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History’s Newsroom: The Mormon Battalion,1846

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 30, 2013

The New York Daily Tribune of 16 December 1846 carried news of the Mormon Battalion in this report:


Fort Leavenworth, Upper Missouri,
Nov. 20, 1846.

Horace Greeley, Esq.: – Dear Sir: I wish you could call public attention to the situation of the Mormons, who were driven out of Illinois not long since. They are above us here, West of the Missouri about nine hundred miles from its mouth, in a position singularly exposed to aggression from the hostile Indians in their neighborhood. If it comes to open fighting, they can beat off whoever attacks them, but it is likely that some of their women and children may be killed first; and at any rate they will be apt to lose their cows and meat stock upon which they principally depend for their subsistence during the winter. In this case they would not have more to dread from death outright; since they are already on the verge of starvation and only calculate that they have food enough, with their most careful husbandry to keep soul and body together till next summer.

You may depend upon it, Mr. Greeley, these poor creatures have been greatly wronged, and in nothing more than in the successful robbery which Slander has made of their good name. My own experience shows me that the public mind has been abused concerning them to at least a very great extent, I had a highly respectable man in my quarters the other day who was at Nauvoo during the final sack of that pretty little town, and who had acquaintances among the leaders of the mob, and he tells me that they none of them even pretended to believe the charges against the Mormons, and said their own beating, and robbing, and killing, and burning houses was only “because there was no other way of clearing them out.” My informant did not see anything of the Mormons himself, but I had good means of judging something of their real character during the presence here of what is called the Mormon Battalion, last July. In all the Army of the West dispatched from this post, I did not see a finer body, individually or collectively; and their deportment was the subject of universal admiration. They were in great part married men, it seems, and left families behind them; and they had a staid manner which was in queer contrast to that of some of our mad boys in the other regiments. Yet they were spirited fellows enough, and did their military duty scrupulously well by day, though at night they were sure to unite all in prayer and go to their rest like docile children. Their commander, James Allen, U.S.A., who became my friend when he resided at this station at the head of the First Dragoons, was very proud of them, and was fond of speaking of their society generally from his experience when among them recruiting the battalion. He described them as wonderfully pure and unexceptionable in their moral conduct, as frugal, industrious and self-denying, and as manifesting a degree of patient heroism in the endurance of suffering, worthy the noblest Christian character. He was indignant at what he thought their outrageous persecution, and he told me and others here that it was his intention to vindicate them, particularly in a report which it was his purpose to make to the Secretary of War upon the subject. But I think he never got anything done in it. He contracted the seeds of a moral congestive fever in the unhealthy country where he found the Mormons, and only came among us hereto die. He was a noble soldier and I loved him well; and when I think of his memory, I think also of those whom he called his poor friends, and whom to protect, had he lived, I know, would now have been his chief pleasure.


Remarks on the Above

That the Mormons have been the victims of a cowardly and nefarious appetite for plunder, violence and debauchery, we can hardly doubt. We find in a late U.S. Gazette a letter from the Far West respecting them, from which we make the following extracts:

“And first of their moral tone. It is, I affirm, unexceptionable in a high degree. The virtues of the family, chastity, affection, the spirit of united effort for the advancement of family happiness, whatever may be said or hinted by their enemies, form absolutely characteristics of this outcast people. Those of the social life, temperance, strict as the most vigorous could exact, are universal in its observance; frugality, enforced indeed by necessity, but borne without complainings; industry, energy, constancy of purpose, these too belong to all of them alike. To say that they remember the homes they have left without a murmur, or those by whose malignity or whose weakness they have been expelled without resentment, would be to assign to them a character either above humanity or below it, I am not prepared to say which. But they discriminate between their country and the state in which their property lies confiscated, and I have never witnessed more enthusiastic loyalty to the American flag, than these poor people displayed when Captain Allen of the U.S. army invited five hundred of their number to march under it on foot through the desert to Santa Fe.

In three days their arrangements were all made, pay orders in favor of their families signed and accepted, and the whole battalion was on its way to Fort Leavenworth. The community of property, of which I had heard so much, has no existence among them, except so far as a community of suffering had reduced all to very nearly the same level, and warmed the charities of the few who had escaped total destitution. The houses and farms which they had left were all held in separate ownerships, each man possessing and enjoying in his own way whatever he had saved by frugality or earned by toil; and the wagons and oxen and the tents on the prairie were each of them the property of individuals. But were this otherwise, even were the Mormons so ignorant in political economics as to be the veriest socialists in this crazy world, it were hard to punish them by expulsion and starving. The question recurs: What had the inhabitants of Nauvoo done that the laws of property and of domicile should as to them be outraged?

The answer can be guessed by those who have seen the army of reforming moralists, that last summer made its triumphant entry into the town. It was no peculiar zeal for the rights of individual labor, to that which it has earned by the seat of its own brow, that prompted the victors to the violent and lawless appropriation of whatever they could find. Moral purity was not vindicated by the drunkenness and obscenity, the rapes and murders, which signalized their victory over the miserable beings who had been too poor or too sick or too old to escape the onslaught. It was not patriotism that challenged at last, a timorous and time-serving Governor to come for very shame to the rescue of the laws, and that now stands sneering at his proclamations, and waiting his withdrawal from the town to renew its triumph over law and decency together. No, no! It was none of these. Shame that it should be spoken – it was the strife of the reckless and the strong to snatch from labor its earnings – to break down the safeguards of domestic and social life, and riot in the misery of their victims; and the Executive of Illinois was too cowardly, or too indolent, or thought himself too politic to arrest the outrage. There may have been ancient provocation; I have heard of such; but, so far as I have been able to trace the story, the evidence was against it. Yet these may have been; but it was ancient, for the men who were charged with having given it were long since murdered and buried. And if there was even recent provocation, who dares to refer it to the old and the sick, and the women and the infants, on whom the bolt of cowardly vengeance has fallen so grievously.



  1. So, who wrote the letter? Or is this some kind of a contest? Kearny had left Leavenworth by June, so I suppose that rules him out. Price and Doniphan had left before the Battalion. Who was there in November of ’46? I dunno. I can’t do much research at work . . .

    Comment by Grant — July 30, 2013 @ 8:40 am

  2. I don’t know either, Grant. It was the style of the day not to use the names of letterwriters, or to sign them simply “An Officer” or some equally unhelpful … sort of like blog comments, I suppose. Somebody who knows military and early Mormon history better than I do could probably suss it out, asking exactly the kinds of questions you’re asking.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 30, 2013 @ 8:43 am

  3. OK. I’m bettin’ Thomas L. Kane. Any real historians out there who can prove me wrong?

    Comment by Grant — July 30, 2013 @ 6:19 pm

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