An Introduction to the Mormon Participation in the Civil War

By March 17, 2009

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.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. Fascinating stuff. Beyond reading Long’s Saints and the Union, I haven’t read anything on the subject.

    Out of these 400 men, about what percentage enlisted from Utah?

    Comment by Ben — March 17, 2009 @ 10:51 am

  2. Fascinating, Brant. 400! Do you get the sense that all of them were Brighamites? I imagine there were also a fair amount of Latter Day Saints who rejected BY yet retained their belief in Mormonism that enlisted as well.

    Also, I’m glad you’re looking deeper into Brighamite reaction to the Civil War and how that connects with the memory of persecution. I didn’t get to cover that in my thesis, so I look forward to what you have to say about that.

    Comment by David G. — March 17, 2009 @ 10:53 am

  3. This is great stuff, Brant. Could you clarify your central question of “why these men fought” for me? Are you asking why these men enlisted in the war, or why they actually fought, a la James McPherson’s For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War?

    Comment by Christopher — March 17, 2009 @ 11:06 am

  4. Also, I’m interested in learning more about the breakdown between those that fought for the Union and those that fought for the Confederacy. Again, this is really interesting stuff. Thanks.

    Comment by Christopher — March 17, 2009 @ 11:13 am

  5. Well, my eyes just widened. This is going to be great! I’m looking forward to your future posts.

    I’m guessing the the 400 were pretty evenly distributed between Union and Confederacy, with the man’s home state claiming his loyalty. Is that correct?

    Comment by Mark Brown — March 17, 2009 @ 11:31 am

  6. I look forward to reading more. When I was reading through BY’s Office Journal, Book D, I found the entries on the Civil War quite provocative, and am interested if they were generally representative of Mormon sentiment.

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 17, 2009 @ 12:29 pm

  7. It is my understanding, there were a great many converts who came to Utah from England’s textile area when plants closed due to the cotton blockade of the South by the North during the war. If this is true, has someone written on it?
    Was there a Missouri link to those who fought? Any connections with the War with Mexico? (The Civil War Officer Core fought it/the Mormon Battalion was kinda there).

    Comment by Bob — March 17, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

  8. Brant-

    Interesting topic.

    I’m going to echo Ben’s question and ask: how many (if any) of the enlistees were from Utah? Knowing what we know about the tenor of US-Utah relations in the 1860s, it’s hard to imagine many of them being from Utah Territory. I think David’s on to something when he wonders if maybe some (most?) of the Mormon enlistees were not of the Brighamite variety.

    But maybe the accepted wisdom is wrong. I’d be eager to learn more.

    Comment by Brandon — March 17, 2009 @ 1:17 pm

  9. This definitely made my eyes widen. If you need a peer reviewer you can sign me up right away. But it looks like I have to fight everybody else here for the chance. Like everbody else I am looking for some clarification as to what kind of whys you are looking at. Is this an ideological study (like joining because they thought God wanted them to) or a social study (fighting because they were fresh off the boat and had no job) or something else (like the Mormon version of a filibuster)?
    Anyways keep up the good work and thanks so much for bringing this to our attention.

    Comment by Morgan Deane — March 17, 2009 @ 2:01 pm

  10. Demographics, man! Give ’em up! 🙂

    I’m astounded at the number 400 and can hardly wait to learn more about just who they are. In my work on the Utah GAR I’ve identified fewer than 200 men who joined the Church *after* their Civil War service, but only a handful who were LDS *during* their service. So I’m anxious to know your (or friend Hall’s) definition for “Mormon Civil War soldier.”

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — March 17, 2009 @ 3:12 pm

  11. Yikes! I wasn’t prepared for this outpouring of comments! Thanks all for your interest and questions. 1 – As I mentioned in the intro, Robert Hall has done most of the leg work on this and, as I have been unable to find anyone who knows who this guy is, I haven’t been able to put a name with the 400 yet. I’ve believe Hall counted the roughly 200 men who volunteered with Robert Burton and Lot Smith in 1862 to guard the telegraph lines as Civil War participants. In addition, there were some men who came with Johnston’s army in 1857-58 who converted to Mormonism prior to the war and returned east to fight. Hall says that of the 400 soldiers, 100 were foreign-born immigrants. I have found a hand-full of these men, some of whom joined with Burton and Smith. If you count these 200 men with Burton and Smith, then the percentage is roughly 50-50. Grua – Thanks! I got some great ideas from your thesis. My contribution pales in comparison to your conclusions. 3-4 Ah the breakdown between Union and Confederate. Of the folks I’ve been able to locate, the heavy majority were Union men. There was a General Conference talk years back about the “Confederate Officer.” I can’t recall off the top of my head who the speaker was. In answer to your other question, my thesis will ultimately answer why they enlisted. Perhaps some future project could examine why soldiers from the fringes fought in the war, something I feel McPherson ignored in his sweeping conclusions. Sorry to 5 – 9, I’ll be back after class with more answers.

    Comment by Brant E. — March 17, 2009 @ 3:17 pm

  12. Brant E.: You say, “If studying history has taught me anything though, it is that a diligent student can find evidence of just about anything.”

    If reading history has taught ME anything, it is that most writers are dreadfully dull. Like the other commenters, I found your description of the upcoming posts to be wildly intriguing. I look forward to the upcoming posts, but in the meantime, congrats on knowing how to hook a reader so well. Write on!

    Comment by Hunter — March 17, 2009 @ 3:50 pm

  13. Wow! I’m really excited about this. Darius Gray and I assumed that his ancestors’ “master’s” sons would have fought in the war, though we fictionalized their involvement. We do know that Sterling Price, much involved in the Confederate side of things–and in things Mormon (a presence at Liberty Jail) gave a rousing speech in the hometown of the Louis and Gracie Gray (Darius’s ancestors) family: Marshall, MO. It was a speech he repeated on other occasions. We included portions of it in the second book of our trilogy. We also found that Price had dealings with Mormons during the Mexican war. He refused to “share grub” with them.

    Comment by Margaret Young — March 17, 2009 @ 5:19 pm

  14. Would never have guessed that such a large number of Mormon men participated in the war. I’m interested to hear more detail about the reaction of Church leaders to the conflict…whether they saw it as fulfillment of JS’s prophecy on war and whether they saw themselves and the Church as fundamentally interested in the outcome.

    Comment by Ryan Tobler — March 17, 2009 @ 6:43 pm

  15. Brant, besides the interest some of us have because your work intersects with ours, I suspect that you’re going to be met with a great deal of interest anywhere you share any part of your research. Organizations are already gearing up to observe the sesquicentennial of the war (Utah’s Fort Douglas Museum is already making plans), and the interest is only going to get greater as we get closer. Brace yourself!

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — March 17, 2009 @ 6:58 pm

  16. Don’t seem so shocked! I had family, Mormon family fighting for the Confederacy in Alabama, Georgia, Virginia and South Carolina. If you want some family history I have about it, I’d be much obliged to share it. They went on to migrate West afterward, settling much of southern Colorado.

    Comment by Shaleah — March 17, 2009 @ 7:36 pm

  17. I just want to echo what everyone has said; you have a great and interesting topic.

    Didn’t William Smith, Joseph’s brother (and former apostle) fight in an Iowa regiment? Example of a Mormon non-Brighamite?

    Jeffry Stott did an interesting thesis at BYU in the 1970s about LDS attitudes toward war including the Civil War. He discusses BY’s curse on both houses attitude toward the CW.

    I read a book years ago called The Civil War in the West (I believe that’s the correct name). The author was non-LDS but included a section on UT during the CW. UT territorial regiments protected overland communications to CA so that regiments could be freed up from the west to fight in the east. The author was also critical of BY’s fiery speeches about the CW and how this led to the establishment of Ft. Douglas in SLC.

    I suppose it was possible that there could have been LDS on both sides. I think the long-standing belief is that the first time LDS faced each other in combat was during WWI and again during WWII. It would be interesting to see if there were Brighamites on both sides and if paths ever crossed.

    I would also find it fascinating to see why they fought in the CW. In my research on the LDS in the Third Reich, it was easy to see why a Mormon would fight in the Wehrmacht–national duty, “defending” the homeland, and justified by the 12 AofF. Could the same be said of those fighting for the Union or CSA?

    Comment by Steve C. — March 17, 2009 @ 9:19 pm

  18. In my research I came across a note in William Hart Miles papers who was the eastern states mission president in the 1860 that he had received a request from a group of Mormons in the army of the Potomac that he go and minister to them. He said that it was impossible, however. I think he said that it was 20 men.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — March 17, 2009 @ 10:55 pm

  19. What about the ones who faught and then later converted? That could be more.

    Comment by Jerry — March 18, 2009 @ 3:46 pm

  20. For those of you not well versed in the REAL history of the Mormon religion:

    1. Mormons owned slaves in New York and Ohio. That and the fact that Smith and Mormon theology taught that America would be replaced with his “Mormon Kingdom of Zion” was the real reason for conflict between the Mormons and Gentiles of New York and Ohio.

    2. Smith and his Mormons specifically chose to migrate to Missouri from New York BECAUSE Missouri was a slave state. Smith was also so incensed about being forced to move because of issue of slavery that he wrote a prophesy about how slavery would ultimately cause a Civil War.

    3. Brigham Young and the Utah Territory (slave territory) initially aligned themselves with the southern states and slavery, but when it became clear that the North would win, they switched allegiances to the North.

    By the way, the Mormons have fought 3-wars against the United States, the Utah War, the Illinois War and the Missouri War. Further, Smith was ultimately arrested for Treason against the United States in 1844 (2nd time) after he attempted a coup to overthrow the Government of the United States. In fact, the Nauvoo Legion was originally established by Smith (who said it would be a 100,000 man army) specifically to overthrow the US with military force. And, Smith and other Mormons owned slaves in Nauvoo, Illinois (northern state).

    What really got Smith was the fact that he had himself secretly ordained as “King of Zion” which he claimed held dominion over the United States. He and his “Council of 50” then appointed Brigham Young as the new President of the United States and others as the new Governors of the Unites States’ States and territories.

    That is why Smith was REALLY arrested for Treason against the United States in 1844. Then, the Illinois legislature rescinded all of Nauvoo’s special city charters and Governor Ford gave the Mormons until the end of 1845 to leave Nauvoo altogether.

    That’s when Brigham Young began leading the Mormons outside of the United States so that the Mormons could establish their own sovereign nation, which would finally be free of the United States. But, before Young led the Mormons out, he required every Mormon leaving the US with him to pledge the “Mormon Oath of Vengeance Against America.

    So, its pretty easy to see why the Mormons fought along the side of the South during the Civil War.

    Comment by Neo — September 30, 2009 @ 4:40 pm

  21. Neo, thanks for the laugh and the questionable “history.” But you take the cake with your “Most Correct Chronology of Mormon History in the World” stuffed full of innuendo and conspiracy theories. Tim McVeigh a dupe of the Mormons, huh? Bye bye.

    Comment by Jared T — September 30, 2009 @ 5:13 pm

  22. Neo – I’m amused as much by the irony of a diatribe proclaiming the “REAL history of the Mormon religion” on this particular blog (seriously; read our masthead; most of us make a living by doing Mormon history. At various non-Mormon affiliated institutions, before you go there) as by the charming gee-golly-expose breathlessness of its rhetoric. I only wish you had used more exclamation points and capital letters.

    And I’m waiting for all our regulars to show up and start recommending to you peer-reviewed books and scholarly articles about the Mormon experience in the Civil War.

    Comment by matt b — September 30, 2009 @ 5:14 pm

  23. Matt, I’m not sure the recommendations would do much good (as he apparently didn’t actually read the post or subsequent comments). This Neo obviously took the wrong pill.

    Comment by Jared T — September 30, 2009 @ 5:25 pm

  24. creative, to say the least

    Comment by David G. — September 30, 2009 @ 5:27 pm

  25. Fun times. REALLY.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 30, 2009 @ 6:43 pm

  26. Look, enough guys. He figured the whole thing out. Let’s call Monson and tell him to pack it in. We knew we couldn’t keep the TRUTH secret forEVER. Look away, look away, look away Zion land. A tear.

    Comment by SC Taysom — September 30, 2009 @ 6:52 pm

  27. I’m very interested in the topic of lds civil war soldiers. I’m amazed at the number of 400. I don’t know if my ancestor’s name is among those 400 but I have an ancestor who served in the Mormon Batallion and made his way back to Utah. The government owed him for his mail carrier services and he went to Washington D.C. to collect. He took up employment carrying supplies to U.S. soldiers across enemy lines. He was captured and eventually freed. It was at this time he joined the 1st D.C. cavalry and he was mortally wounded and died three weeks later.

    Comment by C. Turner — May 2, 2010 @ 11:21 am

  28. Can anyone give me the names, units or other information about the 400 Mormons who served? I found a partial roster of Lot Smith’s unit. Thanks for your help.

    Comment by DeBorah Bankston — May 20, 2010 @ 12:29 pm

  29. The Lot Smith Company of Mormon Civil War Soldiers
    Enlisted April 30, 1862 at Great Salt Lake City, Utah Territory

    OFFICERS:

    Captain Lot Smith 1830-18981. Lot Smith, Captain “The Mountain Fox”
    2. Joseph S. Rawlings, 1st Lieutenant
    3. John Quincy Knowlton, 2nd Lieutenant
    4. Richard H. Attwood, 1st Sergeant
    5. James M. Barlow, 2nd Sergeant
    6. Samuel H. W. Riter, Sergeant
    7. John P. Wimer, Sergeant
    8. Howard Spencer, Sergeant
    9. Moses Thurston, Sergeant
    10. Seymour B. Young, Corporal
    11. William A. Bringhurst, Corporal
    12. John Hoagland, Corporal
    John Neff13. John Neff, Corporal -check
    14. Newton Myrick, Corporal
    15. Andrew Bigler, Corporal
    16. Joseph H. Felt, Corporal
    17. Hiram Clemons, Corporal
    18. Charles Evans, Musician
    19. Josiah Eardley, Musician
    20. Ira N. Hinckley, Farrier (a soldier who shod horses and treated their diseases)
    21. John Helm, Farrier
    22. Frances Platt, Saddler
    23, Solomon Hale, Wagoner

    TEAMSTERS:

    1. Mark Murphy
    2. Henry Bird
    3. Wid Fuller
    4. Lachoneus Barnard
    5. Elijah Maxfield
    6. Alfred Randall
    7. William H. Walton
    8. George W. Davidson
    9. Thurston Larsen
    10. Henry L. Dolton
    11. William Bagley

    SOLDIERS – Privates:

    1. Maroni W. Alexander
    2. William C. Allen
    3. John Arrowsmith
    4. Isaac Atkinson
    5. William Bess
    6. Charles C. Burnham
    7. John R. Bennion
    8. Samuel R. Bennion – check
    9. Edwin Brown
    10. John Cahoon
    11. Thomas S. Caldwell
    12. Theo J. Calkin
    13. Francis R. Cantwell
    14. Peter Carney
    15. Jesse J. Cherry
    16. George Cotterel
    17. Everet Covert
    18. James H. Cragun
    Charles Crismon Jr.19. Charles Crismon, Jr. 1844-1916- son of Charles Crismon Sr. and Mary Hill; md. Elizabeth Cain.
    Parley Pine Draper20. Parley Pine Draper 1843-1934 – son of William Draper Jr. and Elizabeth Staker; md. Margaret Simmonsen
    21. Albert Davis
    22. Joseph Fisher
    23. Moses W. Gibson
    24. Joseph Goddard – check
    25. William Grant
    26. John Gibson
    27. James Green
    28. Edward F. M. Guest
    29. Lewis A. Huffaker
    30. Richard Howe
    31. Thomas H. Harris
    32. Harvey C. Hullinger
    33. Samuel Hill
    34. James Hickson
    35. James Imlay
    36. Lars Jensen
    37. Powell Johnson
    38. Hiram Kimball Jr.
    39. Leander Lemmon
    40. William W. Lutz
    41. William Longstrough
    42. William Lynch
    43. James Larkins
    44. Thomas Lutz
    45. Reuben P. Miller
    46. Daniel McNicol
    47. Edwin Merrill
    Benjamin Neff48. Benjamin Neff – check
    49. Edward A. Noble
    50. Hiram B. North
    51. Lewis Osborn
    52. Hugh D. Park
    53. Lewis L. Polmantur
    54 . Francis Prince
    55. William H. Roades or Rhodes
    56. Landon Rich
    57. Alley S. Rose
    58. Adelbert Rice
    59. John H. Standifird
    60. James H. Steed
    61. Daniel C. Lill
    62. Harlon E. Simmon
    63. Emerson D. Shurtleff
    64. James Sharp
    Joseph Terry65. Joseph Terry – check

    William A. Terry66. William Terry -check
    67. Joseph J. Taylor -check
    68. Bateman H. Williams
    69. Ephriam H. Williams
    70. John H. Walker
    71. James H. Wells
    72. Elijah Malin Weiler 1839-1921 son of Jacob Weiler and Anna Marie Malin

    — James Hixson
    — Louis A. Huffaker
    — Peter Cornia
    — John P. Wimmer
    — Donald McNicol

    — Brother Sell

    Comment by DeBorah Bankston — May 20, 2010 @ 1:09 pm

  30. Brant,

    Jared T. brought your post to my attn. Very interesting! A history professor at SMU is planning on writing a book about Mormons in the Civil War. He’s going to Utah in the fall on an extended research trip.

    Comment by Dale Topham — June 11, 2010 @ 11:07 pm

  31. I grew up in Utah and I never knew that the civil war was because god was getting back at the US for being agonist the Mormons. What a bunch of $#!%

    Comment by Rick Boman — March 26, 2011 @ 9:18 am


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