Difficulties between the United States and Mexico reached a feverish pitch in April 1846 when Mexican cavalry ambushed U.S. military. Seeing no alternative to an open conflict, Congress declared war. President James K. Polk named Colonel Stephen W. Kearney, Commander of the Army of the West, and instructed him to conquer the enemy and to stretch the borders of the United States to the Pacific Ocean.
Men from northern and southern states left fields and shops unattended to rally behind the stars and stripes as the fighting spread. Among those who responded to the nation's war cry were 543 Latter-day Saint men encamped in the territory of Iowa.From July 1846 to January 1847 Latter-day Saint soldiers pressed forward to reach the sandy beaches of California.
They arrived in San Diego 16 days after a signed treaty ended the Mexican conflict in California. "I am thankful," wrote Private William McClellan that "circumstances prevented our taking any active offensive against [Mexico], that we were spared any part of the hostilities."1
With a tentative cease-fire secured, the newly arrived Mormon Battalion was assigned peace-keeping duties. Company B of the battalion was responsible for safeguarding San Diego. The other companies were assigned to protect Ciudad de los Angeles. For a brief season, a few soldiers also maintained a military presence in the abandoned San Luis Rey mission.
Of the three southland locations, the seaport community of San Diego proved the most inviting to the Mormon soldiers. Diarist Azariah Smith recorded on March 6, "We drilled as before and through the day we play ball and amuse ourselves the best way we can." On March 23 he penned, "
IT caught twenty three fine fish." Another entry reads, "Today I and Father went down to the coast and ran races, jumped and sang songs for the first time since we left Nauvoo."2
Although Azariah and his father found satisfaction through amusement, men like Cpl. Thomas Dunn experienced the most "lonesome days he ever saw. Nothing to interest the eye and but little the mind."3 To fill the empty hours he and other soldiers formed a debating society, read literature and recited poetry. Often the poetry was of loved ones waiting for their return.
"A few days more and we shall go
To see our wives and children too
Our absence from them has been long
But, oh, the time will soon be gone.
When we shall meet once more on earth
And praise the God who gave us birth."4
William Garner found pleasure in sharing the gospel with sailors walking on the docks near the San Diego port. His preaching led to the first recorded convert baptism in California, a sailor named Beckworth. For Capt. Jesse Hunter, the death of wife Lydia after the birth of her son Diego, brought mourning.
An opportunity for community service in March 1847 united the Mormon soldiers in cooperative labors and won the appreciation of the community. Samuel Miles kept town records and made government reports. John Lawson built a blacksmith forge and George Taggart opened a tannery. Others made adobe, burned bricks, built ovens, dug wells, constructed a courthouse, chopped wood, and whitewashed fences.
Through service friendships grew. "We are getting acquainted with the Spaniards here," wrote Private Robert Bliss. "They are very friendly and intelligent, many of them live like gentlemen."5
The Spaniards affectionately dubbed the Mormon soldiers, "Mormonitos," and "clung to them like children," when their assignment in San Diego ended.6 Journal entries describing garrison duty in Ciudad de los Angeles differ dramatically from accounts written in San Diego. "There are almost as many grog shops and gambling houses in this city as there are private houses," penned Henry Standage in Los Angeles.7
Robert Pixton wrote, "The Spaniards were afraid of us, especially the females. We did not see any for several days." The women had been told that "[we] were cannibals, . . . especially fond of eating children."8
With filth, corruption, and false rumors to combat in Los Angeles, priesthood leaders exhorted the soldiers to "keep
themTselves from being polluted and remember our Covenants."9 The men and two officers' wives, Susan Davis and Phebe Brown, listened and obeyed counsel. "Though stationed for such a length of time in that sink of iniquity," recorded Sgt. Tyler, "the character of the battalion for sobriety and virtue was maintained."10
On May 14, 1847, Captain Jefferson Hunt wrote to Brigham Young about the integrity of the Mormon soldiers: "Everywhere we have been we have left a good impression upon the minds of the people. I hope it may continue. Not only this, but when anything of importance has to be done the government officers seem to give our battalion the preference. Our fame is spreading far and near." Colonel Jonathan Stevenson also wrote to President Young, "I
haveT had occasion to visit all the prominent places in this District, from Santa Barbara to San Diego, and I assure you that I everywhere found a strong feeling of respect entertained for your people among the native and foreign population of the country."11
In April 1847 soldiers stationed at Ciudad de los Angeles were assigned to erect a fort on the "eminence which commands the town."12 The fort was not ostentatious in construction or design. However, when it was completed it became the focal point of the July 4th Independence Day celebrations. It was named Fort Moore, in memory of Benjamin D. Moore of Kentucky, who gave his life fighting for the United States in the Mexican War. An American flag was hoisted on that occasion and flown atop a Liberty Pole.
Among the many addresses given by military leaders at the July 4th celebrations and on other occasions, the most remembered was an address by Colonel Stevenson. "The Spaniards are whipped but not conquered. Your term of service will soon close. It is of the utmost importance that troops be kept here until others can be transported. Your patriotism and obedience to your officers have done much towards removing the prejudice of the government and the community at large, and I am satisfied that another year's service would place you on a level with other communities."13
Sgt. Tyler was outraged by the Colonel's final comment. "The Colonel, in this last remark, might be compared to the heifer that gave a good bucketful of milk and then kicked it over. It was looked upon as an insult added to the injuries we had received without cause. We could challenge comparison with the world for patriotism and every other virtue, and did not care to give further sacrifice to please pampering demagogues."14
Priesthood leaders opposed the re-enlistment efforts of Col. Stevenson. "[it was] our duty to return and look after our outcast families," said David Pettegrew. "Others could do as they thought best, but he believed we had done all we set out to do, and that our offering was accepted and our return would be sanctioned by our Church leaders."15 Whether following priesthood leaders or his own volition, Cpl. Luther Tuttle did not re-enlist and wrote, "I have had enough of Army life to suit me."16
On July 16, 1847 the Mormon Battalion was mustered out of the United States Army in Los Angeles. The most important words of the day were spoken by Lt. A. J. Smith, "You are discharged." Tyler wrote, "None of the men regretted the Lieutenant's brevity; in fact, it rather pleased them."17 "
WeT are now our own men," penned Smith.18 "A happier set of men I never saw," reported Pettegrew.19
Only 81 veterans of the Mormon Battalion chose to re-enlist and serve an additional eight months under Capt. Daniel C. Davis in the Mormon Volunteers. "I did not like to re-enlist, but I had no relatives in the Church to return to," wrote Henry Boyle. "I desired to remain in California til the Church became located."20
The volunteers were garrisoned at San Diego and assigned to protect the community until a treaty officially ended the war. Like the Mormon Battalion before them, the Mormon Volunteers gave service to the local residents, but as to military duty, "we have met with nothing of a Serious nature Since we reenlisted," wrote Private Boyle. He added, "The citizens became so attached to us that before our term of service expired [March 14, 1848], they got up a petition to the governor of California to use his influence to keep us in the service. The petition was signed by every citizen in the town."21
The Mormon Volunteers left the beaches of California in the spring of 1848. The trail they blazed to Utah is recognized as the first wagon road over the southern route to the Salt Lake Valley.
Veterans of the Mormon Battalion traveling the northern route are credited with opening a road way over Carson Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. They are also remembered for their work at Sutter's Fort near the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers. There they witnessed the discovery of gold and Henry Bigler recorded in his diary, "This day some kind of mettle was found in the tail of race that looks like goald."22
A few battalion veterans carried overland mail and copies of The California Star to the east, the first written news of the gold discovery.
The contributions of the Mormon soldiers, both during and after their military service, has been recognized for 150 years. The Mormon Battalion Memorial Visitor's Center in San Diego and the Fort Moore Pioneer Memorial in Los Angeles are a permanent reminder of their service in California.
More important than a stone or bronze memorial, however, was the praise the battalion veterans received from Brigham Young: "These men were the salvation of this Church. . . . It was to the praise of the battalion that they went as honorable men, doing honor to their calling and to the United States, and [I am] satisfied with all of them."23
1 Testimony of William McClellan given in April 1894 at Colonia Juarez, Mexico, as quoted in "William Carrol McClellan with the Mormon Battalion," n.p., n.d., p. 2, in author's possession.
2 "A Journal or History of Azariah Smith, his travail in the Mormon Battalion, In the Service of the United States, to California; and from there to Salt Lake Valley," as cited in David L. Bigler, ed., The Gold Discovery Journal of Azariah Smith. (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1990), pp. 78, 81.
3 "Private Journal of Thomas Dunn, Corporal of the Mormon Battalion," April 16, 1847, typescript, p. 23, in author's possession.
4 Robert Bliss poetry quoted in Norma Baldwin Ricketts, The Mormon Battalion, U. S. Army of the West, 1846-1848. (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1996), p. 140.
5 "Diary of Robert S. Bliss, Company `B,' Mormon Battalion, U.S. Army, 1846-1847," April 9, 1847, typescript, p. 17, in author's possession.
6 Ricketts, The Mormon Battalion, p. 141.
7 Journal of Henry Standage, May 2, 1847, as cited in Frank Alfred Golder, et, at., The March of the Mormon Battalion from Council Bluffs to California. (New York: The Century Co., 1928), p. 220.
8 Autobiography of Robert Pixton; Sergeant Daniel Tyler, A Concise History of the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican War, 1846-1847. (Glorieta, New Mexico: The Rio Grande Press, Inc., 1969), p. 276.
9 Golder, The March, p. 218.
10 Tyler, Concise History, p. 305.
11 Letter of Capt. Jefferson Hunt to President Brigham Young, written May 14, 1847, in the "the town of the Angels"; Letter of Col. J. D. Stevenson to President Brigham Young, February 8, 1848, Cuidad de los Angeles, as quoted in Golder, The March, pp. 252-53, 268.
12 P. St. George Cooke, Lt. Col. Commanding, Order No. 9, April 24, 1847, as quoted in Tyler, Concise History, p. 279.
13 Ibid., pp. 293-94.
14 Ibid., p. 294.
15 Ibid., p. 295.
16 "Life Sketch of Luther Tuttle," as quoted in "Biographies of the Mormon Battalion Manuscript," in author's possession.
17 Tyler, Concise History, p. 298.
18 Azariah Smith Journal, July 20, 1847, as cited in Bigler, Gold Discovery, p. 89.
19 David Pettegrew, as cited in Ricketts, Mormon Battalion, p. 171.
20 "Autobiography and Diary of Henry G. Boyle, 1832-1855," July 20, 1847, typescript, 2 vols. (Brigham Young University-Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Provo, Utah), 1:39.
21 Ibid., March 7, 1647, 1:41; Tyler, Concise History, p. 331.
22 Diary of Henry W. Bigler. (Brigham Young University-Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Provo, Utah), Jan. 24, 1848.
23 Redick Allred Diary, LDS Church Historical Archives; President Young's address to the Battalion, as quoted in Tyler, Concise History, p. 344.