Army of Israel

Army of Israel

by David L. Bigler

"History may be searched in vain for an equal march of infantry," said Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke in commending the Mormon Battalion for its epic march in 1846 from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to San Diego and Los Angeles to claim California for the United States. Yet this historic journey across the Southwest during the War with Mexico was but one of the reasons


"History may be searched in vain for an equal march of infantry," said Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke in commending the Mormon Battalion for its epic march in 1846 from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to San Diego and Los Angeles to claim California for the United States. Yet this historic journey across the Southwest during the War with Mexico was but one of the reasons the Mormon Battalion holds a unique place in the story of America's western migration during the nineteenth century.

Army of Israel puts to rest ancient myths and sheds new light on forgotten heroes, both male and female. Recruited from a single religious organization, this battalion was perhaps the most unusual body of men ever to serve in America's armed forces. Between 1846 and 1848 its members played pivotal roles in events of such magnitude that they continue to shape the nation's destiny and the lives of its people.

This documentary study seeks to place the larger political and military role of the Mormon Battalion in the context of the history of the American West through the papers and accounts of the participants, supplemented with thorough explanatory text, notes, and references. A fine addition to the Kingdom in the West Series.

The March: Without opposition or firing a shot, the Mormon infantry tramped across the width of what was then northern Mexico and built a road as they went-Cooke's Wagon Road. Their explorations helped influence the decision in 1853 to acquire the Gadsden Purchase in southern Arizona.

Service in California: The good behavior and industry of battalion members accomplished far more than the muskets they shouldered in pacifying California. They defended ranches against raids by hostile natives, they sank wells, manufactured bricks, and built new buildings at Los Angeles and San Diego. The command arrived too late to take part in the last battles of the American occupation, but just in time to carry out President Polk's orders to treat the people of the region as fellow citizens, not as subjugated enemies, reversing the damage done by Robert Stockton and his underlings.

Explorations and Adventure: Besides exploring and building Cooke's Wagon Road across the Southwest, men chosen from the battalion escorted General Kearny and party, including Fremont, to Fort Leavenworth in 1847. Near Donner Lake in the Sierra Nevada, they buried the bodies of Donner party members who had perished in the snow over the previous winter. Battalion veterans opened a new wagon road over the Sierra Nevada, known today as the Mormon-Carson Emigrant Trail, which became in 1849 the main thoroughfare of the gold rush to the new El Dorado. They pioneered Hensley's Salt Lake Cutoff, one of the California Trail's major branches and blazed the wagon road from Los Angeles to Salt Lake.

The Gold Rush: Battalion veterans in California witnessed an event that would transform the nation almost overnight and touch off a massive population shift west that still continues. As employees of James Marshall and John Sutter, two of these men-and two only-would record the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill and the day it happened, 24 January 1848. Other veterans soon scored the first major gold strike when they discovered the rich placer diggings at Mormon Island.

New Voices from the Borderlands: Army of Israel contains dozens of previously unpublished eyewitness accounts of the American conquest of the Southwest, including narratives by the fortotten Mormons who spent the winter of 1846 in today's Colorado. The accounts include a moving set of women's letters and colorful descriptions of encounters with Apache moonshiners, freebooting Mountaineers, ruthless Comancheros, Wakara's horse raiders, and heroic Mexican patriots.

Editorial Reviews

Papers and accounts by participants recount the 1846 march of the Mormon Battalion from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego and Los Angeles to fight in the Mexican War. The unit was unusual, being all recruited from a single religious organization. With some exceptions, the original grammar, spelling, style, and punctuation is retained. Extensive annotation sets the accounts in historical perspective. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
David Bigler and Will Bagley successfully collaborated to bring together a series of previously unpublished documents, as well as some published ones, in an outstanding collection of firsthand accounts and other primary sources on and about the Mormon Battalion's epic 1846 U.S. - Mexican War march and their role in securing the Southwest from Mexican control and claiming the territory that would become the states of Iowa, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah -- thereby fulfilling the mandate inherent in the concept of "Manifest Destiny". Several eye-witness sourced perspectives are provided including the journal of teenager William Pace, letters from some of the women associated with the battalion; as well as military and government correspondence. Army Of Israel: Mormon Battalion Narratives is a superlatively presented and informative contribution to American history in general, and the role of a unique military command in particular.

Product Details

University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date:
Kingdom In The West
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.40(d)

Meet the Author

Will Bagley is an independent historian who has written about overland emigration, frontier violence, railroads, mining, and the Mormons. Bagley has published extensively over the years and is the author and editor of many books, articles, and reviews in professional journals. Bagley is the series editor of Arthur H. Clark Company's documentary history series, KINGDOM IN THE WEST: The Mormons and the American Frontier. Bagley has been a Wallace Stegner Centennial Fellow at the University of Utah and the Archibald Hannah, Jr. Fellow in American History at Yale University's Beinecke Library. Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows has won numerous awards including a Spur Award from Western Writers of America, the Bancroft History Prize from the Denver Public Library, Westerners International Best Book, and the Western History Association Caughey Book Prize for the most distinguished book on the history of the American West. So Rugged and Mountainous: Blazing the Trails to Oregon and California, 1812-1848 is the first of four volumes of Overland West: The Story of the Oregon and California Trails Series.

Independent historian David L. Bigler is a Utah native, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, and a University of Utah graduate in journalism. He received an honorary doctor of letters degree from Southern Utah State College at Cedar City, now Southern Utah University. He retired as director of public affairs for U.S. Steel in 1986 to devote full time to Mormon and western history. He is a fellow and an honorary life member, Utah State Historical Society; a former director, Utah State Board of History and Friends of University of Utah Libraries; and past president, Oregon-California Trails Association. His books and articles have won awards from the Utah State Historical Society, Westerners International and The Mormon History Association. His books include The Gold Discovery Journal of Azariah Smith, University of Utah Press, 1990; Forgotten Kingdom: The Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847-1896, Arthur H. Clark, 1998; Army of Israel: Mormon Battalion Narratives, with Will Bagley, Arthur H. Clark, 2000; A Winter with the Mormons: The 1852 Letters of Jotham Goodell, Marriott Library, University of Utah, 2001; Fort Limhi: The Mormon Adventure in Oregon Territory, 1855-1857, Arthur H. Clark, 2003; and, with Will Bagley, Innocent Blood: Essential Narratives of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Arthur H. Clark, 2008. He and his wife, Evah, reside in Roseville, California.

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