A. Lincoln, Soldier
At Lincoln’s Tomb, as you leave the entrance way and walk the hallway to the antechamber where the sarcophagus is, you are shown a number of statutes that represent certain periods of Lincoln’s life. The one above is of Lincoln the soldier. While his actual time spent in that role was short, it shaped him in a number of ways.
In early 1832 Black Hawk and a band, his followers crossed the Mississippi River in an attempt to reclaim their lands from the white settlers. This attack caused Illinois to call out there militia, among them a young man named Abraham Lincoln who would serve over the next couple of months.
Lincoln served in a number of roles during the war as he came in out of the service. At one point he was elected captain of his company, his first brush with an electoral process. Most accounts show he was a well thought of and capable leader. While he never actually saw combat during the war, he was on hand for the aftermath of several battles, tasked with helping to bury the dead each time.
Later in life, Lincoln would reflect on his time in the service. It would be one of the many starting points for his famous stories. During this period he made a number of contacts that would serve him in his career. The images of the aftermath of the war would never stray far from his mind. Of the many roles, Lincoln undertook in his life this was one of the smallest. Certainly not a legendary one. Still, that brief time did help make the 23-year-old into the man he would later become.
In the Spring of 1832 the native leader Black Hawk led about 1,000 members of his tribe across the Mississippi River and into Illinois. A series of bad treaties and broken promises drove him on a quest to retake his tribes ancestral lands. There was only one thing standing in his way… Abraham Lincoln. OK, that may be a little too dramatic.
Once Black Hawk crossed the river Lincoln and other men in the area formed a militia company to stem the threat. Once enough men had gathered at the Beardstown Muster they set out to elect a Captain. The choice came down to Lincoln and William Kirkpatrick, Lincoln won over three-fourths of the vote and commissioned as captain in the 31st Regiment of Militia of Sangamon County.
Through out April and May Captain Lincoln led his troops on some very scenic marches through the back woods and trails. They would march. Camp. Draw provisions. March. Camp. Etc. The one thing they didn’t do during that time was fight. They did however find themselves drawn into the aftermath of battle at Stillman’s Runs where his men helped to bury the scalped and mutilated corpses. Though this was the closest he ever came to actual combat, the experience stayed with him through out his life.
On May 27th, having done more marching, eating and camping, his unit was mustered out of the service and hung up his captain’s commission. The next day May 28, he enlisted as a private in a another company. His unit spent several weeks marching, camping and eating and on June 16 the unit was mustered out of the service and Lincoln was once again a civilian.
Until the next day when he enlisted in yet another company, found himself again in the aftermath of a battle on cleanup duty, and on July 10th mustered out for the last time. Later on Lincoln would explain this period of his life to his law partner, “I was out of work and there being no danger of more fighting, I could do nothing better than enlist again.”
In just about three months of active military service Lincoln fought in no battles, served in three units, was a private and a captain and helped bury the dead in the wake of two fights. Not a very auspicious time of service, but for sure it had an effect later on when he found himself Commander In Chief of the entire US military!