The Utah War—an unprecedented armed confrontation between Mormon-controlled Utah Territory and the U.S. government—was the most extensive American military action between the U.S.-Mexican and Civil Wars. Drawing on author-editor William P. MacKinnon’s half-century of research and a wealth of carefully selected new material, At Sword’s Point presents the first full history of the conflict through the voices of participants—leaders, soldiers, and civilians from both sides. MacKinnon’s lively narrative, continued in this second volume, links and explains these firsthand accounts to produce the most detailed, in-depth, and balanced view of the war to date.
At Sword’s Point, Part 2 carries the story of the Utah War from the end of 1857 to the conclusion of hostilities in June 1858, when Brigham Young was replaced as territorial governor and almost one-third of the U.S. Army occupied Utah. Through the testimony of Mormon and federal leaders, combatants, emissaries, and onlookers, this second volume describes the war’s final months and uneasy resolution. President James Buchanan and his secretary of war, John B. Floyd, worked to break a political-military stalemate in Utah, while Mormon leaders prepared defensive and aggressive countermeasures ranging from an attack on Forts Bridger and Laramie to the “Sebastopol Strategy” of evacuating and torching Salt Lake City and sending 30,000 Mormon refugees on a mass exodus and fighting retreat toward Mexican Sonora. Thomas L. Kane, self-appointed intermediary and Philadelphia humanitarian, sought a peaceful conclusion to the conflict, which ended with the arrival in Utah of President Buchanan’s two official peace commissioners, the president’s blanket pardon for Utah’s population, and the army’s peaceful march into the Salt Lake Valley.
MacKinnon’s narrative weaves a panoramic yet intimate view of a turning point in western, Mormon, and American history far bloodier than previously understood. With its sophisticated documentary analysis and insight, this work will stand as the definitive history of the complex, consequential, and still-debated Utah War.
|Publisher:||University of Oklahoma Press|
|Series:||Kingdom in the West: The Mormons and the American Frontier Series , #11|
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At Sword's Point, Part 2
A Documentary History of the Utah War, 1858-1859
By William P. Mackinnon
UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESSCopyright © 2016 William P. MacKinnon
All rights reserved.
"GREAT DISASTER MIGHT BEFALL THE COMMAND"
War Spreads to New Mexico
I would have cheerfully given at one time all I have in the world to have been safe out of the mountains. I never during the course of my life suffered so much mental agony.
Capt. Randolph B. Marcy to Nellie Marcy, 26 January 1858
I may, if practicable, create a diversion in your favor by throwing a column of men, not less than 800 into the country of the Utah Indians, who are becoming impudent. A rumor has reached me [in Santa Fe] that these Indians are being tampered with by the Mormons, and I am inclined to believe it.
Brevet Brig. Gen. John Garland to Col. Albert Sidney Johnston, 24 January 1858
As 1857 passed into 1858, events unfolded rapidly, illustrating in the process the breadth of the Utah War's geographical sweep. None of these episodes did so more dramatically and with a higher cost in lives than Capt. Randolph B. Marcy's 1,500-mile trek from Fort Bridger to New Mexico and back. Marcy's was the most arduous winter march in American military history. Through this trek, the war spilled into New Mexico Territory and beyond.
On 24 November 1857, Albert Sidney Johnston had ordered Marcy and a small detachment of regulars to Taos to ensure the Utah Expedition's survival as well as its mobility. Marcy's mission was to purchase two thousand Spanish mules and sheep, as well as a supply of salt. Although a vastly experienced western explorer, Marcy and others underestimated the rigors of such a trek in winter.
Among the most over-optimistic of the Utah Expedition's officers was Capt. John H. Dickerson, the quartermaster whose prescient 24 November assessment of the need for horses, mules, and sheep had spurred Johnston to order Marcy to New Mexico later that day. Unfortunately, in the process of providing advice on procurement, Dickerson placed Marcy in harm's way by giving Johnston assurances about the trek's feasibility and duration that were grossly wrong on all counts. Without firsthand knowledge of the terrain, weather, or Mormon military intentions, the quartermaster commented, "The route from here to New Mexico is believed to be entirely practicable at this season of the year. Herds of sheep have been brought through in the winter season, or, at least, started sufficiently early to get to Henry's fork by the last of April. And there does not appear to be any obstacle to our having animals brought through by the 15th of May, and arrive here in good condition. There are guides here, familiar with the route, who are willing to conduct the party, if one should be sent."
On 20 November, uncertain if he would actually be ordered to New Mexico, Marcy had reassured his daughter Nellie, "We have a long winter before us and shall no doubt find it exceedingly dull, but if I remain here I shall read a great deal. If I go I shall be much more comfortable there than here." Capt. Jesse A. Gove was so oblivious to what his brother officer would face that he tasked one of his corporals who had volunteered to accompany Marcy with bringing back a New Mexican pony for his young son, then in New Hampshire.
Equally unforeseen was the consternation that a rumored Mormon-Ute-Navajo alliance would create when speculation about it reached New Mexico coincident with Marcy's arrival in Taos. It was an alarm that would draw Indian agent Christopher "Kit" Carson into a role in the Utah War that has been largely unrecognized.
GETTING UP A PRIVATE STAMPEDE: MARCY FAMILY ANXIETIES
If at Fort Bridger Captain Marcy seemed unconcerned about his safety, his wife and older daughter in New England were apprehensive, even without knowing that a mission to New Mexico was in the offing. A week after news of Lot Smith's raid had reached the Atlantic Coast, word of Mary and Nellie Marcy's anxiety had drifted to the captain's protégé, George B. McClellan, who had resigned his army captaincy on 16 January 1857 to become chief engineer and then vice president of the Illinois Central Railroad.
Eager to calm his mentor's family while rekindling his romance with twenty-seven-year-old Nellie, McClellan wrote to Mrs. Marcy, confident that she would share his letter with her daughter. McClellan's reassurances from Chicago reflected how little the nation then understood the Utah Expedition's peril, the readiness with which Americans demonized Mormons, and the eagerness of a former officer to re-enter the army for the glory of the campaign in Utah.
MCCLELLAN TO MARY M. MARCY, 21 NOVEMBER 1857, MCCLELLAN PAPERS, LC.
I am sure that you & Miss Nellie must now be more or less anxious because the Capt. is so far away & in such a place, & I feel that a letter from an old friend will be acceptable to both of you.
It is my usual hour of leisure now — after midnight — so I can afford some time to write to friends whom I embrace so much. Candidly & sincerely I think that you need not be at all alarmed about affairs in Utah — the result will probably be that the Army will winter on Bear River unless it is found that the Mormon opposition vanishes into the air. In the final case they will remain where they are until reinforcements reach them in the summer. If there is fighting then the result cannot be doubtful — it will require but little effort on the part of our old set to dissipate these fanatics. The great reasons for writing [to you] at all about the matter is that I saw in one of the papers a day or two past a notice of the fact that you had received letters not very encouraging from the Capt., & I feared that you two women would amuse yourselves by getting up a private stampede for which there can be no necessity. If affairs take a turn at all serious I have determined to give up my present position, with all its advantages of high pay &c, & re-enter the service at least until the trouble is over. I cannot bear the idea of my old friends being in campaign without me.
Do let me hear from you. Tell Nell I want to hear what mischief she has been at lately. Whenever you are low spirited write to me.
Having received encouragement, McClellan undertook to write directly to Nellie. Again he offered assurances of the army's safety — this time somewhat playfully and chauvinistically — while shedding additional light on the growing uneasiness of American attitudes toward the Utah War. McClellan wrote on 8 December, the day that James Buchanan sent his first annual message to Congress. It is unlikely that McClellan had read the full text of the president's message, although rumors and early reports of Buchanan's intent to expand the army had probably reached Chicago and caught McClellan's attention.
MCCLELLAN TO MARY ELLEN (NELLIE) MARCY, 8 DECEMBER 1857, MCCLELLAN PAPERS, LC.
Every one in turn is but fair, Nelly, so I will write to you this time. Your mother's letter & your own reached me this evening. As they were written on "my day" I suppose I ought to report them as very acceptable birthday presents — acceptable they certainly were. What a pair of foolish frightened women you are. I am half ashamed of you. A soldier's daughter & a soldier's wife scared half to death on account of a march of a few hundred miles [to Utah] against a set of heathenish vagabonds! Has not the Captain often been through scenes far more dangerous than this will be? Were not he, & I, & 88 others scalped, & everything else once before? Do not borrow trouble — heaven knows it comes often enough without one making it.
I would rather make a dozen campaigns in Utah than one in Florida. You thought but little of that because it was an old story. Indians & Everglades were household words in the Army. Both of you had seen Indians & many of your friends had served in Florida, but because Utah is far away & a new thing, because you believe that very vulgar antagonist Brother Brigham to be something more than the ordinary run of man, his Danites (I'll wager them to be as cowardly a lot of cattle thieves as ever went unharnassed) a species of anthropology, you are very unhappy....
That the Army will experience discomfort, cold, & perhaps even privation is possible. That the monotony of a winter camp in those distant regions may be less pleasant than the gaiety of Washington is very certain. That there is danger in Utah is very probable, but to them it is [like] walking down [New York's] Broadway, between the omnibuses & the dozens of leaves falling on one's head. There is not much more in the one than the other. Little Lady, I have seen you much alarmed in crossing from the Battery to Governor's Island [in New York Harbor]. How much real danger was there then?
Now Mrs. M. & Nell — no more of this stampede. It is very natural, but it is nonsense. There are some 1500 gallant men in that Army, led by officers as good as any that ever served. Can any great harm befall such men? Do you not well know what they are capable of doing, what privations they can cheerfully endure & what odds they can overcome? Do you not know as well as I do that should the very worst that can be imagined happens the Capt. stands as good a chance as anyone, & far better than many, & that the chances are a thousand to one in favor of any individual? I do not think Brother B[righam] will fight. I think that if he does fight, he will be soundly whipped, & I have a lively faith that my friend Marcy will come out of the affair safe & with great credit.
LAYING UP HIGH AND DRY: CAPTAIN MARCY'S VOLUNTEERS
The soldiers who volunteered to accompany Captain Marcy shared his lack of concern about the hardships ahead. They were drawn to Marcy's national reputation as an explorer-leader and repelled by the boredom and discipline of garrison life — what correspondent Albert G. Browne called "the prospect of inactivity throughout the Winter." When the call for volunteers went out to the Utah Expedition's regular infantry regiments, the response was extraordinary. In the Tenth's Company A alone, every private stepped forward. One of the Tenth's non-volunteers, Pvt. James M. Uhler of Company G, viewed their prospects wistfully and wholly unrealistically: "They calculate to get across to Fort Taos, N.M., in twenty-one days and then have a good time laying up high and dry in good warm barracks with comfortable fire and plenty to eat and drink until spring while we will have to nearly starve and perhaps freeze in this cold country. Well, so much for wanting to be a soldier."
Originally Marcy expected his detachment to include three officers and one hundred men, the strength of an infantry company. Instead he was to be the only officer commanding a total of sixty-three people, including himself: forty-one soldiers (sixteen from the under strength Fifth Infantry and twenty-five from the Tenth) and twenty-two civilians. The identity of these people has been one of the mysteries of the Utah War, notwithstanding their remarkable ordeal. At the end of 1858 even the secretary of war muddled the number of people who had accompanied Marcy to New Mexico, and he never mentioned their names. In many respects, the members of Marcy's detachment were to remain as anonymous as the troops in Lt. Col. Barnard E. Bee's independent Battalion of U.S. Volunteers.
Of Marcy's troops, historians are aware that Corp. Ralph Pike was among them and would become the most famous casualty of the Utah War as well as the catalyst for the longest-running case in Utah's criminal justice system. Twenty years later another member, Pvt. William Gentles, would mortally bayonet Sioux chief Crazy Horse in 1877. Little else is known about the other thirty-eight enlistees, although Marcy provided one tantalizing tidbit in telling his wife, "I have a man in our party who has been a Mormon at Salt Lake but left them after being robbed of all he possessed and is now returned to try to get his property again. He tells us many things which shows them to be very bad people." Among the twenty-two civilians in the detachment, the names of only five people have survived: prominent frontiersmen-guides Jim Baker and Tim Goodale; Goodale's Shoshone wife, Jenny; Mariano Medina; and Miguel Alona.
Marcy's was an eclectic group of infantrymen, civilians, European immigrants, native-born Americans, Caucasians, Hispanos, and an American Indian who was also the detachment's sole woman. Their backgrounds and postwar experiences mirrored those of the Utah Expedition's troops and civilian camp followers generally, even in the sense that one of Marcy's soldiers returned from New Mexico to a military insane asylum, some would stand trial before courts martial later in their careers, and others would die on Civil War battlefields. What set Marcy's troops apart from their peers was their willingness to volunteer and ability to endure extreme hardships under superb leadership.
On 24 November Johnston's headquarters issued Captain Marcy's eagerly awaited orders, and he left Fort Bridger three days later.
SINCERE THANKS TO THE ALMIGHTY: MARCY'S SOUTHBOUND TREK
The only firsthand accounts of what Marcy's command experienced during its early winter trek to New Mexico are the several narratives written by Captain Marcy during 1858 and over the subsequent three decades.
The four official reports that Marcy generated during 1858 varied in length as he tailored them for diverse readers. All of this material appeared in published government documents. In addition, a few days after arriving in New Mexico, Marcy wrote shorter, private letters to his immediate family, and in 1859, he included several vignettes of his New Mexico experience in a travel guide that he published commercially with the War Department's sanction.
Marcy's most comprehensive narrative was the long, exciting account that he published as several chapters in his autobiography shortly after the Civil War, a conflict in which he rose to brigadier general while serving on the staff of McClellan, who was then his son-in-law and commander of the Union's Army of the Potomac. In this 1866 account, Marcy was able to quote from a trail journal (since lost) while providing details, anecdotes, and even names unmentioned eight years earlier in his official reports.
That version, Thirty Years of Army Life on the Border, is easily available elsewhere, but what appears below are three quite different narratives: Marcy's 27 December 1857 field dispatch seeking aid from the post commander at Fort Massachusetts; his letter to daughter Nellie on 26 January written soon after arrival in Taos; and a rarely encountered Marcy magazine article published in February 1888, shortly after his death at age 75.
Marcy's note of 27 December was written exactly a month after he departed Fort Bridger; it pleaded for provisions, shoes, and animals at a point when his expedition was at the end of its tether. The message was intended for an officer whose name, rank, and regiment were unknown to Marcy; all that he understood was that this officer commanded a post that was crucial to his mission — Fort Massachusetts, an isolated garrison named after his native state and sited in the shadow of Mount Blanco at the north end of New Mexico's San Luis Valley. On the day that he wrote, Marcy and packer Miguel Alona had ascended a peak from which Alona was able to point out a dip in a distant range of snow-covered mountains that was key to their survival, Cochetopa Pass. Once successfully through the pass about a week later, Marcy selected the expedition's three strongest mules, assigned them to Alona and Medina, and dispatched them to courier his letter to Fort Massachusetts.
MARCY TO "SIR," 27 DECEMBER 1857, TRANSMITTED AS ENCLOSURE FOR BOWMAN TO NICHOLS, 8 JANUARY 1858, LETTERS RECEIVED, HQ DEPT. OF NEW MEXICO, RG 393, NARA.
I am bound for New Mexico on very important business for the Army for Utah and I have nearly exhausted my subsistence[,] my Animals are broken down and I leave a large percentage on the road daily. I shall soon be reduced to [eating] my mules for subsistence all of which has been brought about by being obliged to leave Fort Bridger with jaded mules but the best that could be obtained. I shall continue to move slowly on as long as my mules last and I desire you to send out subsistence for my command for ten (10) days. I have seventy (70) men. I will also thank you to send me some Animals for some few of my men to ride who have frozen their feet and have become sick (six or 8). Ten or twelve pair of large shoes and stockings are much needed. I have encountered snow about 2 feet deep for the last (100) miles and I am unable to get any grass for my Animals so that you will perceive they cannot last but a few days longer without forage. If I find I am to loose [sic] them all I shall stop and kill them and await relief from you, but if they hold out I shall push forward as far as possible towards your post. My men have suffered much from over work and we shall all look forward with great anxiety for relief from you.
Excerpted from At Sword's Point, Part 2 by William P. Mackinnon. Copyright © 2016 William P. MacKinnon. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
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Table of Contents
Introduction Our Story Begins: 1857 — Apostolic and Soldierly Musings — What's Past Is Prologue: 1858,
1. "GREAT DISASTER MIGHT BEFALL THE COMMAND": WAR SPREADS TO NEW MEXICO,
2. "OUR EAST BOUNDARY SHOULD BE AT LARAMIE": MORMON WAR STRATEGY,
3. "MEASURES TO THWART THEM": JOHNSTON REACTS,
4. "A CHANNEL OF COMMUNICATION WITH UTAH": RIO COLORADO,
5. "EXERT YOURSELF TO COUNTERACT IT": WEST COAST DEFENSES,
6. "TO MASK THE REAL MOVEMENT": PACIFIC ADVENTURES, PRESIDENTIAL INTRIGUE,
7. "SO GLORIOUSLY TO RUN THE GAUNTLET": KANE'S PASSAGE TO UTAH,
8. "AT YOUNG'S VERY GATES": KANE AMONG THE MORMONS,
9. "REMEDY WORSE THAN THE DISEASE": RAISING REGULARS, VOLUNTEERS, AND SAM HOUSTON,
10. "HE FELL AS A BOMBSHELL": KANE AND TURMOIL AT CAMP SCOTT,
11. "BLESSED BE NOTHING": THE MORMON MOVE SOUTH,
12. "PROCEEDING TO SALT LAKE CITY": THE MOUNTAIN MOVES TO MOHAMMED,
13. "TO TRY AND SETTLE THE MATTER": THE PLAYERS MANEUVER,
14. "THE FINAL AND DECISIVE ONE": THE TESTING OF ALFRED CUMMING,
15. "ALL THAT IS REQUIRED": THE DIFFERING NEEDS OF JOHNSTON, BUCHANAN, AND KANE,
16. "MAN FROM THE MOON": ENTER THE PEACE COMMISSIONERS,
17. "THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE I EVER SAW": THE ARMY ARRIVES,