Book Review: Illinois in the War of 1812


by Gillum Ferguson

Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2012. Pp. xvi, 350. Illus., maps, notes, biblio, index. $34.95. ISBN: 0252036743

The first book-length account of the largely overlooked events of the War of 1812 in the Illinois Territory.

On the eve of the War of 1812, the Illinois Territory was a vast, virtually ungoverned, thinly populated jurisdiction encompassing what are now the states of Illinois and Wisconsin, plus portions of Michigan and Minnesota.  Although he opens with an account of the fall of Fort Mackinac to the British in the very first days of the war, Ferguson, an attorney with a taste for history, picks up the story well-before the outbreak of the conflict.  He melds social, political, and military developments into a smooth account, well populated by such notable characters as the inept American William Hull, the able Briton Isaak Brock, the great warriors Tecumseh and Black Hawk, explorer William Clark, future President William Henry Harrison, and many others.  Ferguson's treatment is full of harsh winters, hot summers, mosquitos, swamps, ambushes, hard marches, and a lot of fighting.  Unlike most treatments of the war in this region, which tend to focus on several spectacular events, such as the Dearborn Massacre, Ferguson concentrates his account on the many small battles, sieges, and raids between American forces and the British and the Native American coalition that held the balance of power in the territory.  It was American success in these small affairs paved the way for wider settlement in the postwar period, and it is for his attention this aspect of the conflict that Ferguson deserves particular credit. 

A good read for anyone interested in the War of 1812.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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