Utah and the American Civil War: The Written Record

Utah and the American Civil War: The Written Record

by Kenneth L. Alford (Editor)
Utah and the American Civil War: The Written Record

Utah and the American Civil War: The Written Record

by Kenneth L. Alford (Editor)


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When Fort Sumter was attacked in April 1861, hundreds of soldiers were stationed at the U.S. Army’s Camp Floyd, forty miles southwest of Salt Lake City. The camp, established in June 1858, was the nation’s largest military post. Utah and the American Civil War presents a wealth of primary sources pertaining to the territory’s participation in the Civil War—material that until now has mostly been scattered, incomplete, or difficult to locate. Organized and annotated for easy use, this rich mix of military orders, dispatches, letters, circulars, battle and skirmish reports, telegraph messages, command lists, and other correspondence shows how Utah’s wartime experience was shaped by a peculiar blend of geography, religion, and politics.

Editor Kenneth L. Alford opens the collection with a year-by-year summary of important events in Utah Territory during the war, with special attention paid to the army’s recall from Utah in 1861, the Lot Smith Utah Cavalry Company’s 107-day military service, the Union army’s return in 1862, and relations between the military and Mormons. Readers will find accounts of an 1861 attempt to court-martial a Virginia-born commander for treason, battle reports from the January 1863 Bear River Massacre, documents from the army’s high command authorizing Governor James Doty to enlist additional Utah troops in October 1864, and evidence of Colonel Patrick Edward Connor’s personal biases against Native Americans and Mormons. A glossary of nineteenth-century phrases, military terms, and abbreviations, along with a detailed timeline of key historical events, places the records in historical context.

Collected and published together for the first time, these records document the unique role Utah played in the Civil War and reveal the war’s influence, both subtle and overt, on the emerging state of Utah.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806159157
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 07/25/2017
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 864
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Kenneth L. Alford is Professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, and editor of Civil War Saints.

Read an Excerpt


Utah Territory A and Summary the Civil History War:


Deseret News February 20, 1861

THE CIVIL WAR CHANGED UTAH. WHILE NO BLUE AND GRAY BATTLES were fought within its changing territorial borders, the war significantly affected life in the territory and Utah's relationship with the nation. Utah's role was "central to the American West during the Civil War ... though it receives scant mention in Civil War histories and only a little more in volumes on the American West. Utah Territory would have been important because of its geographical position astride transportation and communications arteries even if it had not been an anomaly. And it was also unprecedented in this country, being both a civil and a religious entity of considerable size and influence," observed historian E. B. Long. The Civil War exerted an influence on Utah that was both subtle and blunt. This chapter provides background information and a year-by-year overview of Utah Territory during the war in order to provide context for the records published together here.



Deseret News November 3, 1860

Founded in 1830, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (whose followers are commonly known as Mormons) moved several times during the thirty years prior to the Civil War. Persecution, conflicts with neighbors, and revelations to leaders combined to relocate the largest concentration of members from New York to Ohio in 1831, to Missouri in 1838, to Illinois in 1839, to Nebraska in 1846, and finally to Utah. After reaching the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847 (which had been part of Mexico until February 1848), Latter-day Saints longed for tranquility, but they received neither peace nor quiet. Indian conflicts, especially in the relatively fertile Utah Valley south of Salt Lake City, began soon after settlers arrived and continued throughout the Civil War and into the post-war years. Utah's 1849 request for admission of the proposed state of Deseret was rejected, and Utah Territory was created as part of the Compromise of 1850, which began decades of conflict between federal officials and Utahns.

During the popularly named Utah War (1857–1858), President James Buchanan sent a significant portion of the U.S. Army to quell a Mormon rebellion he incorrectly believed was occurring in Utah. Immediately following the Utah War, almost one-fourth of the U.S. Army was deployed in Utah Territory — with a majority of the soldiers stationed at Camp Floyd, forty miles southwest of Salt Lake City.

Public interest in Utah reached new heights during the Utah War. Mormons and the Utah War captured the popular imagination of the nation and were among the most frequent news stories — second only to articles about slavery and Kansas Territory. The Utah War effectively ended on June 26, 1858, when Brevet Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnston and his soldiers marched through Salt Lake City.

The nation's curiosity regarding Utah and Mormonism continued into and beyond the Civil War. The proximity of the Utah War to Southern secession meant Utah played a consequential role in the nation's military preparation for the Civil War: Utah was the army's last major deployment prior to the war and served, in hindsight, as a proving ground for tactics, training, weaponry, and logistics.

Utah's unique relationship to the Civil War was influenced by both geography and politics. During the four years of war, 1861–1865, Utah's boundaries were reduced on three separate occasions. Utah's eastern border was adjusted in February 1861, when Colorado Territory was created. In March of that year, Nevada Territory was established, and Nebraska Territory was given the northeastern portion of Utah Territory (currently part of southern Wyoming). In July 1862, less than one week after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act (the first federal anti-polygamy legislation), all of Utah Territory west of the thirty-eighth degree of longitude was transferred to Nevada. And Utah's internal political situation in the early 1860s was as volatile as her borders. During the course of the Civil War, Utah had four territorial governors and several acting governors, who served while the territory awaited the arrival of the next presidential appointee.

While Latter-day Saints had never been popular in the American press, reporting took a noticeably negative turn following Mormon apostle Orson Pratt's public announcement defending the church's practice of polygamy in August 1852. During the first Republican National Convention, which met in Philadelphia in June 1856, slavery and polygamy were jointly designated as "the twin relics of barbarism" and marked for extinction. The Civil War provided the North with an opportunity to eliminate the "first relic"— slavery — but the "second relic"— polygamy — remained a topic of great interest, debate, and action throughout the war and increasingly in the decades that followed.



William H. Hooper, Utah Territory's delegate to Congress

Mormon resentment over President Buchanan's decision to send the army to Utah lingered for many years. According to Mormon apostle Orson Hyde, the federal government sent to Utah "[m]erchants, gamblers, whoremasters, thieves, murderers, false writers, drunkards, and to cap the climax, a drunken, debauched judiciary with plenty of bayonets to enforce their decrees. Some decent men came most likely; yet I know not one with whom I could safely trust the virtue of any female in their power."

Beginning with South Carolina in December 1860, Southern secession caught almost no one by surprise. In the fall of 1860, the weekly Salt Lake Deseret News included numerous reports regarding the "impending crisis" that was "full of danger on every side." The newspaper observed that since "the organization of the Government of the United States, there was never such a furor for political speechifying as now prevails from one end of the country to the other." As citizens of a territory, Utahns could not vote in the 1860 presidential election, yet they followed the national political scene as closely as their circumstances allowed.

Mormons tended to see the hand of God in the overwhelming defeat of presidential candidate Stephen A. Douglas in November 1860. On May 18, 1843, during dinner with then-Judge Douglas, Joseph Smith, the church's founder and first president, reportedly told Douglas: "Judge, you will aspire to the presidency of the United States; and if ever you turn your hand against me or the Latter-day Saints, you will feel the weight of the hand of Almighty upon you; and you will live to see and know that I have testified the truth to you; for the conversation of this day will stick to you through life." In June 1857, at the beginning of the Utah War, Douglas openly turned against the Mormons, stating that "it will become the duty of Congress to apply the knife and cut out this loathsome disgusting ulcer. No temporizing policy — no half-way measure will then answer."

On December 20, 1860 — coincidentally the same day that South Carolina seceded from the Union — Brigham Young wrote to William H. Hooper, Utah Territory's congressional delegate, regarding the precarious national situation: "By your letters and papers I perceive that the secession question was being violently agitated, but without much definite action. ... But while the waves of commotion are [over] whelming nearly the whole country, Utah in her rock fortresses is biding her time to step in and rescue the constitution and aid all lovers of freedom in sustaining such laws as will secure justice and rights to all irrespective of creed or party."

Any attempt to view the Civil War through the eyes of nineteenth-century Mormons must take into account Joseph Smith's revelation on war, which he recorded on Christmas Day 1832. Later added to the church's canon of scripture as Section 87 in the Doctrine and Covenants, this revelation states in part: "Verily, thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls. ... For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain. ... And it shall come to pass, after many days, slaves shall rise up against their masters, who shall be marshaled and disciplined for war." Latter-day Saints saw in the Civil War a fulfillment of prophecy.

According to the eighth U.S. census (1860), there were 42,273 surveyed people in Utah Territory — 22,224 white males, 19,990 white females, 13 free male colored and 17 female colored, and 29 slaves (18 male and 11 female). Utah Territory was opened to slavery in 1850 under the concept of "popular sovereignty"— the same political doctrine often used by Mormons to support their nineteenth-century practice of polygamy.



Brigham Young

From Utah's perspective, the issue was simple — Utah deserved statehood. Prior to the Civil War, Congress had ignored several such petitions from Utah. The most recent request was pending on Capitol Hill as Southern states began seceding. At the end of January, William Hooper was informed by the Committee on Territories that Congress was again denying Utah statehood.

Brigham Young biographer John G. Turner concluded that "Young had no sympathy for either side in the Civil War." Young saw himself and the Mormon church as firm supporters of "the Constitution of the United States and all righteous laws," but they were not, as Young declared in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on January 19, 1862, "by any means treasoners, secessionists, or abolitionists. We are neither negro-drivers nor negro-worshippers." In February Brigham Young commented that "There is no union in the North or in the South. The nation must crumble to nothing. They charged us with being rebels and rebels they will have in their Government. South Carolina has committed treason and if Prest. Buchanan had been a Smart man he would have hung up the first man who rebelled in South Carolina."

When Confederate artillery, under the command of P. G. T. Beauregard, fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor during April 1861, America changed forever. Three weeks later, Apostle Heber C. Kimball asked: "Do any of you think this war is going to be over in a few days?" Answering his own question, he exclaimed, "If you do, you are greatly mistaken." Initially, Utah Territory was as isolated from the war as anywhere on the continent could be — it seemed like a problem for the rest of the country, and tabernacle sermons and private journals alike thanked God for the removal of the church to the safety of the West. It did not take long, though, for the war to affect Utah.

Mormon loyalty was a national concern — not only during the Civil War but throughout the nineteenth century. During the Utah War, Latter-day Saints were portrayed as disloyal, and as the Civil War began there were lingering doubts among many Americans regarding the true loyalties of Utah. Mormons were generally portrayed in the press as being "openly inimical to the Government of the United States" while considering themselves "steadfast adherents to the Constitution." Difficult relations between Utahns and federal officials, an important cause of the Utah War, continued during the Civil War, reinforcing previous perceptions.

Despite questions surrounding Mormon allegiance, the fact remained that Utah was important to the Union. Much of the territory's significance during the Civil War was a result of geography. For most of the war, there were continuing Confederate threats, both real and imagined, to transportation and communication routes that transited New Mexico Territory. When those routes became risky and uncertain, almost all wartime cross-country travel shifted into Utah.

A prioritized federal list for keeping the Overland Trail open would almost certainly have placed concerns regarding western secession (especially southern California and Oregon) first, communication second, transfer of western precious metals to help finance the war third, and, last but not least, continuing western emigration. Utahns would have listed emigration first, followed closely by mail and telegraph communication.

By the beginning of May 1861, hostile actions on the trails — by both Indians and whites — caused Utah's departing governor, Alfred Cumming, to request that a detachment of soldiers from Fort Crittenden be sent to guard the Overland Trail "for the protection of the Mail, Express, and emigrants, and, if need be, for the chastisement of the Indians." Soldiers were not sent but were instead ordered by the War Department to leave Utah and join the growing eastern fight. With the exception of seventeen soldiers left to garrison Fort Bridger, Colonel Philip St. George Cooke's entire Utah command of "ten companies of Infantry Artillery and Dragoons" marched east to join the growing conflict on August 9. Indians roaming the Overland Trail became increasingly brazen in their stealing and pillaging — so much so that as the army departed, they "helped themselves to a goodly toll of Army cattle." As the soldiers departed, they passed Mormon emigrants heading west.

Brigham Young and church leaders were pleased with the army's departure. The church's removal to the West, which previously had been seen as a burden, was now viewed as a blessing. As Elder George A. Smith, a Mormon apostle, preached from the pulpit: "Now, brethren, are we not thankful that, at least, we can see the providence of the Almighty in suffering us to be driven into these valleys, where we can enjoy the sweets of true liberty — where none dare molest or make afraid?" Brigham Young echoed that attitude: "Do we appreciate the blessings of this our mountain home, far removed from the war, blood, carnage and death that are laying low in the dust thousands of our fellow creatures in the very streets we have walked, and in the cities and towns where we have lived?"

On July 24, Utah's Pioneer Day holiday, Brigadier General Lorenzo Thomas, the army's adjutant-general, notified Brigadier General Edwin V. Sumner, who was at Department of the Pacific headquarters in San Francisco, that "One regiment of infantry and five companies of cavalry have been accepted from California to aid in protecting [the] Overland Mail Route via Salt Lake." Although soldiers would not arrive in Salt Lake City for over a year, federal forces were beginning once again to move toward Utah.

Shortly before the army returned, a technological miracle occurred. On Friday, October 18, 1861, the eastern telegraph line from Omaha reached Salt Lake City. Utah could now communicate with the East in almost real time. The western telegraph line from Carson City arrived on October 24, and the nation found itself in possession of rapid coast-to-coast communication for the first time.

Following the army's withdrawal from Utah, soldiers no longer patrolled the trails, maintained the telegraph stations, or ensured the safe and timely passage of the mails. Indians quickly took advantage of the soldiers' absence. The Deseret News reported frequent attacks, and travel became increasingly dangerous. Telegraph and mail stations were destroyed, stagecoaches and emigrants were attacked, and mail was scattered and burned by Ute, Shoshone, Kiowa, Bannock, and Cheyenne Indians.

John W. Dawson arrived in Salt Lake City by mail stage on December 7 as the federally appointed, although not yet Senate-confirmed, territorial governor. Dawson, President Lincoln's political appointee to replace Alfred Cumming as territorial governor, was a political chameleon, having been a member of the Whig, Democratic, Know-Nothing, American, and Republican parties prior to his appointment as Utah's territorial governor. Just two days after his arrival in Salt Lake, Utah's territorial legislature passed an act "providing for an election on the 6th of Jan. of 65 Delegates to meet in Convention in this City [Salt Lake] on the 3d Monday in January to form a Constitution, form a State Government, etc. preparatory to the admission of Utah [as a state]."

Three days after his arrival, Dawson gave his first and only "Governor's Message to the Legislative Assembly of Utah," during which he issued several invitations for Utahns to join the national call to arms: "Men of Utah, are you ready to assist? ... Here in this peaceful valley ... far removed from the scenes of conflict, where your brethren and fellow citizens are ruthlessly shedding each other's blood, you can not but look with deep, earnest interest upon the struggle and its final result. ... That the true interest of the people of Utah is with the Federal Union no rational man can doubt; and let no man urge a different course, for such will be a dangerous one." Calling upon "the loyalty of this people," Dawson encouraged the territory to accept a $26,982 federal tax "levied on this Territory" in August 1861. (It was later paid.)


Excerpted from "Utah and the American Civil War"
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Copyright © 2017 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University.
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Table of Contents

List of Map and Tables,
Timeline of United States and Utah Territory History,
1. Utah Territory and the Civil War: A Summary History,
2. History of the War of the Rebellion Official Records,
3. Records Overview,
4. Utah's Civil War Official Records,
5. Additional Records from Utah Territory,
Appendix A. Glossary and Abbreviations,
Appendix B. Chronological Records List,
Appendix C. Supplement to the Official Records,
Appendix D. Official Records Associated with Utah,
Appendix E. Utah's Territorial Borders,
Appendix F. Utah's Wartime Military Geography,
Appendix G. Military Units Serving in Utah Territory, 1861–1865,
Appendix H. Records Listed by Senders and Receivers,

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