effort to attack them but contented himself with reporting the situation to Col. Z. Taylor at Dixon’s Ferry. Gen. Whiteside had said to Major Dement before crossing Rock river, that he was going into the Indian rendezvous, where he could have an Indian for breakfast every morning, and he found it literally true.
It seems strange that Major Dement should have been ordered by Col. Taylor into the enemy’s country, across Rock river, with so small a force of volunteers, while a large force of Regulars and Volunteers, commanded by regular United States officers, remained securely entrenched in the rear. It was Major Dement’s opinion that there were more fighting men of Black Hawk’s band of warriors in the engagement at Kellogg’s Grove than ever afterwards made a stand during the war. It was easy for Gen. Posey to have moved up and attacked the Indians on his arrival at the Grove, and then have dealt them a fatal blow by forcing them to battle then, but he refused to do so, and the war was not terminated until the fight at Bad Axe some two months later, in which the Illinois troops did not engage. During this engagement at the Block House, four whites and eleven Indians were killed. The whites lost a large part of their horses–the Indians shooting them from the timber, while the poor animals were huddled about the Block House.
Although in command, Black Hawk remained in the Grove doing the engagement, looking on to see that his principal aid, whose voice was like a trumpet call, carried out his orders.
While reciting the incidents of this battle to the author, when writing his Autobiography, Black Hawk spoke in high praise of Major Dement as a commander, who had shown not only good military skill in coming to the rescue of his party, but in withdrawing his little party to the Fort. After Dement’s engagement General Posey’s brigade started for Fort Hamilton and remained there a short time. News of Dement’s engagement and march of Posey’s brigade having been received at Dixon’s Ferry, where the two other brigades were stationed, Gen. Alexander, with the 2d brigade was ordered to cross Rock river and march to Plum river to intercept the Indians, as it was deemed probable that they would make for that point to cross the Mississippi. Gen. Atkinson, with regulars, and Gen. Fry with his brigade, remained at Dixon waiting for news of the route taken by the Indians. Next day Capt. Walker and three Pottawattomie Indians came into Dixon and reported seventy-five Pottawattomie ready to join the army now encamped at Sycamore creek, and they were afraid that Black Hawk and his army was not far off. For their protection, and to await the coming of the balance of the second brigade, Col. Fry, of Henry’s brigade, was sent forward immediately. The next morning Gen. Henry’s brigade moved forward with Gen. Atkinson at the head, intending to march up Rock river, to the Four Lakes, and camped at Stillwell’s battle-ground the first night and joined Col. Fry and his Pottawattomie Indians on the 29th, and continued their march. On the 30th, when going into camp, they saw signs of Sac Indians, but the sentinels were undisturbed during the night. The next day they saw one Indian, but he was on the other side of Plum river. On the 2d of July, Major Ewing being in front, spied a fresh trail, and soon after came upon the fresh trail of Black Hawk’s entire force, at a point near Keeshkanawy Lake. Scouts from the battalion came up to Black Hawk’s encampment, from which they had apparently taken their departure a few days before. Here they found five white men’s scalps which had been left hung up to dry. This battalion continued to march around the lake in detachments, one of which found where there had been another encampment, but on returning to camp and comparing notes they began to despair of finding the main body of Black Hawk’s army in that region. On the 5th of July, Gen. Atkinson with his army took a rest. During the day some scouts brought in an old Indian nearly blind and half famished with hunger, whom the Indians had left in their flight. After eating, Gen. Atkinson questioned him closely as to the whereabouts of Black Hawk and his army, but was satisfied from his replies and helpless condition, that he did not know, but on taking up his line of march the near morning, Gen. Atkinson did not leave him as the Indians had done, alone and without any means of subsistence, but left him an abundance of food, and as we afterwards learned, the old man recruited and afterwards got back to his tribe.,
On the evening of the 9th the army encamped at White Water, and the next morning Indians were seen on the other side of this stream which was not fordable, one of whom shot and wounded a regular. After breaking camp, Gen. Atkinson ordered a move up the river, and that night camped with his entire force–all having met at the same point. Gen. Dodge’s corps had taken a Winnebago prisoner and brought him into camp for the purpose of finding out if he knew where Black Hawk’s forces were. He said they were encamped on an island near Burnt Village. Col. William S. Hamilton, a brave and honored son of Alexander Hamilton, in command of a company of Menomonee, who had joined the main army the day before, with Captain Early and his command, after scouring the island thoroughly, reported there were no Indians on the island.
Governor Reynolds, who had been on the march up Rock River with his volunteers and the main army, together with Colonel Smith, Major Sidney Breese and Colonel A. P. Field, left the army and came into Galena on the 12th, from whom we obtained our information of the movements of the army. They were firmly of the opinion that the Indians had taken to the swamps, and gotten entirely out of reach of the army, and that no farther danger need be apprehended. Colonel Field, who is an eloquent speaker, at the solicitation of Colonel Strode, although nearly worn out with hard marches, made an able and soul-stirring speech to our regiment, and a large number of the inhabitants of Galena.
At this time the army was nearly out of provisions, and Fort Winnebago, about seventy-five miles distant, the nearest point at which they could replenish. General Atkinson then ordered General Posey with his brigade, to Fort Hamilton, General Henry’s and Alexander’s brigade and General Dodge’s squadron to Fort Winnebago for provisions; and sent General Ewing and his regiment to Dixon with Colonel Dunn, who had been seriously wounded by one of his own sentinels, but who afterwards recovered. General Atkinson then built a fort near the camping ground, which was Fort Keeshkanong. General Alexander returned on the 15th with provisions to the fort, while Generals Dodge and Henry thought best to go with their commands to the head of Fox river, and while on the way stopped at a Winnebago village and had a talk with their head men, who assured them that Black Hawk was then at Cranberry Lake, a point higher up Rock river. After a consultation by the Generals, it was deemed best to send an express to General Atkinson at Fort Keeshkanong, to let him know of the information they had got, and their intention of moving on the enemy the next morning. Dr. Merryman, of Colonel Collins’ regiment, and Major Woodbridge, Adjutant of General Dodge’s corps, volunteered to go, and with Little Thunder, a Winnebago chief, as pilot, started out to perform this dangerous service, and after traveling a few miles, came on fresh Indian trails, which Little Thunder pronounced to have been made by Black Hawk’s party, and fearing that they would be intercepted, insisted on returning to camp. Night was then approaching, and having no guide to lead them forward, they reluctantly followed Little Thunder back to camp. Orders were then given for an early move next morning, and at daylight the bugle sounded, and the army moved onwards. The trail was followed for two days, leading for Four Lakes. On the second day, July 21st, scouts from General Dodge’s corps came in and reported Indians, and as a confirmation of the fact, Dr. A.K. Philleo exhibited a scalp that he had taken from the head of one that he had shot. Dr. Philleo was brave as the bravest, and whenever a scouting party started out to look for Indians (unless his services were required in camp), was always in the lead, and this being his first Indian, took his scalp, and sent it to the writer, with written instructions how to preserve it. To this end we handed over both to a deaf and dumb printer in the office, who boasted somewhat of his chemical knowledge, who spent considerable time for a number of days in following the Doctor’s instructions. After the killing of this Indian, some of the scouts discovered fresh signs of more Indians, and after pursuing it for some miles, Dr. Philleo and his friend Journey, equally as brave, being in the lead, espied two more Indians, when each picked his man and fired, and both fell; one of them, although badly wounded, fired as he fell, and wounded one of the scouts. The Doctor’s attention was now directed to his wounded companion, hence his second Indian was allowed to retain his scalp.
The scouts, finding that the trail was fresh, and the Indians were rapidly retreating, having strewed their trail with camp equipage, in order to facilitate their movements, sent an express back to camp, when the army hastily took up the line of march, with Dodge’s corps and Ewing’s Spy battalion in the front. By fast riding they soon came up with the Indians, whom they found already in line to receive them.
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