Battalion commemorated at historic military post

At this U.S. Army post, where the Mormon Battalion was trained and outfitted 150 years ago, costumed re-enactors on Aug. 3 celebrated its infantry march, the longest in U.S. history.

In hot, humid weather, more than 500 men and boys participated in the commemoration, organized by six stakes in and around Kansas City and co-sponsored by Fort Leavenworth. The event commemorated the arrival of the battalion at the post on Aug. 1, 1846, after a march of 200 miles from Kanesville (now Council Bluffs), Iowa. (See July 20 Church News for report of July 13 re-enactment of their mustering-in at Kanesville.)Each of the stakes - Kansas City, Independence and Liberty in Missouri, and Olathe, Lenexa and Topeka in Kansas - provided a company of some 100 men.

Dressed in makeshift costumes and uniforms, they looked quaint - even a bit raggle-taggle - perhaps as the original battalion members looked. But they displayed dignity, as company "commanders" gave last-minute instructions on drill commands.

On horseback, the First U.S. Dragoons, an 1846 re-enactment unit from Fort Leavenworth, led the commemorative battalion in the half-mile march from Bell Hall to the Main Parade Ground, the location where some of the original battalion may have bivouacked in 1846. Marching at the front was a fife-and-drum corps playing "Yankee Doodle." The bass drum bore the insignia of the Nauvoo Legion band.

At the parade ground, the marchers assembled in front of a reviewing stand. They sang the hymns "Called to Serve" and "The Spirit of God," as well as the National Anthem.

On the stand with their wives were Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the Seventy, a member of the North America Central Area presidency; Brig. Gen. Stanley F. Cherry, representing the commanding general of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth; Elder Kay Christensen, an area authority of the Church living in Kansas City; and Pres. Ben E. Rawlings of the Independence Missouri Mission of the Church.

Elder Pinnock noted that three weeks previously, he had addressed those gathered at Council Bluffs "as battalion brothers and sisters and friends, and I do the same to you today."

He touched on the history of the Church, the 1846 trek from Nauvoo and the battalion. "We didn't have 500 able-bodied men, and yet the word went out, and suddenly young wives with their little children and . . . some grandmothers said goodbye to their husbands, and we did have 498 able-bodied men, and you represent those men today."

Elder Pinnock counseled the audience, in the spirit of the battalion, "to continue to give of yourselves," to "keep the attitude of accomplishment," and to "live the commandments, live in ways where your lives will never injure another, but simply make circumstances about you better than they are."

Gen. Cherry compared the courage of the battalion to that of today's U.S. troops who marched last December into Bosnia under unfavorable conditions.


MormonT battalion accomplished an absolutely fantastic feat," he said, "cutting an 1,100-mile wagon road through the wilderness to California. Their 2,000-mile march will probably never, and I say with all emphasis, never be replicated by another U.S. Army unit. They did this lacking food and water, went through enemy-held territory, . . . and their guides had never traveled that route before. . . . They faced other enemies, such as stampeding long-horn bulls. . . . In spite of all these hardships, the battalion pressed on and accomplished the mission it set out to when they left Iowa."

Their 12 days at Fort Leavenworth, Gen. Cherry said, were some of their most pleasant. Most of the combat soldiers at the post had already left for Santa Fe, so the battalion was greeted by 400 volunteers and only about 70 regulars who remained at Fort Leavenworth. "In order to escape the oppressive heat, they swam in the Missouri River, to our right front, set up the shady branches to try to break some of the oppressive heat that was there at that time and still persists most of the time here at Leavenworth today."

Like other volunteer units, they were each given a $42 uniform allowance. "Very few of them spent their money unwisely," Gen. Cherry said. "Most spent it on some meager provisions for themselves and sent the remaining of that scarce $42 to their families or donated it to the Church. And that, my friends, tells you something about the spirit of this battalion."

After the addresses, the battalion was presented its own colors. In the 1840s, most volunteer units in the U.S. Army had unit flags made by the wives, mothers and sweethearts left behind by the men of the unit. When the men returned, the women would ceremonially present the unit with its colors. But in the case of the Mormon Battalion, the women were unable to make unit colors because of their extreme poverty on the Iowa prairie.

In honor of the women who were unable to do it themselves, Mary Ann Carter of the Topeka stake presented the battalion its colors. She and her husband, Bill, designed and hand-stitched the flag.

After the commemoration ceremonies, visitors viewed displays on the parade ground. One of them was a four-panel wall, 8 feet high by 24 feet wide, containing the names of every battalion member in the manner of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. Each man is listed under his company with families who traveled with them, and the last panel lists all the volunteers who re-enlisted in San Diego. Six pieces of art work from the Museum of Church History and Art depict events along the march. Each soldier or family member who died is noted with an asterisk. The display was designed by Mark Welsh and assembled by Dave Ireland and Steve Anderson, all of the Kansas City Missouri Stake. They obtained help from members of the Kansas City and Olathe Kansas stakes, and the Church Historical Department. Dave Ireland, stake director of public affairs, said the project would have cost around $4,500, but with the volunteer efforts, it was about $1,000.

Later in the day, in a graveside service, Elder Pinnock laid flowers on the grave of Lt. Col. James Allen, the battalion's first commander, who died after its arrival at Fort Leavenworth. (See related story on page 5.)

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