The Illinois campaign was a series of events in the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) in which a small force of Virginia militiamen led by George Rogers Clark seized control of several British posts in the Illinois country, in what is now the Midwestern United States. The campaign is the best-known action of the western theater of the war and the source of Clark's reputation as an early American military hero.
In July 1778, Clark and his men crossed the Ohio River from Kentucky and took control of Kaskaskia, Vincennes, and several other villages in British territory. The occupation was accomplished without firing a shot because most of the French-speaking and American Indian inhabitants were unwilling to take up arms on behalf of the British Empire. To counter Clark's advance, Henry Hamilton, the British lieutenant governor at Fort Detroit, reoccupied Vincennes with a small force. In February 1779, Clark returned to Vincennes in a surprise winter expedition and retook the town, capturing Hamilton in the process. Virginia capitalized on Clark's success by establishing the region as Illinois County, Virginia.
The importance of the Illinois campaign has been the subject of much debate. Because the British ceded the entire Northwest Territory to the United States in the 1783 Treaty of Paris, some historians have credited Clark with nearly doubling the size of the original Thirteen Colonies by seizing control of the Illinois country during the war. For this reason, Clark was nicknamed "Conqueror of the Northwest", and his Illinois campaign—particularly the surprise march to Vincennes—was greatly celebrated and romanticized. Other historians have downplayed the importance of the campaign, arguing that Clark's "conquest" was a temporary occupation that had no impact on the boundary negotiations in Europe.