Contemporary engraving of “Regulars” at Bad Axe.
(Image source: Crawford Thayer, Battle of the Bad Ax....)
The United States Army in 1832 was a skeletal force spread across the continent. A victim of national policies and political red tape since the end of the War of 1812, the infantry regiments were spread across the frontier in lonely forts amongst the various Indian tribes. The artillery regiments were assigned to protecting our coastline. In addition to the units, there was a School of Artillery Instruction, as School of Infantry Instruction and the United States Military Academy at West Point. When Black Hawk’s band crossed the Mississippi River in April 1832 the army scrambled to assemble and march to war. In the immediate vicinity of the conflict were the companies of soldiers assigned to Fort Armstrong (Rock Island), Fort Crawford (Prairie Du Chien), and Fort Winnebago (Portage). The nearest men beyond that were at Fort Snelling and at Fort Howard. A large force was also stationed at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. Jefferson Barracks housed the School of Infantry Instruction. As the armies came together, men from two very different commands would take the field. The first command, under General Henry Atkinson, would be the only one to take part in actual combat, and was comprised of troops from all the government forts in the region: Jefferson Barracks, Cantonment Leavenworth and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The second, under General Winfield Scott, would be decimated by Asiatic Cholera and be hobbled for almost the entire campaign. It was made up of men from forts across Michigan and New York, plus the entire graduating class of cadets from West Point, and all the men from the School of Artillery Instruction at Fortress Monroe, Virginia.
This article discusses the various uniforms and equipment and armaments that were undoubtedly present during the campaign, based on what little documentation exists today. I would like to recognize Mr. Steve Abolt of the 7th United States Infantry Living History Association for his help on this article. Steve has researched the Jacksonian Era American soldier for many years and generously provided me with many of the small uniform details I would have not otherwise had.
E.T. Coke, a British officer visiting the United States in 1832 remarked:
…their undress uniform, a shabby-looking French gray, gave them anything but a military appearance; their full-dress of dark blue is much neater, nor could I ever understand why it was not universally worn.While Lieutenant Coke may have actually been describing U.S. Marines, the campaign uniforms of the U.S. Army at the time were little different. Until the late 1830’s soldiers and marines were undoubtedly hard to distinguish by foreign onlookers.
Atkinson’s Army of Operations.
“It is sufficient to say, that, every Officer, Non-Commissioned and private soldier under my command discharged their duties to my entire satisfaction. The only difficulty was, to restrain their ardour to close with the Enemy, on this and every other occasion.”
-Colonel Zachary Taylor, August 5th, 1832.
The first army to take the field was the hastily assembled force commanded by Brigadier General Henry Atkinson, known to Indians as the "White Beaver." Apprehending trouble from Black Hawk’s band, Atkinson began assembling forces on April 5th, 1832. His first order to his army of operations noted the following:
Commanders of companies will see that each soldier is provided with one Chackos one Great Coat, one Blanket two Shirts one Grey Jacket two prs. Pantaloons one pr. Boots, and one pair Shoes. Each company will be furnished with four axes, & four spades. All other company clothing will be placed in Store except the summer clothing which will be packed up marked and given in charge of the Qr. Master of the Post ready for transportation should it be required.Following this order, men from the 6th US Infantry, 1st US Infantry and 5th US Infantry began their transit to Fort Armstrong. On April 13th Illinois Governor John Reynolds called out the state militia and all forces began to come together. The men assembled at Rock Island and on May 9th, 1832, movement towards combat began. From Atkinson’s headquarters an order was issued directing the men to attack the village of the Winnebago "Prophet." A series of events would occur, including the complete rout of Major Isaiah Stillman’s militia battalion at Old Man Creek, an attack on the blockhouse at Plum River and the murder of an express bearer named William Durley. Following these events. the campaign effectively ground to a halt. The army and the various militia contingents encamped and fortified John Dixon’s ferry on Rock River. While on Rock River, Atkinson wrote to quartermaster Joshua Brant at Jefferson Barracks to furnish, among several other things, “500 haversacks” and “600 pairs of shoes for soldiers.” The haversacks were likely issued to the men that did not come up from Jefferson Barracks. Army practice at the time was to place campaign equipment in storage, as it was not needed at fixed posts. As for the shoes, it is quite possible that some of the soldier’s shoes had worn out or were wearing out.
Atkinson’s men were supplied lightly with the 1821 regulation uniform for winter service. That uniform consisted of a pair of trousers and a roundabout (coat with no tails) jacket made of cadet gray kersey wool. The jacket collar and epaulets were framed in white piping and the entire coat was fitted with white metal infantry buttons. The greatcoat was made of charcoal gray wool and closed with brass buttons. The “chackos” was the fatigue or forage cap authorized by regulations in 1825. It was a wheel cap of dark blue wool. The crown was framed in white and the top of the crown was decorated with 20 “spokes” of black worsted cord radiating out from the center. A white metal button covered the center of the cords. The cap was finished with a wide brim of black leather called a “poke”. Each man was issued one forage cap for each 5-year enlistment. As such, only one remaining chackos exists today. The men were undoubtedly wearing their flannel or cotton shirts, a black leather neck stock, woolen socks and a pair of 1822 regulation boots, black leather lace-up boots that rose to four inches above the ankle. The US Army ceased issuing the gray uniforms in 1830, however many units continued to use them into the late 1830’s.
For equipment, the men would have had a metal-banded wooden canteen painted Prussian blue and decorated with white letters “U.S.” and the regimental number and company letter. These canteens were carried on a sling of red-brown or “russet” leather. A white cotton haversack with three buttons was used to carry rations, and a black painted cloth knapsack was used to carry the blanket and greatcoat. This pack was quite likely the pattern of 1825 knapsack that would see service until the end of the Mexican War. Each knapsack was marked with the regimental number. A set of Pattern of 1828 leather cross-belts, an 1808 cartridge box and a pick/brush set completed the ensemble. Debate exists today among historians as to which belt plate was worn at the time. The round 1826 white metal plate was issued to all men by 1832, however the poor quality of the plates and other factors combined to continue the use of the oval 1819 brass “U.S.” belt plate. Undoubtedly the men used a mix of both plates. The men were armed with the 1816 United States musket, either from the Springfield or Harper’s Ferry arsenal. These smoothbore, .69 caliber flintlock muskets fitted an 18” steel socket bayonet and a leather sling. Whether or not musket slings were brown or white is another debate among historians. The current belief is that they were “russet” or red-brown. Many of these equipment items are never discussed in writing during the conflict, however their presence in regulations almost guarantees their presence in the field.
Atkinson’s men would wear this meager uniform throughout the conflict without any supply of new garments. The men would continue to serve through the conflict, with the conditions of their clothing and equipment deteriorating. Following the Battle of Bad Axe on August 2nd, 1832, General Atkinson penned a victory order and the troops began to assemble for direction back to their old posts. The wear of their uniforms was first made apparent on August 5th, when General Atkinson wrote to General Scott to inform him of the victory, and included the following statement explaining why the battle was not finished on August 1st:
The horses of the volunteer Troops being exhausted by long marches and the regular Troops without shoes [emphasis added], it was not thought advisable to continue the pursuit.On August 13th, Lieutenant Alexander Johnston wrote General Atkinson from Fort Crawford at Prairie Du Chien, lamenting the following:
Sir, I take the liberty of telling the General that the detachment of the 5th Inf. here is badly off for clothing; more than half the men not having a change of any kind, so that they are unable to wash the garments they have worn for weeks [emphasis added]: and there is nothing here to be had…On August 28th, Captain Zalmon Palmer of the 6th Infantry wrote to General Scott from his post at Dixon’s Ferry on Rock River expressing a similar concern:
I take the liberty of making these suggestions that arrangements be made for removing my command before they become entirely barefooted and naked in cold weather.A week later on September 5th another letter arrived for General Scott, this time from Fort Cosconong. Captain Gideon Low, 5th Infantry, stated the following:
My men’s situation in regards clothing gets worse- some are nearly naked [emphasis added].Further along in the letter he remarked:
I hope the gen’l. will not forget the men under my command, of the 1st & 6th Regts. They are also in a bad way as respects their clothing [emphasis added]- also the men of the fifth Regt. under my command who I left at Dickson’s Ferry, Rock River by order.Despite the treasured images of American soldiers in their perfect uniforms held by some modern people, these accounts and descriptions certainly darken the picture of Regular Army soldiers during the Black Hawk War. With the exception of the American Revolution or the Civil War, one does not normally consider the image of US soldiers fighting barefoot. Undoubtedly the nettles pricking the feet of Taylor’s men as they descended into Battle Hollow did nothing to calm their fury during the Battle of Bad Axe. On September 16th General Atkinson finally addressed the clothing problem in a letter to Joshua Brant:
Dr Sir, I spoke to you yesterday with respect [to] the destitute situation of the companies of the 6th Regmt at Rock Island, of Woolen clothing. If you have in store Flannell Shirts, Gray pantaloons, and Gray Jackets, I have to request that you will forward about two hundred & Ten of each to Maj Riley. If there are not so many of hand send what you have…”
Scott’s Army of Operations.
The General commanding, owes and apology to the brave men whom it will be his pride to conduct to battle, when he positively prohibits, under the highest penalties of law, as he does, all mutilating and scalping of prisoners, or the bodies of the enemy who may be killed in action. But, as a few inconsiderate or worthless individuals might, if not warned and checked, bring odium on the whole army, those barbarian practices are denounced in advance.As the Sauk War dragged from April to May, then to June, Secretary of War Lewis Cass and President Andrew Jackson grew impatient. Soon, orders arrived at General Winfield Scott’s headquarters in Buffalo, New York. He was to raise another army, relieve General Atkinson and pursue a rapid end to the conflict. On June 27th he issued a preparatory order, organizing his army and ordering it to draw equipment and ordnance, and assemble at Chicago as soon as practical. Specifically addressing the companies to be taken from Fort Brady and Fort Gratiot, Michigan, he wrote:
-General Winfield Scott, July 3rd, 1832.
The two companies will take with them tents, camp Equipage, summer clothing, any woolen pantaloons which may be left over from last winter’s use, knapsacks, havre-sacks, canteens & whatever else may be necessary for efficiency in the field.On July 19th, Scott would further remark:
I forgot to mention canteens, or water flasks as essential to the marching over long prairies, without water.The uniform General Scott described above is the summer service uniform. It consisted of a roundabout and trousers of white cotton. The coat closed with nine white metal or brass buttons. All US Army trousers at the time were fitted with white metal (pewter) buttons. The white uniform was finished with the same cap, stock, boots and equipment/weapons as the winter service uniform. The difference between Scott’s men and Atkinson’s men is chiefly the presence of artillery troops. The cap and coat framing of artillery troops was yellow, not white. Documentation or extant specimens do not support or deny whether or not canteens were similarly marked. Artillery leather accouterments were fitted with a round belt plate of brass in lieu of a white metal plate. The round plate was marked with a raised design of an eagle. An eyewitness from Detroit named John Norvell confirms the use of knapsacks. On July 12th he wrote the following passage about the troops passing through affected with Asiatic Cholera:
Their straggling survivors are occasionally seen marching, some of them know not whither, with their knapsacks on their backs, shunned by the terrified inhabitants, as the bearers of a mortal pestilence.On July 13th, Lieutenant William Maynadier of Company G, 1st U.S. Artillery filed the following report:
Twelve Blankets and eleven Great Coats belonging to the men of Compy. (G) 1st. Arty were thrown overboard on the Lake or buried since arriving at Ft. Dearborn. Besides these, many other articles of Clothing were thrown overboard, such as Pantaloons jackets Socks &c &c and the Clothes belonging to some men, who are well, were thrown away in the hurry & confusion by mistake. One man Neighbours who is well had his whole Kit, thrown over by mistake.Once the fighting was over, Scott made an estimate of stores waiting at Chicago to be transported to Fort Armstrong on Rock Island. Among them were “300 blankets”, “50 artillery coats and 150 infantry coats with wings”, “150 gray jackets- wool”, “150 gray overalls- wool”, “500 flannel shirts”, “500 pairs shoes”, “500 pairs stocking”, “100 great coats”, “200 prs bootees”, numerous tools, wagons, tents, etc., and “300 Knap sacks”, and “500 Havre sacks”.
On September 16th, General Scott would draft Order #23, as follows, to refit his men with clothing:
A partial supply of clothing having arrived from Chicago, the Commanding general is desirous that it may be distributed tot he several Corps according to their respective pressing necessities. For that object commanding officers will immediately send estimates to Head Qrs.On October 1st, following the capture of Black Hawk and the "Prophet," General Scott drafted "Order #29," directing each unit within his command to return to their former stations. This order effectively ended US Army involvement in the Sauk War.
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Military Collector and Historian, Volume 3, Issue 1.
Military Collector and Historian, Volume 54, Issue 4.