June 24, 1832 – This Day During The American Indian Wars – Battle of Apple River Fort

June 24, 1832 – The Battle of Apple River Fort, occurred on the late afternoon of June 24, 1832 at the Apple River Fort, near present-day Elizabeth, Illinois, when Black Hawk and 200 of his “British Band” of Sauk and Fox were surprised by a group of four messengers en route from Galena, Illinois. One of the couriers was wounded in the thigh as the riders quickly made for the protection of the nearby stockade. Courier Fred Dixon rode ahead to warn some 70 settlers of the approaching Sauk and Fox, thus saving their lives.The small company of militia at the fort, about 28-30 men and boys led by Captain Clack Stone, fought off Black Hawk’s 150-man war party in an action that lasted about an hour. The withering pace of the gunfire eventually convinced Black Hawk that the fort was too heavily defended to lead a direct attack. He considered burning the fort, then switched to raiding cabins of foodstuffs, clothing and cooking utensils. In the gathering darkness, Black Hawk and his war party retreated.
On June 24, 1832, a supply wagon loaded with meat and lead bars from Galena arrived at Apple River Fort around noon. Around this time, Black Hawk and his 200-man war party also en route to the fort, had gathered at a gap in Terrapin Ridge. Black Hawk’s forces were able to elude detection until the time they opened fire. At around 4 p.m. four couriers from Galena bound for the army camp at Dixon’s Ferry arrived at the fort. The fort’s occupants were eager to hear their news from Galena and of the conflict with Black Hawk.
There were 28-30 armed militia inside Apple River Fort at the time of the attack. Another 40 women, children and other settlers were resident in the Apple River Settlement. Captain Clack Stone and his officers commanded the fort’s defenders. Most of the defenders were members of Stone’s militia company augmented by a few civilians. A few of the militia company were away from the stockade and were not present for the battle.
The four riders from Galena; George Harkleroad, Fred Dixon, Edmund Welch, and J. Kirkpatrick were under orders as a military messengers known as an “express”. They were traveling from Galena to Dixon. The men stopped at the fort, consumed a quick dinner, and then continued on their way. The group was about 600 yards (550 m) east of the fort when the only man with a loaded gun, Welch, was ambushed by Black Hawk’s advance-guard of about 30 warriors. He was shot in the hip and fell from his horse. His companions aimed their unloaded weapons at the band, putting themselves between the wounded man and his attackers. The group recovered Welch and moved away from their assailants toward the fort. Fred Dixon, covered the retreat of his fellow express men as they raced for the fort. Three of the expressmen gained the safety of the fort, while Dixon fled on horseback towards the Apple River and ended up at the farm of John McDonald, only to find it overrun by Native Americans as well. Dixon then abandoned his horse, waded the river, and managed to gain the road to Galena, where he reported the Apple River Fort to be under attack.
The settlers took shelter inside the fort while the men and boys took up their positions at the portholes inside the fort. A vicious firefight erupted, involving around 150 of Black Hawk’s British Band. The battle raged for about an hour with heavy gunfire from both sides. At the battle’s onset many of the settlement’s women had been huddled in and around the cabins, but several married woman, including Elizabeth Armstrong, rallied the women and older children to provide support to the soldiers. She assigned the unmarried young women, boys, and girls as young as eight years old to such tasks as cutting and rolling gunpowder cartridges and molding rifleballs. The married women reloaded the weapons while the soldiers tried to maintain an increased rate of fire.
The ferocity of the fight convinced Black Hawk that Apple River Fort was impossible to defeat. He considered burning the fort, but feared the rising smoke would alert other militia in the area. His war-party slackened their fire as their fellow braves raided cabins near the fort. Taken were meat, flour, clothing, cooking utensils. Left behind was a paucity of real vandalism. Braves then raided the livestock: horses were run off and pigs and cattle were shot down and the choicest cut of meat taken. In the gathering darkness, Black Hawk quietly withdrew his war party and retreated back to the gap in Terrapin Ridge and gained the Galena Road. Casualties were few, given the intensity of the battle. Courier George Harkleroad was shot in the neck early in the battle and died; it has been documented that he was killed while peering over the stockade wall’s pickets. Besides Welch, the only other garrison casualty was Josiah Nutting, who suffered a non-lethal wound to the side of his head. The number of Sauk casualties is unknown.

The wounding of Edmund Welch in the beginning of the attack

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