MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a President actually fought in Iowa

When most people think of Iowa, they think about cornfields, hog farms, Field of Dreams, and politics. Generally overlooked is the Battle of Credit Island, an island in the Mississippi River, which would host one of the westernmost skirmishes of the war of 1812.


The Louisiana Purchase

(iowaculture.gov)

After the United States made the Louisiana Purchase in 1804, the country faced the challenge of establishing control of the Mississippi River. At the time, St. Louis was the northernmost city on the river, and all the territory north of there, the upper Mississippi, was generally controlled by natives. The United States attempted to gain more control in 1808 by establishing Fort Madison (in present-day Fort Madison, IA).

This fort would be abandoned in 1813, however, as it was regularly attacked by Sauk tribes. This led to the U.S. establishing Fort Shelby (located in present-day Prairie du Chien, Wisc). Fort Shelby, however, was captured in 1814 by the British, just months after its establishment, during the Siege of Prairie du Chien.

Zachary Taylor 12th President of the United States.

(iowaculture.gov)

American troops would attempt to retake Fort Shelby, mounting an attack with armored keelboats. However, one would become grounded near East Moline Ill., where it was burned by Sauk Indians, forcing another retreat. One more effort would be made to reclaim the fort using armored keelboats, and this time, Major Zachary Taylor would lead the excursion.

Taylor led eight armored vessels up the Mississippi, but due to inclement weather stopped for the night in the vicinity of Pelican Island (a small island just to the north of Credit Island, near modern-day Davenport, Iowa.) Overnight, Sauk warriors waded to Pelican Island, and at daybreak attacked Taylor's sentries, killing one. The Americans mounted their defense, repelling the natives, only to come under attack from accurate cannon fire, from a nearby British canon. The British and the native warriors would fire on Taylor's flotilla for the next 45 minutes, with good effect, until Taylor ordered a retreat downriver.

30 to 40 British troops and approximately 800 Native Americans would repel Taylor's 334 soldiers, and end their ambitions to recapture Fort Shelby. The Americans would not gain control of the upper Mississippi region until after the war in 1815.

The war would come to an end the following winter of 1815 with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, which would normalize relations between Britain and the United States and restore borders to their pre-war status. As for Taylor, he continued to climb the military ranks, serving next in the Black Hawk War, the Second Seminole War, and later in the Mexican-American war. He would be elected 12th President of the United States in 1848, but died of illness in 1850.