REVIEW: Alford, Utah and the American Civil War

By October 25, 2017

Kenneth L. Alford, ed., Utah and the American Civil War: The Written Record (Norman, OK: Arthur H. Clark, 2017).

There are several books on Utah’s place in the Civil War, but until recently, there was never book that held all of the documents related to the war in Utah Territory. Kenneth Alford, Professor of Church History and Doctrine and Brigham Young University, has created a documentary volume that places all of the documents from the Official Records of the Civil War (OR) from Utah Territory and letters, reports, and other texts in a single volume.

Utah and the Civil War has five chapters, each of which are useful to history buffs and to academics. In the first chapter, Alford provides a summary of Utah Territory’s place in the American Civil War, including the service of the Lot Smith Company. Alford’s clear and lively narration helps readers to see that multiple parties competing for power and influence in the Territory, as well as Utah’s position as a political hot potato in the rest of the country. The second chapter gives a brief overview of the creation of the 128-volume Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. Chapter Three explains the background of the Civil War Records created in Utah Territory.

The fourth and fifth chapters are the reasons for the book’s heft (and price). However, for experts and interested parties, the primary sources in each chapter are worth the price tag. Chapter four contains transcriptions of many hundreds of documents from the OR in chronological order. As someone that tried to research Utah in the OR records as an undergraduate, please take it from me: this is *so* much easier than searching through the digitized copies available online.

Many of the records will be useful for those interested in LDS/RLDS relationships (some documents, admittedly, are dry accounts of operations, etc.). Take, for example, OR-417, a letter from Brighamite-turned-Josephite R.H. Atwood to General Patrick E. Connor (leader of the Union military forces in Utah Territory): “we trust that the dark stigma which has been attached to the name of the Latter-Day Saints by the actions of men who, fired with ambitious views of political power, lustful and covetous desires, have basely striven to cloak their iniquitous proceedings under a mask of religion, will ere long pass away, and the Latter-Day Saints be acknowledged in the ranks of the moral, virtuous, and loyal. To this end we [the RLDS] are laboring” (480-481). Religious jockeying was not limited to missionary tracts, but also found its way into correspondence printed in the official records of the Civil War. Those interested in the Mormon image are sure to be delighted with sources that detail how LDS Mormons, RLDS Mormons, and non-Mormons spoke about Mormonism in the mid-nineteenth century. In other words, one could do Mormon or American religious history through the documents in this volume.

The appendices are also useful for Mormon historians not used to military history and military historians not familiar with Mormon lingo. The supplemental information provided here is an excellent companion to the main body of text.

While it may seem silly to mention, the index is extremely well done. Those looking for specific names, places, and military units for larger studies have been well served by the author and the press.

This helpful book will be of great use to historians of the Civil War, Utah Territory, and the LDS Church in the 1860s. I wholeheartedly recommend it to those interested in the Civil War, Utah Territorial history, or Mormon history.

Disclaimer: I worked as Dr. Alford’s research assistant as an undergraduate and worked extensively with him in the production of Civil War Saints.

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