Guest Post: Ken Alford on the Mormon Civil War Vets and the GAR

By August 12, 2013

Today’s guest post is from Ken Alford, an Associate Professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University. After serving almost 30 years on active duty in the United States Army, he retired as a Colonel in 2008. While on active duty, Ken served in numerous personnel, automation, acquisition, and education assignments, including the Pentagon, eight years teaching at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and four years as Professor and Department Chair at the National Defense University in Washington, DC. His most recent book, Civil War Saints, was published in 2012. Ken and his wife, Sherilee, have four children and ten grandchildren.

The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was the largest and most influential Civil War veterans organization. GAR membership was officially available for every Union veteran who served honorably in the United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, or a state regiment “called into active service” between April 12, 1861, and April 9, 1865, “in the war for the suppression of the rebellion.”[1] Former Confederates were never eligible to join, and, as it turned out, veterans of the Utah’s Lot Smith Cavalry Company had difficulty joining for almost half a century after the Civil War ended.

Utah Territory provided only one active duty military unit during the Civil War. Commanded by Captain Lot Smith (who was the youngest soldier enlisted in the Mormon Battalion and a terror to the U.S. Army marching across present-day Wyoming during the Utah War), the Utah Cavalry Company served May to August 1862. Their mission was to guard portions of the overland trail in what is today southwest Wyoming. Just over one hundred Latter-day Saints from Utah served with Lot Smith.

During the 19th century, Utah’s GAR membership consisted of non-Mormons, often businessmen, miners, and government employees who moved to Utah following the war. Utah’s GAR membership records are incomplete, but it appears no Latter-day Saint veterans from the Lot Smith Company joined the GAR before the turn of the century.

There are many possible reasons why non-Mormons did not support GAR membership for Lot Smith Company veterans. First, Utah’s few Civil War soldiers were not viewed as authentic veterans by many veterans. The Lot Smith Cavalry Company faced no Confederate forces, saw no combat, and served just over ninety days (but that did not make their unit unique). Second, GAR members generally believed that Mormons were disloyal to the Union–a charge which, if true, would have made them ineligible for GAR membership. Article IV of the GAR Rules and Regulations specified that “No person shall be eligible to membership who has at any time born arms against the United States,”[2] and many Utah GAR members felt that rule excluded from membership any Mormon, such as Lot Smith, who had taken up arms against the federal government during the Utah War. A third reason was that the GAR, having defeated slavery (the first “relic of barbarism”), was openly against the practice of polygamy–the second “relic of barbarism.”

Many possible factors may have contributed to Lot Smith Company veterans finally applying for GAR membership; the Manifesto, Utah’s statehood, or a desire to secure a federal pension. Sentimentality may also have played a role, as the surviving veterans were growing old. Regardless of the motivations, Lot Smith Company veterans began applying for GAR membership after the turn of the century. In 1907 Seymour B. Young, a nephew of Brigham Young who served as a corporal in the Lot Smith Utah Cavalry (and was then serving as senior president of the Seventy), applied for GAR membership in Salt Lake City. His application was rejected, and his membership fee was returned. In 1908, the same post commander ordered a second vote, and Young’s application was accepted. Some members questioned the vote’s legality, and the Utah GAR judge advocate voided the second ballot.[3] By 1909, although many [Lot Smith Company veterans] had applied for membership, only two, Charles Crismon, Jr., and Dr. Harvey C. Hullinger, had successfully joined the GAR.[4]

To complicate their GAR eligibility, a ruling by the federal pension bureau board declared that Utah Cavalry veterans were ineligible to receive federal Civil War pensions. In December 1909, the commissioner of the federal Bureau of Pensions reinstated veteran status and pension eligibility for the Lot Smith Company.[5]

For the next two years, Utah’s GAR leadership worked to deny membership to Lot Smith Company veterans. At one point, Utah’s department commander even appealed the decision of his own Court of Inquiry to the national commander-in-chief. The right of Utah’s Lot Smith Company veterans to join the GAR was finally settled on July 7, 1911 by Thomas S. Hopkins, GAR national judge advocate general. In his ruling, Hopkins stated that the Lot Smith Company “was just as much a part of the Army of the United States as were any of the regiments that formed the great armies of the east and west.”[6]

The first GAR post organized by Lot Smith Company veterans was named after John Quincy Knowlton (a second lieutenant) on October 9, 1911.[7] The names of both Lot Smith and First Lt. Joseph S. Rawlins (second in command of the Lot Smith Company) were unacceptable to Utah’s GAR leadership because of their active involvement during the Utah War. Seymour B. Young served as the first commander of the Knowlton Post.[8]


[1] Beath, History of the Grand Army of the Republic, 202.

[2] Beath, Grand Army Blue-Book, 4.

[3] Twenty-Sixty and Twenty-Seventh Annual Encampments, Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Utah (Salt Lake City: Grand Army of the Republic, 1909), 40-41.

[4] Margaret M. Fisher, Utah and the Civil War; Being the Story of the Part Played by the People of Utah in That Great Conflict with Special Reference to the Lot Smith Expedition and the Robert T. Burton Expedition  (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1929), 144-45. Margaret Fisher was the wife of Joseph Armstrong Fisher, a soldier in the Lot Smith Utah Cavalry.

[5] “Pensions, Lot Smith Co.,” Washington County (Utah) News, December 30, 1909, 1.

[6] Journal of the Forty-Fifth National Encampment, 156.

[7] “John Quincy Knowlton GAR Post Organized,” Salt Lake Herald, October 10, 1910, 3 and “Smith Veterans Organize,” Salt Lake Telegram, October 10, 1911, 10.

[8] Fisher, Utah and the Civil War, 150-55.

Article filed under Politics


  1. I read this out loud to my father, who is really interested in such things, and we both agreed it was fascinating.

    Is there a monument to these Mormon Civil War vets?

    Comment by EmJen — August 12, 2013 @ 12:57 pm

  2. What an interesting post about this transitory moment in Mormon History. I find it very interesting that the GAR became a microcosm of U.S. acceptance of Mormons in general. Some of the historiography on the GAR examines how the organization increasingly became a force for regional reconciliation and public forgetting as it moved into the 20th century. A couple years after the ruling about Utah veterans’ acceptance into the GAR, Union and Confederate veterans would meet at Gettysburg and demonstrate mutual respect. I am wondering if their acceptance of Utah soldiers was simply a manifestation of this greater movement toward regional reconciliation, or if it was more about the integration of Utah into the country after statehood.

    Comment by Joel — August 12, 2013 @ 1:00 pm

  3. Didn’t Seymour B. Young eventually serve as the chaplain to the Utah GAR. I remember a lot of GAR stuff in his papers.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 12, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

  4. Very interesting.

    Of possible interest: Keepapitchinin has touched on the GAR a few times.
    Memorial Day Comes to Deseret, 1873
    Honor the Civil War Nurse (Utah history)
    Allen Allensworth: From Slavery to High Military Honor (Utah history)
    The Mormons? First Memorial Day

    Comment by Edje Jeter — August 12, 2013 @ 2:20 pm

  5. EmJen asked if there is a monument to Utah’s Civil War soldiers, and the answer is “Yes!” On September 30, 1961, the Central Company of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers dedicated a monument (No. 270) on the grounds of the Utah State Capitol.

    Here’s a YouTube video showing Utah’s Civil War monument: (There is a small error in the video, though. The twenty-four Utah militia men who served with Col. Robert T. Burton were not “enlisted federal soldiers;” they never served on federal active duty and were, therefore, not eligible for GAR membership. Colonel Burton’s commission was from Utah Territory, not the federal government.)

    Soldiers who served in the Lot Smith Utah Cavalry Company, on the other hand, did serve on federal active duty during the Civil War and (eventually) could join the GAR. (Lot Smith was commissioned as a captain in the U.S. Army; prior to receiving his federal commission he served as a major in Utah’s Nauvoo Legion.)

    J. Stapley asked about Seymour B. Young’s connections to the GAR. Young was very active in Utah’s GAR (once he was allowed to join). He played an important role in Utah sponsoring sixty-six Civil War veterans (Yankees and Confederates) to attend the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1913.

    Here’s some film footage taken during the 1913 Gettysburg reunion:

    If you’re interested in the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion, I will refer you to an article by Ken Nelson and me in the Summer 2013 issue of “Utah Historical Quarterly” (pages 267-289).

    Comment by Ken Alford — August 13, 2013 @ 11:43 am


Recent Comments

J. Stapley on A Quick Note: Historicizing: “Here is the YM org chart from 1967, which doesn't include a YM's presidency, so perhaps that dating of the presidencies to the mid 1970s…”

Mees Tielens on The Mechanics of Applying: “Just a gentle tip that if you are one of the interdisciplinary folks presenting at MHA your panel will probably not be well attended, but…”

Ardis on The Mechanics of Applying: “Thanks, J. My memory isn't perfect, but so far as it extends I don't recall ever seeing such a comprehensive and easy-to-follow explainer of the…”

J Stuart on 2019 Book of Mormon: “Eccles Conference Center, Rooms 201 and 205. I don't have any further information and their website doesn't seem to be updated.”

Robin on Guest Post - Mormonism: “This is such an important project and I'm so glad you're working on this. We need so many more scholars turning their attention to this…”

Jedd on 2019 Book of Mormon: “Where exactly is the conference being held? Which building? Also, do you know the titles of the keynote Speakers? Details on the book reviews? I'm excited…”