Review of Kenneth Alford’s Civil War Saints

By October 8, 2013

Kenneth L. Alford, ed.  Civil War Saints.  Provo, UT:  Religious Studies Center (BYU), 2012.  xxxiii + 569 pp.  Hardcover $31.99.  ISBN 978-0-8425-2816-0.

I have contributed here a thorough and lengthy discussion of this book; if you would like just the highlights, please read my first and last paragraphs below.  –NRR

Civil_War_Saints_Front_smaller_detailAs America continues its commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, it is fitting that at least one new book should come out examining the connections between Latter-day Saints and the war.  Kenneth Alford aims in this edited volume to update and add to the small body of literature surrounding Mormons, the Utah Territory, and the Civil War.[1] While he falls short of creating a one-volume comprehensive treatment of the subject, he and his co-contributors have explored important, previously-uncharted territory that make this book an important addition to any Mormon or Civil War History enthusiast?s library.

Alford begins with an introduction that does not quite do justice to the component parts of the book.  While most of the introduction summarizes the various chapters, written by 16 authors (Alford himself authored or coauthored five of the chapters), as well as eight appendices, Alford spends the first three pages of the introduction quibbling over the traditional starting and culminating events of the war and rehashing familiar curiosities like the pupil-teacher connection between Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard and Union Major Robert Anderson at Fort Sumter.  This odd opening is mirrored in much of the organization of rest of the work, as there is little rhyme or reason to the order of the chapters, and much overlapping in research and topical discussion between them.

Following the introduction is a 14-page timeline (xix-xxxiii) including events that happened both in the larger war and specific to the Latter-day Saints and Utah Territory.  While it contains a few minor errata (for example, on Dec. 4, 1861 the timeline says ?Pioneers called to found St. George,? when in reality they were called at the previous October General Conference), overall the timeline is thorough and a fair summary of major events of note.  The timeline begins with the organization of the Mormon church in 1830 and ends with the disbanding of the last offshoot of the Morrisite church in 1969 (Joseph Morris and his followers are discussed in Chapter 9, on the Utah Territorial Militia).

Former MHA President Bill MacKinnon contributes chapter 1, which explores the connections between the Utah War of 1857-58 and the Civil War.  While Alford had stated in the introduction to Civil War Saints that McKinnon would highlight the important impact the Utah War would have in preparing leaders and soldiers for the Civil War (xii), MacKinnon is actually less direct in identifying correlation; rather, he primarily identifies a number of figures from the Utah War who later participated in the Civil War, some achieving great notoriety.  (MacKinnon relegates to Appendix A his discussion of potential influences of the Utah War on three particular Civil War generals? tactics:  George H. Thomas, ?the Rock of Chickamauga?; Rufus Ingalls; and P.G.T. Beauregard.)  He does explain that the Utah War provided an important proving ground for ?materiel, weapons, rations, tactics, communications arrangements, and transportation schemes? that would later be used during the war, but mentions them only in passing (8).  This is, I think, something that warrants further exploration and could really highlight the tremendous impact of the Utah War on the Civil War.

In Chapter 2 Sherman Fleck offers a brief overview of the entire Civil War, which draws largely on well-known secondary literature and focuses on strategy and tactics in the various theaters of the war.  Absent from his overview is a discussion of the larger question of sovereignty, as well as the social, economic, and other issues that would have bearing on Utah during and after the war.

Chapter 3 is perhaps my favorite chapter, in which Scott C. Esplin examines Joseph Smith?s ?Civil War Prophecy? (D&C 87) and the myriad ways it has been used and perceived by Mormons and non-Mormons.  After examining the history and context of its revelation and recording, he argues that over time ?the Church and its leaders have used it [alternatively] as proof of Joseph?s prophetic mantle, a condemnation for a disobedient nation, a warning of future calamity, and even a reason to question international peace efforts? (57).  Well-researched and argued, I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter.  It does overlap quite a lot with Chapter 6 (Richard E. Bennett on the Utah view of the Civil War contemporarily) and Chapter 7 (JIer Brett Dowdle on the Civil War in Mormon thought, also mostly contemporary to the war).

lincoln 26_2144 In Chapter 4 Mary Jane Woodger updates George A. Hubbard?s previous research on Lincoln and the Mormons, bringing a fresh perspective to the relationship between the president and the peculiar people.  She argues that ?there is little evidence that the Mormons were ever more than a political object for Lincoln,? (77) and details four areas of intersection between Mormons and the president during the Civil War:  communication, transportation, polygamy, and federal appointees.  Woodger asserts that Lincoln?s approval of the 1862 Morrill anti-polygamy law was intended primarily ?to fulfill the antipolygamy plank? of the Republican presidential platform, ?but not because he had any serious concerns about polygamy,? (74). The Mormons, for their part, grew over time to appreciate Lincoln as an executive who was willing to listen to their petitions regarding federal appointees, and remain passive about enforcing anti-polygamy legislation.  They cheered his reelection and mourned his assassination (76).

Craig Manscill contributes chapter 5, which primarily deals with rumors of Mormon secession from 1847 through the actual secession crisis.  He recounts previous research that shows Southerners anticipated that the Utah Mormons might be favorable towards secession, based on their strained relationship with the federal government (90).

Chapter 8 recounts the story of Lot Smith?s cavalry company, the only federally-sanctioned military unit Utah contributed to the Civil War.  JI?s own Joey Stewart coauthored the chapter with Alford, and they closely examine the founding, exploits, and (briefly) legacy of the Utah soldiers who spent 107 days in military service protecting the Overland Trail and fulfilling other assignments.  Their service was important mostly for the loyalty to Union it symbolized, rather than any substantial military contributions.  Reading like more of an overview than a detailed treatment, this chapter includes hardly any insight from the soldiers? perspective, and does not even identify the members of Lot Smith?s company.  (Their names can be found in Appendix E among the other LDS Civil War veterans, but a full muster list would have been helpful for this chapter.)

Chapter 9 contains Ephraim D. Dickson III?s excellent examination of the only other LDS military unit that saw service during the Civil War:  the Nauvoo Legion (or Utah Territorial Militia).  With the withdrawal of federal troops at the outset of the war, Utahans became concerned for their safety and security.  The Nauvoo Legion provided border protection, supported the territorial marshal in making arrests (as they did with the capture of Joseph Morris), negotiated with?and fought with?Native Americans, scouted future settlements, and stood on alert when federal troops returned to Utah in 1862.  Dickson ably recounts the crucial role the Nauvoo Legion played during the Civil War years, despite the volunteer nature of their service.

GenPEConnor In Chapter 10 Bill MacKinnon and Alford examine Camp Douglas?s founding and Civil War years, opening with the important perspective that ?Camp Douglas is the only military installation in the United States sited purposely so that soldiers could keep a watchful eye on the American citizens outside its gates,? (162).  Though it was named by Gen. Patrick Connor (pictured to the left) after the Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas?who had rankled the Mormons with his anti-Mormon remarks during the Utah War?s heated days?MacKinnon and Alford insist that the naming was coincidental, and not intended to signify impending hostility (165-69).  While the army provided much-needed income for the Salt Lake Valley after its arrival in 1862, tensions soon ran high with various conflicts over water usage, the hostility of the Mormons toward the army?s presence, and Connor?s dislike of the Mormon religion and perception of the Mormons as disloyal to the federal government.  And yet, despite initial hostilities, after the Civil War Camp Douglas (rechristened Ft. Douglas following Brigham Young?s death) became an integral part of Utah?s permanent culture.[2]

In Chapter 11, Brant W. Ellsworth and Alford examine the motivations that drove Mormon men outside of Utah to enlist for service in the Civil War.  James McPherson, Reid Mitchell, Chandra Manning, and others have examined motivations at large during the Civil War by poring over thousands of letters and diaries.[3]  Ellsworth and Alford identify four major categories of motivation among just a small sampling of Mormon soldiers they examine:  rage militaire, or ?the engrossing patriotic fervor that swept across the nation? (185); a sense of duty or a ?moral obligation to set aside personal feelings, relationships, and fears in order to protect their country? (188); personal honor or a desire to honor their families; and happenstance (they had not planned on enlisting, but circumstances led them to do so?they were ?at the wrong place at the wrong time? [199]).  With such a small sampling of soldiers that they examine (I believe I counted only ten), it seems certain that additional motivations might come to light with a larger data set.  In Chapter 16, Robert C. Freeman offers brief biographical sketches of five Civil War soldiers who were LDS at the time of the war, overlapping with Ellsworth and Alford?s list of soldiers.  (Freeman is well known for his work with Dennis Wright on the Saints at War project, and was an obvious choice for someone to help identify the soldiers who served in this conflict).

In Chapter 12 Alford offers a decent overview of Indian relations in Utah during the war, providing context for Chapter 13, a reprint of the late Harold Schindler?s Fall 1999 UHQ article on (then) new evidence shedding light on the Bear River Massacre.

Bill Hartley contributes Chapter 14, a thorough blow-by-blow examination of Mormon emigration during the Civil War. Hartley argues that, initially, the war had the effect of hastening emigration.  Its arrival coincided with the development of the ?down-and-back? wagon train system, in which church leaders overcame the problems of the handcarts by outfitting full teams to meet emigrants in Florence, allowing them to save the cost of purchasing all the implements and provender required for overland travel.  It worked so well in 1861 that the same system was used in 1862, though travel routes had to be modified slightly because of the war.  1863 saw more encounters with the realities and deprivations of war, but Mormons came through relatively unscathed.  The large groups of emigrants arriving in New York City missed the draft riots by a few days (which I discuss briefly here), though they more often came in contact with soldiers and had to take precautionary defense measures while traveling.  In 1864, because the emigrants were finding themselves harassed in Florence, a new staging site was established at a site called Wyoming, Nebraska?but the numbers continued to be relatively the same.  Emigration steeply dropped in 1865 on the counsel of church leaders to remain in the East (especially Canada) while the war continued, also disbanding temporarily the down-and-back system.

Chapter 15 is another Alford contribution, this one on how Utah and the Mormons were treated by the U.S. Press during the war.  Both Northern and Southern newspapers reported information and misinformation about the Mormons, and especially polygamy, throughout the war.  Alford argues, ?collectively they helped to set the stage for the national preoccupation with polygamy that followed the Civil War,? (281).  Utah was portrayed as a disloyal, backwards place where Brigham Young ruled a theocracy certainly unworthy of statehood.  A very interesting chapter, though also telling would have been a discussion of how Mormons were viewed abroad by newspapers observing the American conflict from afar.

Chapter 17 contains Andrew C. Skinner?s summary of Reconstruction, which focuses largely on the failures of Reconstruction on a national level and mentions only in the last few pages the antipolygamy campaign of the ?Second Reconstruction.?  This really needs more examination; Skinner relies almost exclusively on existing secondary research for his chapter (though he chose well in his sources, especially Patrick Mason?s 2010 article on Southern opposition to polygamy).  He also stretches to compare the Mormon experience of persecution with the experiences of freedmen in the postbellum South, writing that ?the Latter-day Saints have endured experiences that make them more appreciative of the trials and tribulations of blacks living in the South after the Civil War.?  And he bitterly concludes that continuing American preoccupation with the oddities of Mormonism ?remains one of the last great biases existing in this country,? (313).

Tabernacle 1909Chapters 18 and 19 examine Mormon involvement in the main veteran organization following the war, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR).  Alford recounts in Chapter 18 the initial denial of GAR membership to Utah Mormons due to a ?duty?to oppose, as both oppressive and un-American, the Mormon practice of polygamy,? (324).  Only after a favorable reversal of their pension status in 1907 and a ruling in 1910 by a Department of Utah Court of Inquiry did the Lot Smith Company veterans become eligible for GAR membership.  And this was despite?or perhaps because of?the fact that the 1909 National Encampment of the GAR was held in Salt Lake City, a remarkable choice for such a reunion, as Parshall explains in Chapter 19.  It came in the wake of the controversy over Reed Smoot?s seating in Congress, and presented an opportunity for the 60,000 visitors who descended on Salt Lake City to see firsthand the peculiar people that had been so maligned in the eastern press for decades.  (Picture:  the Mormon Tabernacle decorated for the 1909 GAR National Encampment, in Alan Barnett, Seeing Salt Lake City [online here].)

Following Chapter 19 is a 19-page bibliography that contains a wealth of resources for anyone interested in learning more about the topics covered in the book (365-383).  But the true gem of this book is its appendices, which should be the starting point for anyone striving to do research on Mormons who served in the Civil War. Appendix A is discussed above with my assessment of Chapter 1.  Appendix B is Ephraim Dickson III?s profile of Camp Douglas photographer Charles D. Beckwith.  Appendices C-H contain the results of Alford and his research team?s efforts on compiling a comprehensive list of Civil War Soldiers who were either Mormon at the time of their service or who later converted to Mormonism.  He discusses the methodology they used to identify soldiers who had connections to Mormonism in Appendix C.  A detailed list of these soldiers, including data on their military service, appears in Appendix E with a summary list in Appendix H.  The one great weakness, which Alford readily acknowledges, is that many of the servicemen his team identified cannot be conclusively identified as both Mormon and having served in the Civil War (406-407, 423).  This means that, of the 384 men listed, 160 may not really be Civil War Mormons.

But that should not undermine the monumental research that Alford and his team have done.  It is a starting point, to be true, and I?ve no doubt that the findings they made will be utilized by historians to continue to build on the little we know of Mormons who saw military service in the Civil War.

In conclusion, the individual chapters and the appendices of Civil War Saints are all well-researched and, with few exceptions, original contributions using in many cases painstaking  archival research to shed light on Utah and Mormons during the Civil War Era.  The work as a whole falls short of monumental status, in my mind, because of the overlap between chapters, the little rhyme or reason to the order of the chapters, and the topics that could have appeared in a book about Mormons and the Civil War but did not.  I would like to have seen chapters or more thorough discussions on the creation of the Utah Territory and its role in the sectional conflict of 1849-50; Mormonism?s impact on the development of Republican Party ideology; Utah?s small slave population, slave code, and how emancipation and Reconstruction affected slaves and slaveholders within Utah?s borders; the Civil War?s impact on Utah?s economy and territorial politics; Mormon women and the war; the war?s impact, if any, on Mormon thought and cosmology exclusive of the Civil War prophecy; the RLDS movement and the war; the war?s impact, if any, on the suffrage movement in Utah; and how the changes wrought in federalism during the war would impact territorial Utah following the war.  Hints of some of these do appear throughout Civil War Saints, but I think warrant their own fully-developed chapters.  Still, it is a book worth owning and reading, again and again.  The Civil War?s battles were far removed from Utah, but that does not mean that the conflict had little impact on the Mormons, which Alford and his contributors have successfully shown.

[1] Besides a number of significant articles over the last century, the only book-length works to examine Mormon Utah during the Civil War have been Margaret Fisher?s Utah and the Civil War (1929) and E.B. Long?s The Saints and the Union (1981).

[2] Nate?s note:  the Ft. Douglas Museum, located today on the University of Utah campus, is a phenomenal institution with great exhibits on Utah?s military culture.  I would highly recommend a visit.

[3] See McPherson, For Cause and Comrades (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1997); Mitchell, Civil War Soldiers (New York:  Penguin Books, 1997); and Manning, What This Cruel War Was Over (New York:  Vintage, 2008).

Article filed under Book and Journal Reviews Categories of Periodization: Territorial Period JIers in Print Miscellaneous


  1. I appreciate the review, Nate. This was my first experience with archival research, editing and the publishing process.

    The lack of journal voices is due to the few diaries which describe the Lot Smith Company’s journey. The journals that are available are often less than reliable. There is a new project, to make the journal records more accurate and available. This isn’t the last that Mormon Civil War buffs will hear about the Lot Smith Company.

    Lastly, I am glad you mentioned the appendices. There have been more soldiers that have surfaced since the publication of the book. Compiling those appendices was frustrating, but very rewarding. I hope that the chapters and future contributions prove to be a jumping off point for future scholars, as well as useful in the classroom.

    Comment by J Stuart — October 8, 2013 @ 8:54 am

  2. Strong review. Thanks, Nate.

    Comment by J. Stapley — October 8, 2013 @ 10:26 am

  3. Great review, Nate. One question, is Thaddeus Stevens, Congressman from Pennsylvania mentioned in direct relationship to the LDS Church? I’ve been doing some initial research into Stevens, given that he was a close friend of Thomas Kane and John Bernhisel, and have found a few interesting items. It appears that Stevens was actually fairly well informed about the church, and the tensions before, during, and after the Utah War.

    Comment by kevinf — October 8, 2013 @ 10:51 am

  4. Thanks, Nate. I still need to find the time to read this.

    Comment by Christopher — October 8, 2013 @ 10:51 am

  5. Joey: Thanks! I do look forward to what light can be shed by additional research on the Lot Smith Company. And I appreciate your communication with me on your role in the project.

    J. and Christopher: Thanks!

    Kevin: Stevens appears nowhere in this particular book.

    Comment by Nate R. — October 8, 2013 @ 11:35 am

  6. Great and comprehensive review! Thanks so much!

    Comment by NatalieR — October 8, 2013 @ 11:43 am

  7. Great review. Thanks, Nate!

    Comment by David G. — October 8, 2013 @ 12:04 pm

  8. This Book Is A Thorough

    […] il War (406-407, 423).  This means that, of the 384 men listed, 160 may not rea […]

    Trackback by Telescope Mission Blog — October 8, 2013 @ 2:46 pm

  9. Great review, Nate.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — October 8, 2013 @ 7:44 pm

  10. Thanks, Natalie, David, and Edje!

    Comment by Nate R. — October 8, 2013 @ 8:39 pm

  11. Nice work, Nate.

    Comment by Ryan T. — October 9, 2013 @ 12:05 pm


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