The Battle of Wisconsin Heights took place during the drizzly and unseasonably chilly late afternoon of July 21, 1832. The action culminated a three-day chase of Black Hawk and his band of followers by a force of militia volunteers led by General James D. Henry and Colonel Henry Dodge.
The chase carried pursuer and pursued from the Rock River Rapids near present-day Hustisford, Wisconsin; on to north of Rock Lake near present-day Lake Mills, Wisconsin; west across the Four-Lakes isthmus and near the present-day capitol gounds at Madison, Wisconsin; further west past Pheasant Branch near today's Middleton, and on to a location near present-day Indian Lake; then still further west to a series of high bluffs overlooking the Wisconsin River, south of present-day Sauk City, Wisconsin.
Dodge's squadron and Major Ewing's Spy Battalion (two companies) captured a rise of ground later known as "Militia Ridge." This position anchored the militia position as Gen. John D. Henry arrived on the field with the leading elements of three mounted regiments of Illinois militia. Henry formed his Illinois volunteers into a right-angled line and exchanged musketry with Black Hawk's warriors for about a half hour. Finally, a bayonet charge led by Dodge scattered remaining native resistance and the battle ended. It was perhaps the only stand-up combat fought during the "Black Hawk War" between American soldiers and the allied bands of Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo and Winnebago collectively lead by Black Hawk.
The action gave Black Hawk enough time to successfully ferry his women, children, elderly, and remaining warriors of his band across the Wisconsin River by nightfall.
The Wisconsin Heights battle site may be accessed off State Highway 78, just south of Sauk City. A small automobile pull-off and a Wisconsin Historical Society interpretive marker is located on the eastern side of the highway. Modern visitors will need park their automobiles and hike into the park site to view the battlefield, which the DNR and groups of volunteers have generally restored to the scrub oak savannah seen in 1832. No water or sanitary facitilities are available in the park.
Image No. 1: Overview
The expanse of the battlefield is best viewed from a spot known as "Sharpshooter Lookout"-- a spur of Black Hawk's Mound from which Sauk or Fox sharpshooters undoubtedly fired upon the militia companies forming on distant "Militia Ridge." The narrow valley between Sharpshooter Lookout and Militia Ridge has become known as "Spy's Ravine."
Image No. 2: The Approach of Captain Dickson's Spy Company
Captain Dickson's Spy Company, detached from Dodge's "Michigan Mounted Volunteers," rode with the Winnebago guides in the vanguard of the mounted militia columns. Looking roughly East, this view shows the vantage of a Sauk or Fox scout. Dickson's Spy Company rode approximately through the deep break in the distant ridges on the horizon; easterly toward the modern farm in the center of the picture, and onward towards the eastern opening of "Spy's Ravine." At this point, Dickson's men spotted Black Hawk's scouts. The Spy Company wheeled their horses, and rode back to the head of the main column with the warning.
Image No. 3: The Advance on Militia Ridge
Col. Dodge's mounted squadron rapidly advanced to the vicinity. Having dismounted and left their horses in a shallow depression, Dodge, along with Maj. Ewing's two companies, advanced on foot to the crest of Militia Ridge. A single volley of musketry repelled the Sauk and Fox defenders, and the militiamen secured the ridge. This view shows the militia's vantage, looking approximately south across Spy's Ravine to Sharpshooter Lookout. Black Hawk's Mound is located to the left and behind Sharpshooter Lookout, in the background.
(Note: Some persons have erroneously interpreted "Spy's Ravine" as an ambush site intended by Black Hawk. While the terrain alone might certainly inspire such speculation, no available evidence supports the assertion that Black Hawk intended to ambush the militia on July 21, 1832.)
Image No. 4: The Indians and Militia Exchange Fire.
Shortly after Col. Dodge captured Militia Ridge, Gen. Henry's battalions of mounted Illinois volunteers arrived. Henry committed only a portion of his command to the fight, leave one full battalion in reserve. Meanwhile, Black Hawk directed the actions of his warriors from atop the eminance known today as "Black Hawk's Mound." Musketry and rifle fire crackled across Spy's Ravine, as militiamen and warriors exchanged gunfire. Elsewhere, small groups of warriors, probably Kickapoo, tried several times to probe the right flank of the militia position. After about a half-hour of action, Dodge approached Henry to request a charge against warriors firing on the militia from the shelter of the near edge of Spy's Ravine, and those firing on the right-front of the militia position. This view shows the impregnable nature of Sharpshooter's Lookout, as seen from the below, in Spy's Ravine.
Image No. 5: The Charge.
Gen. Henry granted Col. Dodge's request to lead a bayonet charge against the warrior positions to his front and right. Likewise, Col. Gabriel Jone's 3rd Regiment charged down the southwestern slope of Militia Ridge toward native sharpshooter positions. This charge forced the remaining native soldiers to disengage and retreat west towards the Wisconsin River-- under cover of the tall, wet grass, undulating terrain, and growing twilight. This image shows the field as seen by Dodge's left wing (three companies) as they charged down the slope of Militia Ridge. The small lane seen in the picture is one of the park's modern walking trails.
In order to view the D.A.R. monument, visitors will need to take a side trail from the parking area that roughly parallels State Route 78, to a point in the woods near where Highway 78 crosses a small gully and stream.
Take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints!
Battle of Wisconsin Heights, Black Hawk's Account
Battle of Wisconsin Heights, Col. Henry Dodge's Account