Mormon History

Mormon War - 1845

Alton Telegraph & Democratic Review September 27, 1845


Since our last publication, we have received, from various sources, sundry items of intelligence in relation to the progress of the difficulties in Hancock county. But the reports are so numerous, and at the same time so vague and contradictory, that it is almost impracticable to ascertain the real facts. As our readers, however, will naturally expect some news from that quarter, we shall endeavor to lay before them, in as few words as possible, all the information on that subject which has hitherto reached us, and which we have reason to believe substantially correct. And, in the first place, we shall submit to their inspection the following letter from an intelligent citizen of Warsaw, who, although a decided Anti-Mormon, we deem wholly incapable of willfully or knowingly misrepresenting or distorting the events of which he speaks.

                                                      Warsaw, Ill., Sept. 29, 1845.
                                                               5 o'clock P. M.
To the Editors:

You have, doubtless, expected to hear something from me before this, concerning the difficulties in this county; but all has been such confusion, that I have been unable to write.

You have heard of much of the proceedings -- how the school-house was fired upon in Green Plains; how, the next day, and a few days thereafter, the Old Citizens commenced burning the houses of their Mormon neighbors, and driving out the occupants; and how the Sheriff, at the head of a Mormon posse, with the notorious O. P. Rockwell for one of his leading men, is endeavoring to arrest the offenders and put a stop to their progress.

You have also heard, that on Tuesday, about noon, Mr. Franklin Worrell, a worthy young man, and citizen of Carthage, who will be recollected as having been the Captain of the Guard when Joe and Hyrum Smith were killed, was shot, either by Sheriff Backenstos, or the said Rockwell.

On Tuesday night, the Sheriff, at the head of a large Mormon force, marched into Carthage, and took Mrs. Backenstos and her goods and family away to Nauvoo. This he did, because he was held in such detestation by the people, that he was afraid to go without a sufficient force to protect him.

On Wednesday, the Sheriff, with his Mormon posse, charged suddenly upon a company of some 15 or 20 men, who, report says, were in the act of burning a house, and wounded one and killed another. This was in the region of Bear Creek, some four or five miles from the scene of the first disturbances, and eight or nine from Warsaw. The man killed belonged to Warsaw, and was brought in the next day by men who went in search of him. He was shot while on horseback, with several balls; and after he fell he was cut and slashed in a most barbarous manner with swords and knives. Report says that this was done while he was on his knees begging for mercy; and that Backenstos stated to some of our citizens that he intended to have had a body of men to watch the body of the murdered man, as he lay in the prairie, and cut off all who came to seek him.

On Friday night, (last night) the Mormons had possession of Carthage -- some 400 to 600 having taken possession, under Sheriff Backenstos and General Bishop Miller. They occupied till morning, and then left for Warsaw, as the Sheriff declared, for the purpose of making arrests of the "mobbers." On Friday evening, an express brought a message in from him that he required the State arms in possession of the inhabitants to be given up, together with the leaders of the mob, who were supposed to be in and about Warsaw. This, of course, was refused, and treated with contempt.

The Sheriff has issued three proclamations, in which he has made some of the most false and malicious charges against the Old Citizens that were ever uttered. One of these is, that when he brought his force into Carthage, on Tuesday night, the citizens attempted to set fire to their own houses, and it was only by his ordering them to be put to the sword if they did not desist, that it was prevented. This statement is wholly and basely false, from beginning to end. I have been assured by a man who stood guard that night, and who professes to be a friend to Backenstos, that nothing of the kind occurred in any particular.

Another statement in his proclamation is that he took his force to Carthage for the purpose of rescuing his wife and family from the mob, who had surrounded his house, and were threatening and abusing her. This equally false. Nobody had molested his wife, but two or three compassionate ladies, who had called to console her in her fright and alarm when she heard that her husband murdered one of their best citizens, Mr. Worrell. And when she was forced into the Mormon wagons, and surrounded and driven off in the middle of the night by Mormon troops, she left town in screams and terror.

So with many others of his official statements. They are entitled to no confidence from the people abroad, whom they are intended to mislead. There has been no murder committed but by the "by authority" party; no plundering, but by the legal plunderers. Plundering has, in fact, now become the order. On Tuesday night, from ten to fourteen horses were driven from the farm of the Barnes family, three miles north of Carthage, before the eyes of one of the owners; and several other instances of the kind have occurred in the other parts of the country. Where it will end, God only knows. The Mormon power is completely in the ascendant; and Mormon law and Mormon vengeance are carrying all before them. Some of the citizens in counties adjoining seem to prefer to have Mormons for their neighbors; and if so, we have no remedy but to leave them to the enjoyment of all the benefits they may derive from the relation. Most of the Old Citizens in this section of the country have fled from their homes and taken refuge in Missouri and Iowa.   Yours, &c.   X. Y. Z.

P. S. -- While I write, Backenstos, with a body of 400 Mormons, is marching into town. He has been sending word for a day or two, that he was coming on with a force to make arrests. His only object must be to make a demonstration of force. The army, after parading the streets a short time, has retired to camp, and now (at 9 o'clock) all is quiet. The boat has not yet arrived; and if any thing occurs, I will add it below.

The above, it will be observed, furnishes nothing later than the evening of the 20th -- our correspondent, owing, probably, to the want of a suitable opportunity, having failed to give us any additional information. It does not appear , however, that any thing of much importance has since occurred. Sheriff Backenstos, with his posse of 500 men, was, at the latest accounts, in full and undisputed possession of the county, though his whereabouts was not precisely known, and it did not seem, from his movements, that he was particularly anxious to court danger, notwithstanding the desperate valor exhibited in his proclamation. In fact, it might be imagined that both parties had arrived at the sage conclusion, that

       "He who fights, then runs away,
       May live to fight another day;
       But he who is in battle slain
       Can never rise to fight again."

We cannot learn that any lives have been lost, except those mentioned by our correspondent; or that the Mormons have, thus far, either burned or otherwise injured the dwellings of the old citizens. They are, however, said to have driven off the horses and cattle of those they consider their enemies, and that much valuable property will be destroyed, or lost to the owners, in consequence of this deplorable affair, cannot be doubted. A report was brought here on Tuesday evening, by a leading Locofoco of Morgan county, that Carthage had been burned down, and Mr. Sharp, Editor of the Warsaw Signal, and a number of others, killed in a fight with the Mormons. But, whether the narrator intended it as a hoax or not, this piece of intelligence was so evidently absurd that none but very "green ones" were taken in by it, or gave it the least credence.

The Governor. on the 20th inst., issued a proclamation, stating in grandiloquous language, that an insurrection actually exists in the county of Hancock; and calling "upon the brave and public-spirited militia of the counties of Sangamon, Menard, Cass, Scott, Pike, Morgan and Greene, for five hundred volunteers," in order to suppress it. We are informed, however, that but little notice has been paid to the call -- owing to the prevailing impression that this force was intended to aid the Mormons, rather than to restore the public tranquillity. -- A meeting was to be held in Quincy on Monday evening, in order to "take into consideration to disturbances in Hancock county," But as the proceedings have not reached us, we are unable to state whether any thing was done or attempted on that occasion.

What will be the final result of this disgraceful outbreak, we cannot, at this distance from the scene, and with the limited information we possess, even attempt to conjecture. At the present moment, the Mormons appear to have the upper hand. But it does not seem reasonable to suppose that their opponents, conscious, as they must be, of their own numerical inferiority, would have attempted to expel them from the country, by burning down their dwellings, unless well assured of support from abroad. Whether this assistance has been, or will be rendered -- whether, in this event, it will prove effectual -- whether the Mormons will be expelled, or dispersed -- or whether the existing feud will be reconciled, and how -- are points which time alone can reveal, and which it would be useless to discuss. Should any farther information reach us before our paper goes to press, it will be given in a postscript.


Warsaw Signal October 15, 1845


... [After the reception of this letter], the army was drawn up in column on a piece of high ground lying between the camp and the city. While in this position, a few shots were fired from a breastwork the Mormons had erected during the night, and the fire was returned from our artillery. So soon as all was ready, the Warsaw Riflemen were divided into two sections, and deployed on the right and left as flankers. Captain Newton's Lima Guards, with Captain Walker's gun, was ordered to take position a quarter of a mile in front of the camp, and employ the attention of the Mormons at their breastwork, -- and from which they kept a constant fire, while the plain body of the army wheeled to the left, passed down across the La Harpe road through a cornfield, thence across Mulholland street, thence bore to the right through an orchard, and on to the city. So soon as the army was fairly under way, Captain Newton's company, and the piece of artillery with it, were brought upon the rear. This march was made directly across and in face of the enemy's fire, and within good cannon range, yet not a man was injured.

"Arriving on the verge of the city, the army, all except the artillery and flankers, was halted, while the latter advanced and commenced an attack on the Mormon works, from which they had been firing during the whole time of the march. A hot fire was kept up by the artillery from both sides for fifteen or twenty minutes. During this time, the Mormons did no execution on our ranks, while the balls from our cannon rattled most terrifically through the houses in the city.

At length a fire of small arms was heard from some Mormons who had taken position on the extreme left in a cornfield. Immediately, Colonel Smith's regiment was ordered up and drove the assailants before them. The second regiment was in the mean time ordered up to the support of the artillery. By this time the action became general.

"The Mormons were in squads in their houses, and poured in their shots with the greatest rapidity. Our men were also divided off into squads, took shelter where they could best find it, and returned the fire with great energy. The greater part of the first regiment had no better shelter than a cornfield and a worm fence; the second regiment was open ground, having but two or three small houses to cover the whole body; while our artillery was entirely exposed.

The firing of small arms was continued for half an hour, during which time our men steadily advanced, driving the enemy, in many instances, from their shelter. For a short time their fire was almost entirely silenced; but, unfortunately, at this juncture our cannon balls were exhausted; and our commander, deeming it imprudent to risk a further advance without these necessary instruments, ordered the men to be drawn off. This v. as done in good order, and in slow time the whole force returned to the camp.

In this action we had about five hundred men engaged, and four pieces of artillery; two hundred men and one piece of artillery having been left at the camp for its protection. Our loss in this engagement, as well as the subsequent skirmishes, will be found in the report of the surgeons hereto appended. Most of our men throughout the action displayed remarkable coolness and determination, and, we have no doubt, did great execution. We believe if our cannon balls had held out ten minutes longer, we should have taken the city; but when the action commenced, we had but sixty-one balls. The battle lasted from the time the first feint was made until our men were drawn off -- an hour and a quarter. Probably there is not on record an instance of a longer-continued militia fight. ( ! )

The Mormons stood their ground manfully; but from the little execution done by them, we infer that they were not very cool or deliberate. Their loss is uncertain, as they have taken especial pains to conceal the number of their dead and wounded. They acknowledged but three dead and ten wounded. Among the killed is their master spirit, Captain Anderson, of the fifteen-shooter rifle company. Their force in the fight was from three to four hundred.

They had all the advantages, having selected their own positions; and we were ordered to take such as we could get. Sometimes our men could get no cover, and the artillery was all the time exposed, while theirs was under cover.

On Saturday, after the battle, the Anties commenced intrenching their camp, and on Sunday made it secure against the shots of the enemy's cannon, which frequently reached or passed over it. On Sunday, the Anties cut part of the corn from the field, on the left of the La Harpe road, to prevent the Mormons from taking cover in it. While thus engaged, the Mormons fired on the guard which was protecting the corn-cutters. The fire was returned by the guard, and kept up at long distance for two or three hours. In this skirmish one of our men was badly wounded. The loss of the enemy is not known. On Monday, a party of Mormons crept up through the weeds to a piece of high ground, and fired at our camp, wounding three men, none seriously. Their balls were nearly spent when they struck. On Sunday morning, after the battle, a powder plot was dug up on the La Harpe road, which the army was expected to pass. On Wednesday, another ;vas dug up on the same road nearer the city. Several of these plots were discovered near the Temple, and in other parts of the city.