Abraham Lincoln in Illinois
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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In 1828, the last of the Sauk and Fox Indians in Illinois were forced by an 1804 treaty out of Illinois and were relocated west of the Mississippi River in what is now Iowa. On April 5, 1832, Sauk Chief Black Hawk led approximately 2,000 Indians, mostly women and children, back into their tribe's old Illinois homeland. Illinois Governor John Reynolds called for volunteers to assist the United States Army in driving Black Hawk and his followers out of Illinois. Abraham Lincoln, a twenty-three year old shopkeeper from New Salem, was one of nearly nine thousand men who volunteered from Illinois.

Lincoln joined a company that was composed mostly of men from the New Salem area who enlisted near present-day Pleasant Plains. At that time, members of a militia company elected their own officers and the approximately sixty-eight men of this company selected Lincoln as captain, the senior officer. He would later say that this election gave him more pleasure than any other success in his life.

Lincoln and his troops served for thirty days but did not see any action in the war. On May 29, the day of his muster out as captain, Lincoln enlisted in another company as a private for twenty days. He served again as a private in a third company until his discharge on July 10, 1832. Although never firing a shot, Lincoln saw dead on the battlefield, traveled throughout northern Illinois and into the Wisconsin Territory, and made friends for life. One month prior to the start of the war, Lincoln had announced his candidacy for the state legislature. Returning from service with only one month to campaign, he lost that election, finishing eighth in a field of thirteen candidates.

This document is a portion of a muster roll from the Illinois Adjutant General's Black Hawk War Records. Among other men listed on this sheet is John Armstrong. When Lincoln moved to New Salem in 1831, Armstrong was the leader of a gang of toughs known as the "Clary's Grove Boys." Lincoln and Armstrong had a wrestling match in New Salem to test who was stronger. Accounts disagree about the outcome, but Lincoln proved that he would not back down from tough challenges and won the respect of former adversaries.

Points to Consider

How do people become officers in the military today?

Why do you think Lincoln was so proud of his election as captain?

What does it say about Lincoln that he was elected captain of his company after living in New Salem for less than a year?

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