Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mormon Battalion Article

[For background on why I wrote this click here]

The Mormon Battalion was a volunteer Army unit of around 500 men. This unit, commanded by U. S. Army officers, and otherwise consisting exclusively of Mormons, served from July 1846 to July 1847. During their enlistment, the Battalion marched about 1,900 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego, California.

Earlier in 1846, Brigham Young had written a letter to Elder Jesse C. Little, a Mormon missionary in New England, instructing him to secure a contract to provide men for the creation of an Army to protect U.S. interests in the west. Young wished to demonstrate the Mormons’ loyalty to the U. S. government and earn some much needed cash to pay for their migration to the Rocky Mountains. Before Elder Little arrived in Washington DC, however, war broke out with Mexico. After meeting with Elder Little, President James Polk agreed to enlist 500 men.

Accordingly, Captain James Allen arrived at Mount Pisgah, Iowa on July 1st 1846, to enlist 500 volunteers to aid in the Mexican American War. But it took Brigham Young’s influence to persuade men to join. After three weeks, they left for Leavenworth, Kansas for outfitting and training. The muster included over 30 women - 20 to work as laundresses - and over 50 children.

Those who enlisted were given a uniform allowance and wages eventually totaling to more than $71,000. Under the direction of Church officials much of this money was used to buy wagon loads of food and supplies to support the rest of the Mormon pioneers.

The Battalion’s first commander, the recently promoted Lieutenant Colonel James Allen, died shortly after they left Leavenworth. He was replaced temporarily by Lieutenant Andrew Jackson Smith. The Mormons, however, resented his strict adherence to military discipline. Once they reached Santa Fe, Lieutenant Colonel, Philip St. George Cooke arrived to take permanent command. Cooke proved to be well suited to the task of leading the Mormons. Cooke sent the remaining sick men, the women, and all of the children, to Pueblo, Colorado where they would spend the winter. Four of the women, wives of the officers, were allowed to stay.

On the journey from Santa Fe to San Diego, the Battalion fought only one battle, with wild bulls, near the San Pedro River in what would become Arizona. But they came close to fighting with Mexican troops outside Tucson on December 16, 1846. Inexplicably, the Mexican detachment temporarily left Tucson without firing a shot. Later that month they also happened upon the aftermath of the Temecula Massacre. Their presence allowed the surviving Luiseno Indians to bury their dead unmolested.

After arriving in San Diego, California on January 29th 1847, the Mormon Battalion occupied southern California. When their service ended on July 16th 1847, about 80 men re-enlisted for an additional six months. Only 22 Mormons in the Battalion died, all from natural causes. Battalion members built roads, dug wells, and a few were part of the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, before they made their way to Utah or back to Iowa.


Ardis E. Parshall said...

Excellent! (Not that I'm biased or anything :) )

In order really to appreciate the quality of this article, someone would have to write about another significant and complex historical event, not taking it for granted that the reader had ever heard anything about it before, accurately describe both the event and its significance in language that is scholarly and yet interesting enough to keep an ordinary reader reading -- and do all that in the strict limit of 500 words.

BruceCrow said...

This article is actually 505 words, using every bit of the 5 word wiggle room allowed.

Thanks for the kind words, Ardis. And thanks for thinking of me. If it helps, I don't think you are biased on little bit. :)

J. Stapley said...

Well done.

Anonymous said...

Excellent! I appreciate the context placed by the role the MB played regarding the events in California. I also liked the introduction on how the MB was formed, as my understanding from adolescence through young adulthood was that THE MB was not something that was sought and was a poetic hardship to overcome given the government's inaction.

BruceCrow said...

Thanks J.

I also had a similar impression of the imposition from the government until quite recently.