Battalion's trail of triumphs and trials

On July 16, 1846, Capt. James Allen summoned the 41/2 companies of Mormon Iowa Volunteers that had been recruited to date and mustered them into the service of the United States Army for one year.

After the enlistment ceremony, James Allen automatically was designated a lieutenant colonel of infantry per his orders from Col. Stephen W. Kearny at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.That same day, Col. Allen marched the command about eight miles south of Council Bluffs to Trader's Point on the Missouri River. Here Peter A. Sarpy, a licensed government merchant was authorized to issue provisions on credit to the U.S. Army.

Members of the battalion were thus enabled to obtain blankets and other standard items needed to sustain them on their march to Fort Leavenworth where they would complete their "fitout." The cost of their purchases was to be deducted from their first pay from the government.1

In addition to the approximately 520 men who were mustered in at Council Bluffs, the Army made provision for four laundresses to be attached to each company for a total of 20 women for the battalion. Seven underage young men were also designated "servants of officers," and a private teamster, Elisha Smith, drove a wagon for Capt. Daniel C. Davis.

Allowances were also made for some wives and children to accompany their husbands and fathers, but they were required to provide their own transportation. Thus 35 women, including the laundresses, and 42 children, including servants to officers, also marched. An older couple, John and Jane Boscoe, accompanied the Capt. Jefferson Hunt family.2

After traveling about 160 miles on the east side of the Missouri River they were ferried across, arriving at the garrison Aug. 1, 1846. Here they were issued tents, one to each mess of six men, and directed to camp on the public square. One man commented, "Our tents, being new and pitched in military order, presented a grand appearance, and the merry songs which resounded through the camp made all feel like `casting dull care away.' "3

At Fort Leavenworth, the battalion received its equipage. Some of the men who had been designated as sharpshooters and hunters received new guns, cap-lock yaugers.

James S. Brown described some of the additional items of issue: "We got flintlock muskets, and accoutrements consisting of bayonets, cartridge-boxes, straps and belts, canteens, haversacks, etc., also a knapsack each. . . . With all the paraphernalia of soldiers, we seemed so burdened as to be able neither to run nor to fight."4

Elders Parley P. Pratt, John Taylor, Orson Hyde and Jesse C. Little met with the members of the battalion on Aug. 4, 1846. They had come from Council Bluffs expressly to collect money for the families of the men and obtain some assistance for the Church. Each man was given $42 outright, his entire clothing allowance for the year (at the rate of $3.50 per month).

From this allotment members of the battalion contributed $5,192 to the brethren, out of approximately $21,000 paid them.5 These monies were invaluable to the Saints in their movement to the Rocky Mountains.

On Aug. 13, 1846, Companies A, B and E began the march from Fort Leavenworth to Santa Fe via Bent's Fort. Companies C and D were still not equipped to move out and so followed on Aug. 15. Unfortunately, Col. Allen, the battalion commander, became ill and remained at Leavenworth. He turned the command over to Capt. Jefferson Hunt, commander of Company A and the senior Mormon officer, directing him to set a course for Council Grove.6

On Aug. 26, Samuel Gully and Sebert Shelton brought the sad news to the camp that Col. James Allen had died of "congestive fever" at Fort Leavenworth on Aug. 23. Sgt. William Hyde recorded: "This information struck a damper to our feelings as we considered him a worthy man, and from the kind treatment which the Battalion had received from him, we had begun to look upon him as our friend, and a person from whom we should receive kind treatment."7

Lt. Col. Clifton Wharton, then commanding officer at Fort Leavenworth, dispatched First Lt. Andrew Jackson Smith, lst Dragoons, to Council Point where he met with the officers of the battalion. Capt. Jefferson Hunt had retained command of the troops to this point. However, Lt. Smith, a West Point graduate, explained his ability as a regular Army officer to sign for quartermaster stores and conduct official correspondence, while they had not received their commissions nor their certificates of command. With the assurance that the promises of Col. Allen to the battalion would be carried out the officers voted that he assume command.

Dr. George B. Sanderson of Platte County, Mo., accompanied Lt. Smith. He was a contract surgeon, hired by the U.S. Army. The men soon developed a prejudice against Sanderson. The large doses of calomel which he prescribed from an "old iron spoon," created considerable resentment. He was soon referred to as "Doctor Death," and the men preferred to receive their "unauthorized medicine" from Dr. William L. McIntyre, a "good botanic physician" and Mormon. Hostilities developed between the men and Lt. Smith over his demands they report to Sanderson's wagon for sick call.8

The battalion reached the Arkansas River Sept. 11, 1846. The next day, while making their way up the river, they were surprised to meet a group of eight Latter-day Saints coming down stream. Their captain was William Crosby, and they were on their way from Fort Pueblo (Colo.) to Mississippi to bring out members of their families whom they had left behind. The approximately 85 "Mississippi Saints" from Monroe County, Miss., and Perry County, Ill., had previously journeyed to a point just a few miles east of Fort Laramie, on the Platte River. Here they found that the main company under Brigham Young had not arrived and they had decided to winter at Fort Pueblo.9

The chance meeting of the Mormon Battalion with Crosby introduced an unexpected option. Lt. Smith had felt the burden of so many families struggling to maintain the discipline of an arduous march and a growing number of men disabled because of illness. Now, aided by the intelligence that there was a Mormon encampment at Fort Pueblo, he detailed Capt. Nelson Higgins, and 11 men to escort several of the families to Pueblo on Sept. 16.

The battalion then commenced a 50-mile trek across the dreary Cimarron Desert, during which the marchers suffered a great deal from the heat and lack of water. When periodic water was encountered it was gratefully received.10

Having crossed what is now the state of Kansas, the southeast corner of Colorado, and the northwest tip of the Oklahoma Panhandle, the Mormon Battalion finally reached Santa Fe, N.M., in two staggered elements. Lt. Smith, with an advanced unit of 250 men and a series of forced marches, arrived on Oct. 9, 1846. They experienced a gun-salute from the roof tops by their old friend and legal adviser, Col. Alexander W. Doniphan, and his Missouri Volunteers. The rear element of the Mormon Battalion, under command of Lt. George Oman, with many who were ailing, marched in on Oct. 12.11

Brig. Gen. Stephen W. Kearny, commander of the Army of the West, had been anxious to reach the center of his operations in California, and had departed Santa Fe before the arrival of the battalion. It was on the Rio Grande River that he received an express notifying him of the death of Lt. Col. James Allen. He immediately issued orders on Oct. 2, appointing Capt. P. St. George Cooke, then in the general's camp, to take command of the Mormon Battalion as acting lieutenant colonel.

Returning to Santa Fe, Col. Cooke restructured certain components of the battalion. Lt. Smith was to act as commissary of subsistence, while Brevet Second Lt. George Stoneman of the 1st Dragoons was to be assistant quartermaster. Capt. James Brown was ordered to form a detachment of "the men reported by the assistant Surgeon as incapable, from sickness and debility, of undertaking the present march to California," and the four laundresses from each of the five companies. The detachment was to be transported to a place "near the source of the Arkansas river," Fort Pueblo.12 Eighty-one men were affected by the order.

Col. Cooke and the battalion departed Santa Fe on Oct. 19. Their route took them to the Rio Grande and down that body of water to a point approximately where the small community of Williamsburg, near Truth or Consequences, N.M., is today.

At this point Col. Cooke deemed it advisable to send a third detachment of sick personnel to Pueblo for the winter, under command of Lt. William W. Willis. On Nov. 10, 55 men and one woman, Sophia Tubbs, commenced the very difficult journey during the winter season. Levi Hancock lamented, "such a sight I never saw they was stowed away in the wagon like so many dead Hogs."13

Re-entering Arizona they marched along the San Pedro River, encountering hundreds of wild cattle. Battalion hunters with their

weaponsT wounded two animals that then stampeded into the column. Although it was contrary to orders, virtually every man had loaded his musket for protection.14

On the approach to Tucson, battalion guides scouted the military situation and learned that about 200 Mexicans had been gathered for the defense from several presidios of Sonora and that the garrison was commanded by Commandante Don Antonio Comaduran. An exchange of hostages occurred between the two forces following the capture of Dr. Stephen C. Foster, one of the battalion guides, while he was acting as a spy. Negotiations over the fate of Tucson broke down and the Americans prepared for battle.

Comaduran's forces abandoned the community and withdrew to the nearby Mission of San Xavier del Bac. The battalion entered Tucson unopposed on Dec. 16, 1846. Colonel Cooke instructed the soldiers to show respect to the people and their individual property rights. On Dec. 18, the soldiers resumed their march to the northwest, leaving the presidio to Comaduran and its Mexican inhabitants.

After traversing 70 miles of difficult desert terrain the battalion finally reached the Gila and camped on the river bottoms just east of present-day Sacaton, Ariz., where they enjoyed the hospitality of the Pima Indians. 15

Veering northeast into California, the marches negotiated the difficulties of Box Canyon and preserved the integrity of "Cooke's Wagon Road." At Warner's Ranch they were able to recoup for a march to the abandoned San Luis Rey Mission near the shores of the Pacific Ocean, which they reached on Jan. 27, 1847. Their first view of the Pacific was from a bluff about a mile south of the mission.16

The battalion reached the Mission of San Diego a little before sunset on Jan. 29, 1847. Col. Cooke voiced his satisfaction with the accomplishments of the Mormon Battalion in a written order which, though dated Jan. 30, 1847, was not read to the men until Feb. 4:

"The lieutenant-colonel commanding congratulates the battalion on their safe arrival on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, and the conclusion of the march of over two thousand miles. History may be searched in vain for an equal march of infantry. Nine-tenths of it has been through a wilderness where nothing but savages and wild beasts are found, or deserts where, for want of water, there is no living creature. There, with almost hopeless labor, we have dug deep wells which the future traveler will enjoy. Without a guide who had traversed them, we have ventured into trackless prairies where water was not found for several marches. With crowbar and pick and ax in hand we have worked our way over mountains which seemed to defy aught save the wild goat, and hewed a passage through a chasm of living rock more narrow than our wagons. . . .

On Dec. 19, 1847, at the Log Tabernacle in Kanesville (Council Bluffs), Iowa, President Brigham Young, referring to the presence of some of the battalion men who had returned, said to President Heber C. Kimball and others, "These men were the salvation of this Church."17


1Erwin G. Gudde, ed., Bigler's Chronicle of the West: The Conquest of California, Discovery of Gold, and Mormon Settlement as Reflected in Henry William Bigler's Diaries (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), p. 19.

2John F. Yurtinus, A Ram in the Thicket: The Mormon Battalion in the Mexican War, Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1975, pp. 62-63.

3Sgt. Daniel Tyler, A Concise History of the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican War, 1846-47, (n.p.:

pub.T by Sergeant Daniel Tyler, 1881), p, 134.

4James S. Brown, Life of a Pioneer (Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon & Sons Co., 1900), p, 29.

5"Journal History," Aug. 11, 1846, LDS Church Archives.

6Journal of Samuel Holister Rogers, Aug. 20, 1846, p. 19, typescript.

7Journal of William Hyde, Aug. 26, 1946, p. 19, typescript.

8Tyler, p. 150.

9Mary Lindenmuth Scarcello, Mormon Pioneers in Pueblo Colorado 1846-1900 (n.p.: Mary Lindenmuth Scarcello, 1993), pp. 31-33, 119-152.

10Tyler, p, 159.

11Yurtinus, Vol, 1, p. 176.

12"0rders No. 8," in Tyler, pp. 167-68.

13Journal of Levi W. Hancock, Nov. 10, 1846.

14Tyler, pp. 218-19.

15James H, McClintock, Mormon Settlement in Arizona (Phoenix: Manufacturing Stationers Inc., 1921).

16Diary of Henry G. Boyle, Jan. 17, 1847.

17Diary of Reddick N. Allred, Dec. 19, 1847.

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