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The Mormon Battalion in the Mexican War

Statue in Mormon Battalion Visitors Center, San DiegoIn July 1846, under the authority of U.S. Army Captain James Allen and with the encouragement of Mormon leader Brigham Young, the Mormon Battalion was mustered in at Council Bluffs, Iowa Territory. The battalion was the direct result of Brigham Young's correspondence on 26 January 1846 to Jesse C. Little, presiding elder over the New England and Middle States Mission. Young instructed Little to meet with national leaders in Washington, D.C., and to seek aid for the migrating Latter-day Saints, the majority of whom were then in the Iowa Territory. In response to Young's letter, Little journeyed to Washington, arriving on 21 May 1846, just eight days after Congress had declared war on Mexico.

Little met with President James K. Polk on 5 June 1846 and urged him to aid migrating Mormon pioneers by employing them to fortify and defend the West. The president offered to aid the pioneers by permitting them to raise a battalion of five hundred men, who were to join Colonel Stephen W. Kearny, Commander of the Army of the West, and fight for the United States in the Mexican War. Little accepted this offer.

Colonel Kearny designated Captain James Allen, later promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, to raise five companies of volunteer soldiers from the able-bodied men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five in the Mormon encampments in Iowa. On 26 June 1846 Allen arrived at the encampment of Mt. Pisgah. He was treated with suspicion as many believed that the raising of a battalion was a plot to bring trouble to the migrating Saints.

Allen journeyed from Mt. Pisgah to Council Bluffs, where on 1 July 1846 he allayed Mormon fears by giving permission for the Saints to encamp on United States lands if the Mormons would raise the desired battalion. Brigham Young accepted this, recognizing that the enlistment of the battalion was the first time the government had stretched forth its arm to aid the Mormons.

On 16 July 1846 some 543 men enlisted in the Mormon Battalion (Officially the 1st Iowa Volunteers). From among these men Brigham Young selected the commissioned officers; they included Jefferson Hunt, Captain of Company A; Jesse D. Hunter, Captain of Company B; James Brown, Captain of Company C; Nelson Higgins, Captain of Company D; and Daniel C. Davis, Captain of Company E. Among the most prominent non-Mormon military officers immediately associated with the battalion march were Lt. Col. James Allen, First Lt. Andrew Jackson Smith, Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke, and Dr. George Sanderson. Also accompanying the battalion were approximately thirty-three women, twenty of whom served as laundresses, and fifty-one children.

Mormon Battalion uniforms in the private collection of Dave G.The battalion marched from Council Bluffs on 20 July 1846, arriving on 1 August 1846 at Fort Leavenworth (Kansas), where they were outfitted for their trek to Santa Fe. Battalion members drew their arms and accoutrements, as well as a clothing allowance of forty-two dollars, at the fort. Since a military uniform was not mandatory, many of the soldiers sent their clothing allowances to their families in the Mormon refugee encampments in Iowa.

Each soldier was issued the following: 1 Harpers Ferry smoothbore musket, 1 infantry cartridge box, 1 cartridge box plate, 1 cartridge box belt, 1 bayonet scabbard, 1 bayonet scabbard belt, 1 bayonet scabbard belt plate, 1 waist belt, 1 waist belt plate, 1 musket gun sling, 1 brush and pike set, 1 musket screwdriver, 1 musket wiper, 1 extra flint cap. Each company was also allotted 5 sabers for the officers, 10 musket ball screws, 10 musket spring vices, and 4 Harpers Ferry rifles.

Battalion members took cash in lieu of uniforms, using the money to support their families and their church during a very hard period. Consequently, they did not wear uniforms. The uniform collection shown here is in a private collection. It shows the uniforms that the battalion would have worn had they been issued. The owner of these uniforms often shows them off at gun shows. Click on the image for more info.

The march from Fort Leavenworth was delayed by the sudden illness of Colonel Allen. Capt. Jefferson Hunt was instructed to begin the march to Santa Fe; he soon received word that Colonel Allen was dead. Allen's death caused confusion regarding who should lead the battalion to Santa Fe. Lt. A.J. Smith arrived from Fort Leavenworth claiming the lead, and he was chosen the commanding officer by the vote of battalion officers. The leadership transition proved difficult for many of the enlisted men, as they were not consulted about the decision.

Smith and his accompanying surgeon, a Dr. Sanderson, have been described in journals as the "heaviest burdens" of the battalion. Under Smith's dictatorial leadership and with Sanderson's antiquated prescriptions, the battalion marched to Santa Fe. On this trek the soldiers suffered from excessive heat, lack of sufficient food, improper medical treatment, and forced long-distance marches.

Map of Battalion MarchThe first division of the Mormon Battalion approached Santa Fe on 9 October 1846. Their approach was heralded by Col. Alexander Doniphan, who ordered a one-hundred-gun salute in their honor. At Santa Fe, Smith was relieved of his command by Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke. Cooke, aware of the rugged trail between Santa Fe and California and also aware that one sick detachment had already been sent from the Arkansas River to Fort Pueblo in Colorado, ordered the remaining women and children to accompany the sick of the battalion to Pueblo for the winter. Three detachments consisting of 273 people eventually were sent to Pueblo for the winter of 1846-47.

The remaining soldiers, with four wives of officers, left Santa Fe for California on 19 October 1846. They journeyed down the Rio Grande del Norte and eventually crossed the Continental Divide on 28 November 1846. While moving up the San Pedro River in present-day Arizona, their column was attacked by a herd of wild cattle. In the ensuing fight, a number of bulls were killed and two men were wounded. Following the "Battle of the Bulls," the battalion continued their march toward Tucson, where they anticipated a possible battle with the Mexican soldiers garrisoned there. At Tucson, the Mexican defenders temporarily abandoned their positions and no conflict ensued.

On 21 December 1846 the battalion encamped on the Gila River. They crossed the Colorado River into California on 9 and 10 January 1847. By 29 January 1847 they were camped at the Mission of San Diego, about five miles from General Kearny's quarters. That evening Colonel Cooke rode to Kearny's encampment and reported the battalion's condition. On 30 January 1847 Cooke issued orders enumerating the accomplishments of the Mormon Battalion. "History may be searched in vain for an equal march of infantry. Half of it has been through a wilderness where nothing but savages and wild beasts are found, or deserts where, for lack of water, there is no living creature."

During the remainder of their enlistment, some members of the battalion were assigned to garrison duty at either San Diego, San Luis Rey, or Ciudad de los Angeles. Other soldiers were assigned to accompany General Kearny back to Fort Leavenworth. All soldiers, whether en route to the Salt Lake Valley via Pueblo or still in Los Angeles, were mustered out of the United States Army on 16 July 1847. Eighty-one men chose to reenlist and serve an additional eight months of military duty under Captain Daniel C. Davis in Company A of the Mormon Volunteers. The majority of the soldiers migrated to the Salt Lake Valley and were reunited with their pioneering families.

The men of the Mormon Battalion are honored for their willingness to fight for the United States as loyal American citizens. Their march of some 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs to California is one of the longest military marches in history. Their participation in the early development of California by building Fort Moore in Los Angeles, building a courthouse in San Diego, and making bricks and building houses in southern California contributed to the growth of the West.

Following their discharge, many men helped build flour mills and sawmills in northern California. Some of them were among the first to discover gold at Sutter's Mill. Men from Captain Davis's Company A were responsible for opening the first wagon road over the southern route from California to Utah in 1848.

Historic sites associated with the battalion include the Mormon Battalion Memorial Visitor's Center in San Diego, California; Fort Moore Pioneer Memorial in Los Angeles, California; and the Mormon Battalion Monument in Memory Grove, Salt Lake City, Utah. Monuments relating to the battalion are also located in New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado, and trail markers have been placed on segments of the battalion route.

Battalion FlagThe image to the right is of a Battalion flag owned by, and is in the possession of, a descendant of a battalion soldier. I don't have information on who the descendant (or the ancestor) is, but I believe the owner is in Salt Lake City, Utah. I assume that this flag was carried on the march. A Battalion member named Daniel Tyler wrote the book A Concise History of the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican War (available from www.mormonbattalion.com) in which he described a reunion of Battalion members held in Salt Lake. The reunion was also attended by Brigham Young and other LDS leaders. Mentioned in the reunion chapter is a Battalion flag with an image of Abraham's ram in a thicket. That flag symbolized the Battalion as a sacrifice which saved the church just as Abraham's ram was a sacrifice which saved Isaac's life and his posterity (Genesis 22:1-12). The flag shown here clearly is not the reunion flag. I've never seen a picture of the reunion flag and have never seen any reference to it other than in Taylor's book. I'd sure like to know if this flag still exists. I assume that the reunion flag was created some time after the Battalion was discharged.

The image to the right is of a nine-foot-long Battalion flag reportedly was used by the Nauvoo Legion in Nauvoo, Illinois and later presented by Brigham young to the Mormon Battalion for their march to fight in the war with Mexico. It is believed to be the flag raised by the Mormon Battalion at Camp Moore, Los Angeles, California on July 4, 1847. When Battalion members rejoined the body of the Saints (by then in Salt Lake City), the flag was presented to Brigham Young. See "Secrets of the patriarch's bear flag" for more information.

See also: Mormon Settlement In Arizona: A Record of Peaceful Conquest of the Desert by James H. McClintock, Phoenix, Arizona, Manufacturing Stationers Inc, 1921 (Chapter 1 covers the Mormon Battalion)

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US Model 1816 Flintlock Smoothbore Musket

1816 Musket

Battalion members carried the US Model 1816 Flintlock Smoothbore Musket manufactured by Harpers Ferry Arsenal in 1827.

This 1816 musket model was produced from 1816 until 1844 by Harpers Ferry, Springfield Armory and various other contractors. The 9-1/2 pound musket had the highest production of any US Flintlock musket and was the last flintlock martial arm to be produced. In total, all US government productions of the M1816 were 325,000 muskets produced at Springfield, Massachusetts and 350,000 muskets produced at Harper's Ferry in addition to 146,000 produced by other contractors. It served the US Army over 50 years and in two major armed conflicts. It saw service in the Mexican war in its flintlock version and in the US Civil War in both flintlock and percussion versions.

The flintlock ignition system employed a piece of flint clamped into the top of the musket hammer. When fired, the hammer fell forward, causing the flint to strike a spring-held vertical piece of steel called a frizzen. As the steel snapped back, the resulting sparks were forced downward to a priming charge of gunpowder. The ignition of this powder passed fire through a pin-sized hole and ignited the powder charge. The advent of the small brass percussion cap in the 1830s, with its self-contained explosive charge, eliminated the need for flint, steel, and priming powder and would eventually make flintlock arms obsolete.

It had a one piece full stock of walnut. The furniture and barrel were left in the white or browned depending on manufacturer and lot. The barrel was 42" long with a .69 caliber smoothbore (no rifling). The casehardened lock plate was marked with an eagle over "US" and dated 1816 on the tail. The 1816 had no front or rear sight. The bayonet lug was on top of the barrel at the muzzle. The three steel barrel bands were retained with barrel band retaining springs. A steel ramrod with button shaped head was stored under the barrel. The musket was converted from flintlock to percussion between about 1840-1860.

The earliest models of the 1816, including those dubbed the "Type I" musket, usually dated around 1817, featured a flat beveled lockplate and steel pan. There seems to be some variations between the placement of the bayonet lugs on the barrel, with some being produced for the 1812 bayonet and others for the 1816.

The next change of the 1816, the "Type II" muskets, produced 1822-31, are often referred to as the "National Armory Brown". It was called thus because of the browned finish on all metal parts except the lock and the sling swivel on trigger guard. These are often mistaken for "M1822" or "M1822" muskets.

The "Type III" muskets, produced 1831-44, are referred to as the "National Army Bright" models. Differences included a strengthened sling swivel and a bright finish on all metal parts.

A good deal is known about the Model 1816 flintlock muskets that were issued to the Mormon Battalion in August 1846 at Fort Leavenworth thanks to surviving weapons maintained by the LDS Museum of Church History and Art. These weapons have been authenticated by Battalion experts and are periodically displayed for the public by museum curators. All of the surviving Mormon Battalion Model 1816's in the LDS Museum collection are Type II weapons, stamped “Harpers Ferry” on their casehardened lock plates and dated “1827.”

Some US Model 1804 Rifles manufactured by Harpers Ferry Arsenal were also issued to the Battalion.

More musket information: Mormon Battalion Muskets and Rifles, Mormon Battalion Ammunition, Sweet Little Sixteen, Arthur Hare' Flintlock 1816 Page, Arthur Hare's Percussion 1816 Page, Wikipedia Model 1816 Musket, M1816 Flintlock Musket

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Uniforms of The US Infantry During the Mexican war

The Mormon Battalion did not wear the uniform of the US Army. Instead, they donated their uniform allowance to the Church and wore their civilian clothing as they marched off to war. The uniforms of the regular US Army of the period were made of wool and were sky-blue for privates and a darker, navy-blue for officers and non-commissioned officers. Both enlisted men and officers wore dark-blue forage caps, although generals often sported a fancy chapeau replete with feathers. Various insignia indicated whether a soldier was infantry, artillery or dragoon. Volunteers wore a variety of uniforms, often modeled after the regular army. These uniform photos were downloaded from www.aztecclub.com/uniforms/uniform-a.htm. US Army (Infantry Enlisted) Fatigues Uniform
US Army (Infantry Enlisted) Winter Uniform US Army (Infantry Enlisted) Dress Uniform US Army (Infantry Enlisted) Dress Uniform
Enlisted Winter Uniform Enlisted Dress Uniform Enlisted Dress Uniform

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Mormon Battalion and Mexican war Website Links

Aztec Club of 1847 (The Army of Occupation) Battalion Wives Sacrificed As Well
Battalion Women  
Concise History of the Mormon Battalion Council Bluffs and the Battalion
Descendants of Mexican war Veterans From Iowa to Immortality: A Tribute to the Mormon Battalion
George Washington Taggart, Battalion Volunteer George W. Hancock, Battalion Volunteer
Heritage: Mormon Battalion History Guy: The Mexican-American War
History of the Mormon Battalion Inventory of Mormon Battalion Records by the Daughters of the Mormon Battalion
Iron Mission, Utah Maps of the Mormon Battalion March
March of the Mormon Battalion - a Board Game Mexican-American War Memorial Page
Mexican War: Brief History Mexican War: History of the Iowa National Guard
Mexican War Uniforms: US Army  
Monuments Salute the Mormon Battalion Mormon Battalion and the "Battle of the Bulls" and its March on Tucson
Mormon Battalion Arms, Equipment and Training Mormon Battalion Bibliography
Mormon Battalion by Edward Bunke Mormon Battalion Building At This Is The Place Monument
Mormon Battalion Flag Mormon Battalion Historical Association
Mormon Battalion in San Pedro River Valley, Palominas, Arizona Mormon Battalion in the Desert Southwest
Mormon Battalion, New Mexico Company Mormon Battalion of Iowa Volunteers
Mormon Battalion on Utah History to Go Mormon Battalion on Wikipedia
Mormon Battalion Pension Applications of Joshua Abbott Mormon Battalion Pension Files
Mormon Battalion Roster Mormon Battalion Roster
Mormon Battalion Roster Mormon Battalion Story by Brian Zion
Mormon Battalion Story by Bruce Jamison Mormon Battalion Uniforms
Mormon Battalion Visitors Center in Old Town San Diego Mormon Brigade (a painting), Reunited with Family
Mormon Volunteers: The Recruitment and Service of a Unique Military Company Nathaniel V. Jones Mormon Battalion Journal
New Mormon Battalion Historic Site Opens in San Diego Pioneer Magazine / Sons of Utah Pioneers
Raising the Mormon Battalion

Reminiscences of Zadok Knapp Judd Senior

Rosters of Mexican War Soldiers San Diego Mormon Battalion Historic Site
San Diego Mormon Battalion Visitors Center Secrets of the Patriarch's Bear Flag
US - Mexican War, 1846-1848 US Mormon Battalion, Inc
Zachary Taylor Encampment in Corpus Christi Zadock Knapp Judd, Mormon Battalion Soldier
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