15. Lincoln-Black Hawk War Muster Roll (1832)

Background: In April of 1832, a military crisis erupted when Sauk Chief Black Hawk led approximately 2,000 Native Americans from Iowa back into their old tribal homeland in Illinois. Governor John Reynolds called for volunteers to supplement the U.S. Army in driving Black Hawk and his tribe out of Illinois. The Village of New Salem and its surrounding area put together a unit of volunteers. Abraham Lincoln had moved to New Salem in 1831 and even at the young age of 22 had a magnetic personality that attracted the admiration and respect of many who came in contact with him. When the war broke out, Lincoln volunteered for service and the men of New Salem elected him captain of the regiment.

The Document: The first page of the "Muster Roll of Captain A. Lincoln's Company of the 4th Regiment of Mounted Volunteers" appears in the Illinois Adjutant General's records. The roll, a transcription of a federal muster roll, lists many of Lincoln's neighbors, including John Armstrong as First Sergeant. As the story goes, when Lincoln was new to New Salem he either won or tied a wrestling match with Armstrong, a tough ruffian from nearby Clary's Grove. In doing so, Lincoln gained the respect of Armstrong and his men, who were among the group of volunteers who voted for Lincoln to serve as Captain. Lincoln later said that his election as captain was a success which gave him more pleasure than any he had had since. Lincoln served for 30 days and then re-enlisted twice, both times as a private. He did not see any combat and in later years would belittle his military service.

Note: Many of the Illinois copies of the Black Hawk War muster rolls did not survive so in the early 1880s a historian traveled to Washington, D.C. to transcribe the missing rolls. This is a transcription of Captain Lincoln's Company federal muster roll written on a template used for the Civil War. This muster roll is available at the Illinois State Archives as part of Military and Naval Department Record Series 301.007, "Black Hawk War Records."