Tid-bits from author Ida Tarbell on Abraham Lincoln’s military service

Young Lincoln Statue at Lincoln Museum in Harrogate, Tennessee


Some tid-bits about Lincoln’s military service gleaned from The Early Life of Abraham Lincoln by Ida Tarbell:



*When Lincoln’s last enlistment of military service ended in the Black Hawk war, his company disbanded in Michigan Territory (now Wisconsin) and returned home. Unfortunately, Lincoln had his horse stolen the night before leaving for home. The trek back to Illinois from Whitewater, Wisconsin was not to be an easy one. He managed to obtain a ride with some of his companions for part of the journey, but he also walked much of the way. At one point, Lincoln used a canoe (which he also sold on the trip). He finished the route back to New Salem walking. Subject to inclement weather, lack of food and supplies, and adequate transportation, Lincoln survived it.


*Lincoln’s military unit arrived on a battle scene (the skirmish at Kellogg’s Grove) just after it was over. Lincoln and his fellow soldiers helped bury five men that had been killed. Lincoln, later in his life, had mentioned the incident. Apparently, Indians had surprised the camp- killing and scalping the men. Tarbell writes the following about Lincoln’s recollection:


“I remember just how those men looked,” said Lincoln, “as we rode up the little hill where their camp was. The red light of the morning sun was streaming upon them as they lay heads towards the ground. And every man had a round red spot on the top of his head, about as big as a dollar, where the redskins had taken the scalp. It was frightful, but it was grotesque; and the red sunlight seemed to paint everything all over.”

*Lincoln was mustered in as an “Independent Ranger” by Major Anderson. Officer Anderson was also to become a part of the “Lincoln story” thirty years later- as he was none other than Robert Anderson-the future commander of Fort Sumter in 1861.



* “Under the laws of the State every able-bodied male inhabitant between eighteen and forty-five was obliged to drill twice a year or pay a fine of one dollar. “As a dollar was hard to raise,” says one of the old settlers, “everybody drilled.”


*Lincoln and his fellow militiamen brought to service what they could. “Buckskin breeches prevailed, and there was a sprinkling of coonskin caps. Each man had a blanket of the coarsest texture. Flintlock rifles were the usual arms, though here and there a man had a Cramer. Over the shoulder of each was slung a powder-horn.”


*Lincoln was elected captain of his company, even though he “was not familiar with military tactics” and was in “ignorance of the manual” governing troops. He also had no knowledge of camp discipline. Yet, “none of these small difficulties injured his standing with the company.’



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