Much of the action in the War of 1812 on U.S. soil was contested in Maryland and New York. But the Quad-Cities region was home to two key battles in the western theater of the war.|
The bicentennials of both engagements will be marked this summer. The battle on Campbell's Island, today a residential island in the Mississippi River near East Moline, was fought on July 19, 1814, while battle on Credit Island, now a recreational site near Davenport, was contested on Sept. 4-5 of that year. The clashes were two of the westernmost engagements in the war.
At Campbell's Island, a band of Sauk warriors under Black Hawk successfully attacked a force of 108 Americans under Lt. John Campbell, who had been sent upriver from St. Louis with five boats to re-supply Prairie du Chien, a key post in southwest Wisconsin. Casualty estimates vary, but the Americans' tally was about 12 killed and 22 wounded, including women and children, a rarity at 1812 battlefields. Among the wounded was Lt. Campbell, whom the island is named for.
Some historians consider the engagement to be the most significant battle of the war to solely feature American Indian fighters on one side. George Eaton, historian for the Army Sustainment Command at the Rock Island Arsenal, points out two key results from the Campbell's Island battle.
"First, the British had sent a message to the Sauk, who were wavering," Mr. Eaton said. "They offered assistance in return for the Sauk fighting against the Americans. That exploded Native American resistance in a real-live fight. Second, Campbell's Island became the catalyst for what I call the 'revenge expedition' of Zachary Taylor that led to Credit Island."
In that offensive, Capt. Taylor, who later would be elected U.S. president, sailed upriver from St. Louis with 334 men in eight keelboats to demonstrate against Saukenuk, the large Sauk village that was located in present-day Rock Island. He was defeated by some 1,200 Indian warriors, mainly Sauk that were joined by Sioux, Fox, and Winnebago allies. The British supplied three artillery pieces and 30 men to the fight.
Credit Island was the only defeat that Capt. Taylor suffered in his legendary military career, during which he eventually rose to the rank of major general. Black Hawk later wrote extensively on his experiences in the battle.
"What that battle did, essentially, was give control of the entire upper Mississippi Valley to Native Americans under British command," Mr. Eaton said. "It was late in the war, to be sure, but that control was never challenged again."
Col. Taylor returned to the region two decades later to take on the Sauk in the Black Hawk War, again facing his old nemesis. "I've often wondered what Taylor thought of that," Mr. Eaton said. "Maybe he saw Credit Island as this little battle that didn't matter. But I have to wonder if he relished the chance to take on Black Hawk again."
In 2013, the city of Davenport commissioned an archaeological survey of the battle site at Credit Island, which proved inconclusive. The city is also planning a commemoration for Aug. 30 at the island, where a new battle marker is expected to be dedicated.
Simple stone markers that currently sit on Credit Island offer limited interpretation of the island's history, including the battle. In 1908, an imposing granite monument was dedicated on Campbell's Island, now a state historic site. Many historians, including Mr. Eaton, see flaws in the memorials at both locations.
"The markers at Credit Island are on the wrong side of the island," he said. "The new marker will be on the correct side. And I like to say that the monument at Campbell's Island is overly romantic, reflective of the era in which it was erected. For instance, there are cannons engraved on it, which weren't even used there."
Many writers have called the War of 1812 a "forgotten war." That moniker could also apply to the battles in the Quad-Cities, despite their historical relevance to the war in the west. Some residents scarcely realize that War of 1812 battles even took place in the metro area.
"A lot of people don't realize the importance of these battles," said Mr. Eaton. "That's why I've tried to build awareness. I've presented speaking programs, and tried to make people in the Quad-Cities understand and appreciate these sites. They really are important in the history of the war, and the area itself."
Tom Emery is a freelance writer and researcher who lives in Carlinville, Ill. He may be reached at 217-710-8392 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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