222. George M. Harrison to William H. Herndon.
[late summer 1866?
It would afford me much pleasure to be specific without spoiling the sayings of Lincoln
Mr Lincoln went into the Black hawk war many months before I did. He went, I think, in command of a company; I went a private. During the war many companies went to the army and voluntarily offered their services, but were rejected because they were not needed: they bore their own expenses to and from, but were well supplied while there with Uncle Sam's bread and meat. The company I went with found the army at Dixon's; remained there about a week, disbanded and returned home. But I had found a considerable number of my old acquaintance, who were just disbanded by their own request, having been out from the commencement of the war, members of Cap. Elijah Iles'company, — who were just then, or, as many of them as were not quite ready to return home, by permission of the commanding general — Atkinson — forming a new company, by taking to themselves such as they chose from the multitude of the disappointed. The new company thus formed was called the Independent spy company; not being under the control of any regiment or brigade, but receiving orders directly from the commander-in-chief; and always, when with the army, camping within the lines, and having many other privileges, such as, never having camp duties to perform, drawing rations as often and as much as we pleased &c. &c. — Dr. Early dec'd, of Springfield was elected Capt. Five members constituted a tent, or "messed" together, our mess consisted of Mr. Lincoln, Johnson, — a half brother of his, — Fanchier, Wyatt, and myself. The independent spy company was used chiefly to carry messages, to send an express, to spy the enemy, and to ascertain facts. I suppose the nearest we were to doing battle was at Gratiot's grove, near Galena. The spy company of Posey's brigade was many miles in advance of the brigade when it stoped, in this grove, at noon for refreshment. Some of the men had turned loose their horses, and others still had theirs in hand, when five or six Sack & fox indians came near to them. Many of the white men broke after them, some on horseback, some
328on foot in great disorder and confusion; thinking to have much sport with their prisoners immediately: the indians thus decoyed them about two miles from the little cabins in the Grove, keeping just out of danger; when suddenly sprang up from the tall prairie grass, 250 painted wariors — with long spears in hand, and tomahawks & butcher knives in thir belts of deerskin and buffalo, and raised such a yell that our friends supposed them to be more numerous than Blackhawk's whole clan; and instantly, filled with consternation, commenced the retreat. But the savages soon began to spear them, making it necessary to halt in the flight, and give them a fire; at which time, they killed two indians, — one of them being a young chief — gayly appareled — Again, in the utmost horror, such as Savage yells alone can produce, they fled for the little fort in the grove: Having arrived, they found the balance of their Company, — terrified by the screams of the whites and the yells of the savages, — closely shut up in the double cabins: into which they quickly plunged, and found the much needed respite. The Indians then prowled around the grove shooting nearly all the companie's horses, and stealing the balance of them. Here, from cracks between the logs of the cabins, three of the Indians were shot and killed, in the act of reaching for the reins of bridles on horses. They endeavoured to conseal their bodies, by trees in an old field which surrounded the fort, but reaching with sticks for the bridles, they exposed their heads & necks, and all of them were shot with two balls each, through the neck. These three, and the two killed where our men wheeled and fired, make five Indians known to be killed; and on their retreat from the prairie to the grove five white men were cut into small pieces. The field of this action, is the greatest battle ground that we saw. The dead still lay unburied untill, after we arrived, at sunrise the next day: the forted men — 50 strong — had not ventured to go out until they saw us; when they rejoiced greatly that friends, and not their dreaded enemies had come. They looked like men just out of Cholera: having passed through the cramping stage. The only part we could then act, was to seek the lost men, and with hatchets and hands to bury them. We buried the white men, and trailed the dead young chief where he had been drawn on the grass a half mile and consealed in a thicket. Those who trailed this once noble warior and found him, were Lincoln, — I think — Wyatt, and myself. By order of Gen. Atkinson, our Company started on this expedition one evening, traveled all night, and reached Gratiots at sunrise. A few hours after, Gen. Posey came up to the fort, with his brigade — of nearly 1000 men — when he positively refused to pursue the indians, being strongly solicited by Capt. Early, Lincoln and others; Squads of indians still showing themselves in a menacing manner, one and a half miles distant. Our company was disbanded at Whitewater, Wisconsin, a short time before the Massacre at Bad Axe by Gen. Henry, and most of our men started for home on the following morning. But it so happened that the night previous to starting on this long trip, Lincoln's horse and mine were stolen, probably by soldiers of our own army — and we were thus compelled to start out side the cavalcade; but I laughed at our fate, and he joked at it, and we all started off merrily. But the generous men of our Company walked and rode by turns with us, and we fared about equal with the rest. But for this generosity, our
329legs would have had to do the better work; for in that day this then dreary route furnished no horses to buy or to steal. And whether on horse or afoot we always had company, for many of their backs were too sore for constant riding.
Thus we came to Peoria Here we bought a canoe in which we two paddled our way to Pekin; the other members of our company separating in various directions stimulated by the proximity of home, could never have consented to travel at our usual tardy mode. At Pekin, Lincoln made an oar with which to row our little boat, while I went through the town in order to buy provisions for the trip. One of us pulled away with our one oar, while the other sat astern to steer, or prevent circling. The river being very low was without current, so that we had to pull hard to make half the speed of legs and land: in fact we let her float all night, and in the next morning always found the objects still visible that were beside us the previous evening. The water was remarkably clear for this river of plants; and the fish appeared to be sporting with us as we moved on, near them. On the next day after we left Pekin, we overhauled a raft of saw logs, with two men afloat on it, to urge it along with poles, and to guide it in the channel; we immediately pulled up to them and went on the raft, where we were made welcome by various demonstrations; especially by that of an invitation to a feast on fish, corn bread, eggs, butter, and coffee: just prepared for our benefit. Of these good things we ate almost immoderately, for it was the only warm meal we had made for several days. While preparing it, and after the dinner, Lincoln entertained them, and they entertained us, for a couple of hours, very amusingly.
This slow mode of travel, was, at the time, a new mode, and the novelty made it for a short time agreeable. We descended the Illinois to Havanna; where we sold our boat, and again set out, the old way, over the Sand ridges, for Petersburg. As we drew near home, the impulse became stronger, and urged us on amazingly. The long strides of Lincoln, after slipping back in the burning Sand six inches every step, were just right for me; and he was greatly diverted when he noticed me behind him stepping along in his tracks to keep from slipping.
About the third day after leaving the Army at Whitewater, we saw a battle in full operation, about two miles in advance of us. Lincoln was riding a young horse the property of L. D. Matheny — I was riding a sprightly animal belonging to John T. Stewart: at the time we came in view of the Scene, our two voluntary footmen were about three fourths of a mile before us, and a half mile behind most of our company, and three or four afoot still behind us, leading their soreback horses; but the owners of our horses came running back, and meeting us, all in full speed, rightfully ordered us to dismount: We obeyed, they mounted, and all pressed on toward the conflict; they, on horseback, we, afoot. In a few moments, of hard walking and terribly close observation, Lincoln said to me "George, this can't be a very dangerous battle!" reply, "much shooting nothing falls." It was at once decided to be a sham battle for the purpose of training cavalry; instead of Indians having attacked a few white soldiers, and a few of our own men on their way home, for the purpose of killing them.
The first place I ever saw Mr. Lincoln was aboard a flat bottom boat, on the
330Sangamon, about four miles North East from my house: — a hand on the boat, about 18 years of age. He then and there attracted the farmers engaged in hauling corn to load the boat, by his profusion of anecdotes & jokes.
I think, that I never saw Mr Lincoln angry or desponding; but always cheerful, and his spirit and temper such as would engender the like cheerfulness in all surrounding minds: in fact the whole company, even amid trouble and suffering, received Strength & fortitude, by his buoyancy & elasticity.
Geo. M. Harrison.
Library of Congress: Herndon-Weik Collection. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. 3916 — 17; Huntington Library: LN2408, 1:504 — 12