Major McHenry's Spy Battalion
Black Hawk War



Other Historic References of William McHenry

      A Black Hawk War Encampment



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William McHenry is believed to have been born in 1771. He married Hannah Ruth Blackford in the late 1790's in Logan County, Kentucky. McHenry served as a Lieutenant in Price’s Battalion of Mounted Volunteers and participated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, near modern Toledo, Ohio. McHenry moved from Henderson County, Kentucky in 1810. The family settled in what is now White County, Illinois, along the trail between the salt works near Old Shawneetown, Illinois and Fort Vincennes. In 1811, McHenry served in the Illinois Militia during Tecumseh's War, which culminated in the Battle of Tippecanoe in the Indiana territory. After the outbreak of the War of 1812, he participated in the attack on the Native American village at Peoria. He was a pioneer statesman, soldier and spy who garnered honors for dispelling American Indians and propelling the territory to statehood.  Major McHenry died in 1835, when Cook County was being divided to create a new county – and it needed a name. The Illinois General Assembly, where Major McHenry served for 13 years, voted to name the new county and county seat for him to honor his years of public service. The city of McHenry originally was the county seat, which later was moved to the more centrally located Woodstock once McHenry County again was divided to create Lake County.

An analysis of an 1829 sample of his handwriting showed that he was "more of an idea person and not a people person. He was incisive, innovative, stable and predictable, but tact wasn't one of his strong points." Among his strong points was military savvy. In 1794, he enlisted and served as a private in Kentucky's Cornstalk Militia, named for the members who did military drills with cornstalks because they could not afford guns.
He then served in the Battle of Fallen Timbers anti-Indian campaign with the Kentucky Battalion of Mounted Volunteers, where he attained the rank of lieutenant.
Military life did not consume all his time. Between 1792 and 1797, he married Hannah Ruth Blackford in Logan County, Kentucky. They had nine children, one of whom may have been killed by Indians.
Major and Hannah McHenry lived in Kentucky during the late 1790s, and he and his brother, Daniel, also bought land in what would become Illinois. By 1810, McHenry moved his family to a spot 50 miles south of Vincennes, Ind., and 30 miles north of what then was called the United States Salines, a large salt deposit, in the Illinois territory. The Salines are near the current town of Equality.

In September 1811, Major McHenry was appointed captain of the Illinois Fourth Regiment, which searched for Indians causing trouble for white settlers in the area. He also served as an Illinois Ranger in the War of 1812, and, in that same year, he signed a petition requesting Illinois be made a second-class territory, which enabled white men 21 years or older who paid taxes and lived there for at least one year to vote.

During 1818, Illinois achieved statehood. Major McHenry was a delegate to the State Constitutional Convention and was elected to the first session of the first General Assembly.
Despite his legislative goals, William McHenry still pursued his military career 

In 1832, Major McHenry served in the Black Hawk War as a militia captain, but he eventually became a major in a spy  brigade in the Mounted Volunteers.  Though the term "spy brigade" actually means "scout brigade"  and he was 61 years old by this time, not suprisingly he became ill during his filed time in the Black Hawk War, as weather conditions during the spring and summer of 1832 were deplorable and many of the militia and regulars became very ill and had to furloghed.  He was  later ordered to retire in August 1832 and was re-elected to the state Senate.

Some reports show he had not been home to White County for two years before his death in 1835 in a Vandalia boarding house, and that he was being sued for lack of support by his wife when he died.
However, it is well-documented in public records that after his death, Major McHenry's heirs each were ordered to pay his estranged wife, from whom he possibly was divorced, $8 per year in support until her death in 1844. McHenry County Illinois is named in honor of Major McHenry

Major McHenry
Important dates in the life of Major William McHenry:
Oct. 3, 1771: McHenry was born.
Between 1792-1797: Married Hannah Ruth Blackford.
1794: Enlisted and served as a private in Kentucky's Cornstalk militia.
1811: Appointed captain of the Illinois Fourth Regiment.
1818: Elected to the first session of Illinois' first General Assembly.
1832: Served in the Black Hawk War as a militia captain and later Major of a spy (scout) battalion
1835: Died in Vandalia. allied with the British.  Native American village at Peoria, which was allied with the British.

* No photos or portraits of Major McHenry are known to exist.




About Nov. 28, 1811, the Fourth regiment was organized fro the Wabash country, which consisted of two battalions, one of them "The Rifle Company" for which the following officers were elected and later appointed by Governor Edwards: Lieutenant Colonel, commanding, Philip TRAMMEL Majors, James FORD and Willis HARGRAVE Adjutant, George E. HART Paymaster, Francis WHEATLEY Quarter Master, John MURPHY Quarter Master's Sergeant, John CHOISER Surgeon, Henry OLDHAM Surgeon's Mate, Thomas SHANNON Judge Advocate, James RATCLIFF Provost Marshal, Adrian DAVENPORT Drum Major, John ORMSBY Fife Major, Nathan MAYS Captains, Leonard WHITE, Lewis BARKER, William MCHENRY, Thos. E. CRAIG, John GRAVES, John WICKS, James STEELE, Benjamin WILSON, James A. WHITESIDE and James MCFARLIN, vice WILSON, resigned. Lieutenants, Jarrot TRAMMEL, Frederick BUCKS, Asa LEDBETTER, William R. ASHLEY, John CAMPBELL, James DAVENPORT, Alfred WOOD and Edmond ROSE. Sergeant Major, Absalom ASHLEY Ensigns, James BRADBURY, William MAXFIELD, John SCROGGINS, John DAMERWOOD, John LUCAS, William MCCORMICK, Joshua WILLIAMS, Elbert ROSE and Elisha GORDON. hus stood the field and staff roster of the Illinois militia on June 18, 1812, when war was declared between this country and Great Britain.

During this year, the military were organized all around the frontiers, from the uppermost settlements on the Mississippi down to the mouth of the Ohio, and up to the frontiers above Vincennes, on the Wabash River. Fort La Motte was established on the creek of the same name, above Vincennes, which was maintained during the whole war. Forts were also erected near the mouth of the Little Wabash, and on the frontiers in almost all prominent exposed settlements, to give protection to the inhabitants. Hill's and Jones' Forts were built on Shoal Creek, and so on throughout the country on the exposed frontiers. At the present town of Carlyle, a fort was erected in 1811. Captains Willis Hargrave and William McHenry commanded cavalry companies, ready at a moment's warning to pursue the enemy when any depredations were committed. Captain Craig, of Shawneetown, also was the commander of a company, who performed much service in the war. He commanded an expedition from Shawneetown to Peoria. by water, in the fall of 1812. Captain William Boon likewise organized a mounted company on Big Muddy River, in the present county of Jackson, prepared also for the defence of the frontier. An act of Congress, passed this year, organized ten companies of mounted rangers to defend the territories of the West. These companies were parcelled out through the frontier, and were commanded by Col. Wm. Russell, an excellent J officer and an Indian fighter, of Kentucky. This regiment was the 17th, and was generally composed of active frontier-citizens, whose duty it was to defend their homes and firesides. Each member received a dollar per day and he furnished his horse, provisions, equipments, and everything for the service. The company-officers were generally appointed also from the frontier-inhabitants, and were for the most part very efficient and energetic men. This regiment was enlisted for a year at a time, and remained in service during the war.

 The Battle of Fallen Timbers



McHenry's Battalion of Spies (Scouts), Hunts For Chief Black Hawk and the British Band Alliance of Sac, Fox and Kickapoo Allies

 General Alexander at once dispatched Major McHenry, with his spy battalion, to explore the country between the forks of the Whitewater and Rock River and ascertain if all the Indians had left the country or only Black Hawk's immediate band. He found the country explored by him to be abandoned by them, and, with the other troops, fell back to Fort Koshkonong, where Capt. Gideon Lowe, with thirty or forty men, had been called from Fort Winnebago to do garrison duty.

 Scouting (spy) duties June 30th thru July 04th 1832 synopsis

(To be up-dated)

Head Qrs. 1st Division North Western Army

Camp 12 miles above the mouth of white water July 20th./1832.

Major McHenry with his [Spy] Battalion of mounted Volunteers will proceed this morning & ascertain if practicable, whether the enemy occupies the position he maintained a few days since, he will call on the General for particular instructions relative to his command.

 By order of Brig. Genl. Atkinson (Signed) M. L. Clark A. de Camp


From Massacre at Bad Axe by Crawford Thayer

 "The commanding Genl. having ordered a march at an early hour on the 2nd Instant the most of the troops under my command collected their horses and advanced with rapidity. Captains Greere [Abner Greer] and [John F.] Richardson being somewhat in the rear having orders to come up immediately and join; the march being so rapid they with their commands were not able to join at the time when I received orders direct from yourself [Atkinson] to advance and form a line on the extreeme right to the river, that position being considered the most likely pass that the enemy would attempt to retreat and escape. I formed an extended line as ordered having Captain McCowen's [John McCown's] company of the Spy Bat. (Major McHenry having remained at the Wisconsin river in consequence of indisposition) Colonels [James M.] Blackburn, [Samuel] Adams and [Hosea] Pierce with their respective commands [the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Regiments] at a distance of two miles or upwards from the main battle ground and I advanced with extended line down the river and over the high hills towards the scene of action but owing to the distance we were placed therefrom we only reached the battle ground as the fireing ceased. Captains Greere and Richardsson were more fortunate, they passed on from the encampment with their commands direct to the enemy; Captain Greere and his company fell in with Genl. Henry and in accordance with Genl. Henry's directions formed on the left of Major [William Lee D.] Ewing's Spy Bat. and remained in that position and advancing until the battle terminated. Captain Richardson advanced with Genl. Henry and the regular troops and formed on the right of Genl. Henry and on the left and some in advance of the Regular troops. Some scattering men from different companies in my brigade advanced (being some in the rear of myself in consequence of not having found their horses early) direct to the scene of action and participated in the fight.


Whitneys Black Hawk War  edited by Ellen M Whitney

The Northwest Herald

"Hunting a Shadow" By Crawford Thayer

Lincoln / Net

Embracing My Times by John Reynolds


Reenacting the Black Hawk War;
Black Hawk War reenacting is a fairly recent evolution in living history. There various, though small groups of people who reenact  this time period located in the Illinois and Wisconsin state areas.

The Black Hawk War Society, a "living history organization" was formed in October of 2002 with the idea of recreating a crucial event in Illinois history.

Contact;  Gene Stevens at


Gene Stevens as Major McHenry Black Hawk War 1832


Picture039.jpg Winter Dress image by 5thWisconsin

Major McHenry with the 5th US Regulars Black Hawk War 1832