Admin: We’re pleased to have Brant E. present an introduction to some of his fascinating research on Mormon participation in the Civil War.
I am thrilled for the opportunity to share some of my research with an audience that actually may be as interested in it as I am! It has been too long since I last had someone’s eyes widen when I told them I am studying the Mormons during the Civil War. And as I have been following JI as a “ghost reader” for some time now, I feel it is only appropriate that I finally thank the contributors for their insightful posts.
Last year, while walking through the cemetery of Gettysburg National Park, I noticed that on the bottom of many of the gravestones was inscribed the soldier’s religious affiliation. I strolled through the rows of gravestones, looking for any signs of Mormon soldiers. With my limited background in Church history, I knew that the majority of the Saints had already trekked west and the odds of a Mormon returning east to fight in the war seemed highly unlikely. If studying history has taught me anything though, it is that a diligent student can find evidence of just about anything. Perhaps an impoverished Saint could not afford the trek westward and as a citizen of either a Union or Confederate state, joined the fray. Maybe a Mormon convert immigrated to the United States during the Civil War years, and upon stepping off the boats in NYC, was pressured into enlisting in the war. It became my goal to find that one man.
I quickly learned through a conversation with BYU professor Robert Freeman, who put together the Saints at War archive at BYU and edited Nineteenth Century Saints at War, that I would not need to find just one man. A man named Robert Hall, who I have been trying find for some time now, had already found the names of 400 Mormon men who fought in the Civil War. Four hundred men! I immediately thought, “Why have I never heard of these men and their stories?”
While reading many of these soldier’s journals, I also studied the Church’s reaction to the Civil War through studying the sermons of Church leaders as recorded and distributed to the people in the Deseret Newspaper. I was shocked by the language used by Brigham Young, Daniel Wells, Heber C. Kimball, and others. In their sermons, Church leaders rejoiced at the news of dissension and chaos in the east. They understood that the war was God’s retribution for the crimes against His people. I also read instances when leaders advised Church members against enlisting in the war.
Yet, four hundred men did enlist. My thesis attempts to answer the question, “Why? What were these men’s motivations for enlisting in the Civil War?” In my next post, I will share some of the quotes from Church leaders that I found. Then, I will share some of the stories I’ve collected. Finally, I will offer some of my thoughts about why these men fought.