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Chaplain B.H. Roberts Leads a March of the Mormon Battalion

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 24, 2009

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, hundreds of Mormon boys hurried to enlist. The largest concentration of Mormons was to be found in the Utah National Guard, soon converted to the 145th Field Artillery as the Guard was called into federal service. The 145th, together with their beloved chaplain Brigham H. Roberts were sent to Camp Kearny, California, for training.

Camp Kearny, a sprawling tent camp established in July 1917, was named for Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny, leader of the Army of the West during the Mexican War of 1846-47 – the war in which the 500-member Mormon Battalion had enlisted to raise funds for moving their people westward, and which had marched from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to San Diego, California … not quite 12 miles from where the 145th found itself camped in 1917.

Chaplain Roberts knew his men like few leaders do: Not only did he know their names and present circumstances, he knew also their parents and grandparents. In part to honor those grandparents, in part to bring the 145th to the notice of their U.S. Army leaders, and in part to give a pleasant outing to his men, he conceived the idea of a miniature re-enactment of the march of the Mormon Battalion.

A canvass determined that there were 22 men in Camp Kearny who were the grandsons and great-grandsons of Mormon Battalion members. Most were members of the 145th, but others were discovered in the headquarters and field hospital groups, and one in a California unit. All were invited; 17 were available on the date chosen. With the help of George Austin Charnock, of the Y.M.C.A. and charged with all entertainments and special events organized for the soldiers in camp, Chaplain Roberts arranged for his 1917 Mormon Battalion to be escorted to the headquarters of camp commander General LeRoy S. Lyon to pay their respects and explain their purpose on the morning of the hike, 15 December 1917.

The men were disappointed that morning to learn that General Lyon had gone into San Diego the night before and had not yet returned, but, escorted by the regimental band and cheered by their fellows, the 17-member “battalion,” accompanied by Roberts, Charnock, and a reporter with the San Diego Union, marched out of camp and took the road for San Diego.

They had gone about a mile on their southward march when they met General Lyon on the road. The young men stood at attention while Roberts explained the purpose of their hike and described the service rendered by the original Mormon Battalion. Lyon was especially interested in hearing how General Kearny had chosen men from the Mormon Battalion to serve as his escort on his return east, and met the three men in the company who were descendants of that 1847 detail. General Lyon made a short extemporaneous speech to the men:

Men: I cannot allow you to proceed on your pilgrimage commemorating the great march of your ancestors, without a word of greeting. I have learned to know well the Utah men since I became your commander, and I am sure such men will make good on our great mission to Europe. I congratulate you men on the ancestors back of you, and feel confident that you will assist greatly in our march to Berlin, which is to be our mission to Europe. I wish you a pleasant trip today, and am very happy to have met you on the road.

The men reached the Old Mission late in the morning and climbed to the top of the bluffs, where Chaplain – and historian – B.H. Roberts described for them what their ancestors had achieved. They planted their flag on the bluff and sang “We’ll rally round the flag, boys,” and took pictures.

They then descended to San Diego’s Old Town Plaza for lunch delivered to them by members of the 145th who had driven ahead by truck. San Diego’s Mayor Wilde greeted them, being introduced individually to each of the Battalion descendants. The 145th’s band played, everyone sang “The Star Spangled Banner,” and Col. Richard W. Young (commander of the 145th) addressed them. When Col. Young was introduced, the men gave him a rousing three cheers, to which he responded, “That is very unmilitary, but none the less pleasant.” He then spoke to them about their own service and how it, like that of the ancestors’ was again dispelling the idea that Mormons were not loyal citizens.

After a few other speeches and songs, the descendants of the Mormon Battalion returned to Camp Kearny – this time riding with their fellows rather than hiking.

[Back line, standing, left to right: George Austin Charnock (with the Y.M.C.A. at Camp Kearny, and guest of the hikers), Thatcher Willey, James L. Ashcroft, Merl E. Brown, J.C. Murdock, Fergus Ferguson, B.H. Roberts. Man in front of flag: Pierce Simmons. Second line of four, seated, left to right: Price Willey, Wilford E. Shurtliff, Parnell Green, Clyde Bone. Third line of five, seated, left to right: L.H. Duffin, Ralph A. Brown, LaMar Barlow, Kingsley Clawson, Irwin Clawson. Front, left to right: C.H. Oliphant, James Pettigrew Paul.]

Descendants of Mormon Battalion at Camp Kearny, 15 December 1917
Arranged in Order of Forefathers’ Companies

Company A

*Lt. Marcus S. Johnson, grandson of M.L. Shepherd
* Corwin R. Johnson, grandson of M.L. Shepherd
Thatcher Willey, grandson of Jeremiah Willey
Price Willey, great-grandson of Jeremiah Willey
Fergus Ferguson, grandson of James Ferguson
Merl E. Brown, grandson of Ebenezer Brown

Company B

J.C. Murdock, grandson of John R. Murdock
*John T. Miles, Jr., grandson of Samuel Miles
Pierce Simmons, grandson of William A. Simmons

Company C

Clyde Bone, grandson of Christopher Layton
Parnell Green, grandson of Christopher Layton
Wilford E. Shurtliff, grandson of Charles Hancock

Company D

Corp. Kingsley Clawson, grandson of Nathaniel V. Jones
LaMar Barlow, grandson of William H. Jackson
Ralph a. Brown, great-grandson of James P. Brown
*Hyrum A. Adair, grandson of William Maxwell
Lloyd H. Duffin, great-grandson of John Steele
Lt. Irwin Clawson, great-grandson of Nathaniel V. Jones

Company E

James Pettigrew Paul, grandson of David Pettigrew
*Lot Smith Carr, grandson of Lot Smith
James L. Ashcroft, grandson of Lot Smith
C.H. Oliphant, grandson of Zadock Judd

* Stationed at Camp Kearny, but unable to participate in hike

For earlier posts on Chaplain B.H. Roberts, see

Chaplain B.H. Roberts Pleads for the Lives of His Men
Chaplain B.H. Roberts Eulogizes the Dead
Chaplain B.H. Roberts Leads Memorial Services



8 Comments »

  1. Hyrum A. Adair was my grandmother’s cousin. I would guess that she never knew him–William Bailey Maxwell, their grandfather who was the Mormon Battalion veteran, had three wives, a lot of children, and unnumbered grandchildren.

    Comment by Mark B. — March 24, 2009 @ 7:25 am

  2. I have loved this series; thanks for this wonderful installment.

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 24, 2009 @ 8:09 am

  3. Thanks, Ardis.

    Comment by Ray — March 24, 2009 @ 10:10 am

  4. Very interesting post. Thanks.

    I especially liked that first (unposed) photo of them on the bluff with flag planted. Some are standing at attention, others are more relaxed; some look lost in thought, others look like they are listening intently to Chaplain Roberts. Great shot.

    Comment by Hunter — March 24, 2009 @ 10:24 am

  5. I loved this story, another episode in the life of B. H. Roberts. The account of the men giving three cheers to Col Richard Young, who said that it was “unmilitary” but pleasant, made me smile at their enthusiasm.

    Comment by Maurine — March 24, 2009 @ 12:34 pm

  6. Really fascinating, Ardis, and quite touching!

    Comment by Rick Grunder — March 24, 2009 @ 7:18 pm

  7. Hi Ardis…
    Our little group just completed the first end-to-end rehike following the Battalion’s 1846-47 route – all the way from Iowa to California.
    Our research has brought to light a lot of little details – but we hadn’t heard about BH Roberts with this group.
    Thanks for sharing.
    (would appreciate a contact)

    Comment by Kevin Henson — March 25, 2009 @ 4:36 am

  8. Thanks, all, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed this. I don’t know how many soldiers would have enjoyed an extra 12-mile hike, but if anyone could make that seem like an honor to be envied by other men, it would be B.H. Roberts. What an experience for grandsons to have!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 25, 2009 @ 6:38 am

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