Black Hawk War correspondence with incredible Pro-Indian content - 14 letters, 47 pages!
[BLACK HAWK WAR]. AMOS B. EATON to his wife Elizabeth Eaton, 14 Autograph Letters Signed or Initialed or in just a few cases signed "Eaton" within the address leaf to his wife, July 24, 1832-February 28, 1834; [William A.] Gordon to Amos B. Eaton, Autograph Letter Signed, August 10, 1832; and Amos Eaton to his son Amos B. Eaton, Autograph Letter Signed, September 21, 1837. 47 pp. total, varying in size from 8" x 9.75" to 8" x 12.75". Expected folds and some tears where wax seals were broken with some loss of text.
This fascinating archive of letters details the early career of Amos B. Eaton, a West Point graduate with nearly fifty years of service in the U.S. Army. His unguarded remarks to his father in an 1832 letter nearly derailed his career when he suggested the cholera that decimated American troops at Detroit and Chicago was God’s judgment for Americans’ treatment of Native Americans like Black Hawk and his Sauk followers.
While Eaton and other soldiers were battling cholera in Detroit, Captain Abraham Lincoln was commanding a company of mounted volunteers from New Salem, Illinois, as they traveled north to push Black Hawk and his followers back westward across the Mississippi River. Though Lincoln did not see combat, he later jokingly referred to his bloody battles with mosquitoes, and even twenty-five years later, his fellow soldiers’ electing him as captain was his proudest accomplishment. After his company was mustered out of service in late May, Lincoln twice reenlisted as a private and continued to serve until mid-July 1832.
Amos B. Eaton to his father Amos Eaton, July 19, 1832, Detroit, Michigan Territory [transcribed in Amos Eaton to Amos B. Eaton, September 21, 1837 (see below)]:
“My dear Father,
“After we had been in this place a few days, the Cholera commenced its ravages among the soldiers of this command, and hurried into eternity about every third man. But the sick are now all so far convalescent, that Col. Cummings has written to Gen. Scott for orders. I was pretty severely attacked and my strength seemed entirely prostrated. I am now gaining a little strength.
“News this moment arrived from Chicago, since began this letter. We learn that 54 soldiers and one officer died of the cholera in one of the boats. Between 3 & 400 men fled from the army; and most of the troops belonging to this expedition are so far dispersed, that nothing efficient can probably be done by them at present. The dead bodies of the deserters are frequently found in the roads, swamps, &c.
“Thus we see that this part of the expedition is strewed like chaff by the blast of the pestilence. Is it an illustration of the displeasure of the Almighty at our treatment of that poor, starved race, of beings, whom our injustice drives to madness?”
Amos Eaton allowed a local editor to publish this excerpt from his son’s letter in the July 27, 1832, edition of the Troy Sentinel, in Troy, New York. The Albany Argus republished it, and from there it passed to the Daily National Intelligencer and the Globe, competing Whig and Democratic newspapers respectively, in Washington, D.C. The controversy that erupted nearly ended Eaton’s military career, and even six years later was hampering his opportunities for promotion.
Amos B. Eaton to Elizabeth Eaton, July 24, 1832, Detroit, Michigan Territory :
“Col Cummings with the well of his command has now gone. He left this morning at a little after 8 o’clk. I am left in charge of the sick, 14 in number with 3 attendants making 17 in all.
“As soon as the Col. was off I went to town to obtain hospital stores &c. The Dr I have employed is the same gentleman who attended me during my sickness. I have written instructions from Col C. to remain here until the sick recover, and if they are able to travel in 15 days and I receive no countermanding instructions to repair to Fort Niagara.”
“I shall neglect nothing in trying to have my men in marching trim as soon as possible. I feel that a very responsible lot has fallen to me, one where not much worldly glory is likely to follow correctness of duty, but one from which future glory may be gathered with as much certainty as from deeds rendered prominent by the slaughter of many of the poor heathen of our disturbed borders.”
“Perhaps you had best defer your visit to Rochester until I know whether I go east or west.”
“I slept here last night, but shall not again. I did not examine my bed very closely last evening but this morning I observed it and dirt bugs, fleas, &c I found to be too abundant for my use. The landlady is a good Methodist woman but wonderfully easy under a dirty house.”
On July 4, 1832, the steamer Henry Clay, carrying 370 troops to Chicago for the Black Hawk War, stopped in Detroit. When one soldier died of cholera, Detroit officials ordered the ship to nearby Belle Isle, where it remained for a few days before proceeding to Fort Gratiot on the southern tip of Lake Huron. During that 70-mile trip, so many soldiers contracted cholera that they were ordered to disembark and return to Detroit. During the return march, nearly 220 soldiers died of cholera. The remaining soldiers reached Detroit on July 8. Most soon departed on the steamer William Penn, but some were too ill to travel and remained behind under the command of Lieutenant Eaton.
Amos B. Eaton to Elizabeth Eaton, July 30, 1832, Detroit, Michigan Territory:
“If I go east or west, live or die, thrive in the worlds things or suffer; if you are sickly or healthy, if our family happily increases in number and happiness or dwindles in both, let us stand in our places before the Lord and ‘be careful for nothing.’”
“When I had my worst sickness, or just as I began to recover, I wrote to my father a very faithful letter. Let your prayers with mine go up that God may through it bring my poor errant father to a true sense of things.”
“Several days since Gen Scott called upon the Governor of the Territory for 400 mounted militia. Yesterday an express brought information that they were not required. Gen. Atkinson had penetrated the swamp where Black Hawk had been, but that from their traces it was judged that they had but just left. About 900 mounted men were started immediately on their trail, and the surmises are strong that we shall soon hear of the discomfiture of Black Hawk’s band.”
“Dear darling wife, I thank you for your sweet letters. I love your kind advice and accept of it most thankfully. Never fail to do your best endeavours to guide me aright. Dr. Stevenson, speaking to Judge Wilkins of your letters to me, part of one of which he had either seen or heard read, said ‘what a letter for a wife to writer to her husband. I would give anything if my wife could write me so.’”
[William A.] Gordon to Amos B. Eaton, August 10, 1832, Washington, D.C.:
“I cannot content to see a danger threatening an old companion and an esteemed friend, without warning him of it.. .. you have committed an indiscretion in writing a letter which has been published in some of the journals of the day, in which you have commented in no very measured terms on the policy of the Government tow’ds the [missing because signature on reverse cut out] you speak of the Cholera as sent [missing] against them like chaff, and terming it ‘an [illustration] of the displeasure of the Almighty at our treatment of that poor starved race of beings, whom our injustice drives to madness.’
“The administration papers of this place, commenting on the letter, which was republished in the intelligencer, remarks that ‘the libel contained in it, on the conduct of the General Govt towards the Indians deserves the reprobation of the country’; and after an article of a column in length on the subject, closes by saying, ‘we think the sentiments expressed above, are altogether unbecoming an American officer. He should cease to feel such sentiments, or cease to be an officer on the expeditions against the Indians’ &c.”
“The letter referred to was doubtless intended for the eye of the person alone to whom it was addressed, but he has been guilty of a most unfortunate indiscretion in publishing it, an indiscretion which will, I fear, unless you can do away the impression created here, cost you your commission .... ”
On August 6, 1832, the Daily National Intelligencer in Washington, DC published a segment of Eaton’s letter: “Thus we see, that this part of the expedition is strewed like chaff, by a blast of the pestilence. It is an illustration of the displeasure of the Almighty at our treatment of that poor starved race of beings, whom our injustice drives to madness” (p3/c3). On August 9, the Democratic Washington Globe included the report from the Daily National Intelligencer and commented, “we think the libel contained in the above paragraph, on the conduct of the General Government towards the Indians, deserved the reprobation of the country. Has not the treatment of the Indians, on the part of the national authorities, been uniformly kind and paternal?” (p2/c6). The editorial continues on the following page by broadening it into an attack on the Whig National Intelligencer, “What may we not expect from the predatory tribes that hover around our infant settlements, in Arkansas and Missouri, when they learn that the Organ of a great party in the United States, which seeks the control of our Government, openly rejoices at the defeat of measures taken to repel their invasions, and considers ‘the blast of the pestilence,’ which has ‘strewed’ the brave men ‘like chaff,’ who were sent to preserve the women and children of Illinois from savage massacre, as the interposition of the Almighty in aid of the tomahawk and scalping-knife?... Do they expect the Government of the Union to resign the State of Illinois to the Indians?” The editorial concluded, “However natural the sentiments, expressed in the above extract of the Intelligencer, may be to an editor British-born, yet we think they are altogether unbecoming an American officer. He should cease to feel such sentiments, or cease to be an officer ‘on the expedition against the Indians.’ Such a man would betray his comrades to the enemy” (p3/c1).
The author of this letter is not clear, but it may be William A. Gordon of Maryland, who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1827, one year after Eaton. In 1832, Gordon was a clerk in the quartermaster’s department.
Amos B. Eaton to Elizabeth Eaton, April 15, 1833, Ithaca, New York:
“As to the time when you start after the canal is opened, be guided by your own judgement of what is right ... ”
“I just rec’d a letter from Clitz, he says the Col. has rec’d an answer to his letter and that I am to be retained on the Rect’g Service, and that he (Clitz) has applied to be ordered to Utica on the R. Service.”
Captain John Clitz (1790-1836) volunteered at the beginning of the War of 1812 and distinguished himself to become adjutant of the 2nd U.S. Infantry. He died while in command of Fort Mackinac in Michigan Territory.
When Eaton wrote this letter, his wife was in Rochester, 90 miles from Ithaca. He urged her to wait until the Erie Canal had opened for the season (typically mid- to late-April) before making the journey. She would have taken the canal from Rochester to Montezuma before traveling south on Cayuga Lake to Ithaca.
Amos B. Eaton to Elizabeth Eaton, April 18, 1833, Ithaca, New York:
“I take it that it is pretty certain, humanly speaking, that I shall remain here for a considerable time, so that, when you come, you had best bring every thing that has a tendency to comfort or economy; for board, after all, will swallow up quite a little river of silver.... I have asked nothing about private boarding. We will try this house for a while, and in the mean time you can seek, as you get acquainted with the folks, for private boarding if you like it better.”
“I heard the bell ring last evening, and followed its tones to the session house, where I found a meeting of the youthful professors, praying for the impenitent, all of them like so many young icicles.”
“I have a flaming handbill out, a spread eagle with ‘e pluribus unum’ & covered with stars at the top, and indeed I am altogether a greater man in Ithaca than I was in Rochester, and as the wife & husband are one, you will share the honors .... ”
Amos B. Eaton to Elizabeth Eaton, May 14, 1833, Fort Niagara, New York:
“I am to relieve Capt Barnum in the com’d of ‘H’ Compy & perhaps as QrMaster, but this uncertain as yet, shall know in a few days. Matters are as yet in a confused state. I suspect that the fog will be dispersed in a few days, so that I shall be able to give you more particulars.”
Amos B. Eaton to Elizabeth Eaton, May 20, 1833, Lewiston, New York:
“I am Quarter Master &c, and am now on my way to Buffalo to procure transportation for Capt Barnum, who leaves the Fort with 90 Recruits for the Upper Lakes on the 22d.”
“There has been more foolery at Chicago Lieut Day when about to leave C. having been promoted, wrote a saucy letter to Old Mrs Penrose, whereupon he received a horse-whipping from Lieut Penrose; then both of the redoubtable knights pressed charges against each other. This may by possibility drive D. out of the Army.”
“I am happier in your present absence than ever before.”
All letters from this one through that of July 4, 1833, were addressed to Elizabeth Eaton in New Haven or Hartford, Connecticut, where she was spending time with family and friends.
Amos B. Eaton to Elizabeth Eaton, May 27, 1833, Fort Niagara, New York:
“I rec’d a letter from Libby written to you at Ithaca a few days since. As to Libbys returning with you, you know that I feel a delicacy about urging it. I shall therefore only say that I wish that to be done which you all think is right ... "
Elizabeth “Libby” Selden (1819-1910) was Elizabeth Eaton’s daughter by her first marriage to Joseph Spencer (1790-1823) and had apparently been living with her paternal grandparents in Connecticut.
Amos B. Eaton to Elizabeth Eaton, June 2, 1833, Fort Niagara, New York:
“I shall go to Rochester, I think about the last of this month, to purchase provisions for the Troops, and shall probably be there a few days....”
“There are two soldiers in the Hospital almost dead from consumption. There is considerable ague in the garrison.”
“One of the sick men I spoke of is dead and is to be buried soon.”
“I hope you will enjoy your visit. Don’t let any thing this side of the Hudson river disturb you, all is well. And when you have completely wound up your visit, just please to show yourself in these parts, and you will get a better reception than General Jackson would.”
Amos B. Eaton to Elizabeth Eaton, June 7, 1833, Fort Niagara, New York:
“We are now whitewashing, policing, gardening, drilling, writing, talking, riding, &c &c.”
“We have had a Dentist here, pulling, plugging, scraping, setting, sawing, and charging, so that old ones are young again; and a smile now, instead of making you shudder with pain at the awful sight, cheers up the downcast and wins a returning smile.”
“Genl Scott has refused to allow the difficulties between Lieuts Day & Penrose to proceed further.”
Amos B. Eaton to Elizabeth Eaton, June 18, 1833, Fort Niagara, New York:
“Maj Whistler is to be tried by a Court Martial at Mackinac. The Court is to convene on the 15th of July.”
“I expect Lieut Bloodgood in a very few days. He will take command of ‘H’ company & I shall not be sorry to give it up, as I cannot do it justice [when] I have so much staff duty to perform as I now have.”
“I now drop my pen, and leave the office up stairs where I am writing, for my bed, but retire with no sweet ‘my dear husband’ to gladden my heart, & as I throw myself down and blow out the candle, I involuntaryly draw a long sigh, & feel a chilly loneliness of celebacy, not rightly belonging to one so happy in matrimony as I am.”
Major William Whistler (1780-1863) of the 2nd U.S. Infantry was tried by a court-martial at Mackinac, Michigan Territory. He was apparently acquitted, as he was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 7th U.S. Infantry in 1834, to colonel of the 4th U.S. Infantry in July 1845, and retired from the army in October 1861, after one of the longest careers in the history of the U.S. Army.
Amos B. Eaton to Elizabeth Eaton, July 4, 1833, Fort Niagara, New York:
“I am quite fatigued from various duties of the day, and am in none of the best spirits, and do not expect to be until you return. I last evening wrote you a very fine letter, but owing to a passage of doubtful propriety, destroyed it.”
Amos B. Eaton to Elizabeth Eaton, February 18, 1834, Fort Niagara, New York:
“I must say one thing, which I dislike to say & which you may dislike to hear, but I shall not speak without thought, that is, I do much question some of the views & many of the feelings of a circle of our Rochester friends with whom we have associated. I have therefore to advise you not too implicitly to take it for granted that all they say & do is right.”
Amos B. Eaton to Elizabeth Eaton, February 24, 1834, Fort Niagara, New York:
“Write me by the return mail whether Mr & Mrs Kempshall come with you. if they do, I will not come for you, as to bring you is my only object in coming.”
“We are to go to Gratiot.”
Eaton was soon transferred to Fort Gratiot in Michigan Territory on the southern tip of Lake Huron, 175 miles west of Fort Niagara and 60 miles northeast of Detroit.
Amos B. Eaton to Elizabeth Eaton, February 28, 1834, Fort Niagara, New York:
“We have had a hint, faint, far-off, & uninteresting, that it is possible in the ‘permutations & combinations’ of mysterious army movements, we might alight after we take wing, at some point beyond Fort Gratiot, say the Sault de Ste. Marie! This is a little more probable than that we shall be ordered to fortify Mount St. Catherine in the moon. If we go the latter place, we’ll eat green cheese, if to the former, catch fish; making the best of either.”
“Sarah and I have banished coffee & buckwheat cakes for a little season, a perpetual banishment would be too cruel.”
Amos Eaton to Amos B. Eaton, September 21, 1837, Troy, New York:
“I sent copies of the following to Van Buren, to Wright and to Tallmadge.* I have not yet found the original, perhaps the Editor took it.” [“ * I am acquainted with Mr Wright and Mr Tallmadge is my particular friend.”]
“I have a son, Amos B. Eaton, a first Lieutenant now acting Commissary in the Florida army. He has acted in the subsistence department (if I understand the expression) for several years, while stationed at Fort Niagara, Fort Gratiot, and Fort Howard. He has hoped for a permanent situation in that department; as he has a wife and four children, now supported at Rochester, out of his pay, and depending upon his pay for their maintenance.
“It seems that some objections to his application for an appointment in the Subsistence department, on the ground of his having (six years since) written an article, censuring the conduct of our citizens in exciting the Blackhawk war.
“He has called on me by letter, dated at Tampa Bay, to explain this matter to the U.S. Senators from this state.
“About the year 1830 he became most ardently devoted to Religion. While at Fort Niagara he held meetings on the Sabbath, and gave ministerial discourses to the soldiers; and was successful, as I am informed, inspiring many of them with serious emotions. When the cholera raged in the Army, he was left with the sick (himself sick) at Detroit; while there being under deep impressions, he wrote me the offensive letter; without the thought, that it would ever be public. It was written as any affectionate son writes a Father to whom he has from his earliest years communicated his thoughts without reserve. As the concerns of the Army and of the cholera were subjects of great anxiety in Troy, where the cholera was very alarming; I permitted the first part of the letter to be printed in a newspaper. You will see by comparing dates that it was printed in Troy, in seven days after it was written in Detroit; of course my son could not have given his consent.
“It is manifest that no reflection on administration was intended. Our treatment of the Indians, in our capacity of private citizens, has been a subject of remark for a century. Even the Blackhawk war was ascribed by many of our best citizens, to the injustice of our white Borderers. Why should this instance be more exceptionable than numerous similar ones?
“That Mr Croswell, editor of the Albany Argus, should have republished this as a party politics article, seemed to me most extraordinary. I was his Father’s friend. I gave the name Catskill Recorder to his father’s paper, when Edwin was a remarkably talented boy and chief manager of it. I wrote for it gratuitously about three years. I was one of his father’s advisers to let his son and Mr Cantini take the paper as a Democratic paper (Edwin then being young and having no politics.) He knew that I abandoned politics when my party (Federalists) purchased Aaron Burr; and that none of my family took any part in politics, excepting my son Daniel Cady Eaton (for Robertson & Eaton, New York) and he a most active administration [man?] He knew that it was not with the consent or knowledge of my son that this extract was published, also that it came from a source whence opposition to government could not be expected. But if the publication was criminal, I am the criminal, not my son.”
[To Amos B. Eaton:] “I advise you not to leave the army, unless your health is in danger. All may come right.”
In this letter, Amos Eaton informed his son, stationed in Tampa-Bay, Florida, during the Second Seminole War, that he sent letters to President Martin Van Buren and to U.S. Senators from New York Silas Wright Jr. and Nathaniel P. Tallmadge regarding the letter published in 1832 that was hampering Amos B. Eaton’s prospects for promotion.
Amos Beebee Eaton (1806-1877) was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1826. He married Elizabeth Selden Spencer in 1831. He served as a lieutenant of the U.S. Army Commissariat from 1834 to 1836 and also in the Mexican War for which he was appointed a brevet major. At the beginning of the Civil War, he was appointed Assistant Commissary General with the rank of lieutenant colonel. For his work in provisioning the troops, he was promoted to brigadier general in the summer of 1864 and Commissary General of the Subsistence Bureau in Washington, D.C. In March 1865, he was brevetted to major general of U.S. volunteers. He remained in the regular army as Commissary General until his retirement in May 1874.
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