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By James Lewis, Ph.D.

The Black Hawk War might be conveniently divided into four phases.

The first phase lasted from April 5 to May 14, 1832. During these weeks, Black Hawk's band crossed the Mississippi and headed toward the Winnebago prophet's village on the Rock. In response, federal and state forces mobilized against them. Realizing the hopelessness of their situation, Black Hawk's band decided to recross the river. As they tried to arrange an orderly retreat, however, they got into a fight with a militia unit, which seemed to make a peaceful return down the Rock impossible.

The second phase began with this missed opportunity for a peaceful resolution to the crisis on May 14 and ended on the eve of the first major battle of the war on July 21. In this phase, there were a number of raids and confrontations. Some were attacks by Black Hawk's band against white settlements; others were launched by the army or militia against native war parties. While there were no pitched battles between the main forces on each side, the pursuers gained ground.

On July 21, the pursuit caught up with Black Hawk's band at the Battle of Wisconsin Heights. This third phase, which ended with Black Hawk's surrender on August 8, witnessed a desperate race by Black Hawk's band toward the Mississippi and its ultimate destruction on the river's banks by the U.S. Army and the Illinois militia.

The final phase of the Black Hawk War was its aftermath. It is important to trace the effects of the war on some of its white participants, on the Sauks and Foxes as a whole, on Black Hawk's band, and on Black Hawk himself.