Mormon History

Mormon Battalion - 1846/1847

(How Brigham Young got rid of extra men and was paid for their services)

The Mormon Battalion had marched from Fort Leavenworth to Santa Fe and then on to San Diego, many of them ill with the fever they had contracted at the Camp of Israel. "Bonaparte crossed the Alps," it was said, "but these men have crossed a continent." In September 1846, disturbed that battalion members had privately sent their salaries back to their wives, Brigham Young dispatched John D. Lee Young, as Lee now called himself, to follow the battalion to Santa Fe and intercept the battalion payroll to be consecrated to the church. Calling it a most "dangerous but responsible mission," Young entrusted Lee with confidential correspondence to Kearny demanding that the U.S. Army release all funds to Lee instead of to the individual soldiers. The purpose of Lee's journey was so secret he was not allowed to tell his wives where he was going or when he would return. American Massacre, page 53.

Warsaw Signal August 25, 1846

MORMON RECRUITS. A gentleman, direct from Fort Leavenworth, informs us that the rumor given out through some of the city papers yesterday, that about one thousand Mormons were collected at the forst in hopes of being enlisted into Gen. Kearney's command was not correct. The larger portion of the Mormons says our informant, who were encamped on the Missouri river, at Bellview, have moved up the river, intending to reach, if possible, before the fall sets in, the general encampment at Big Island, on the Platte river. A small number of men had come down to the fort to procure shoes and clothing from the suttlers and other traders, and as soon as their purchases were complete, would rejoin the Mormon camp.

The enlistment of large numbers of vagabond Mormons into the army on the terms reported, is nothing more than a contribution from the U. S. Government to keep these fanatics embodied and to pay their expenses to the Pacific. They will render no service to the Government but when they arrive, will again set political hierarchy, inconsistent with a proper submission to the laws of the State. -- New Era.


Daily Missouri Republican February 24, 1847


COL. COOKE'S MORMON COMMAND. -- A letter has been received from Col. Cooke, who is in command of the battalion of Mormons on their route to California, dated the 20th of November last. They were then 300 miles from Santa Fe. They had encountered some difficulties, but were getting along well, and expected to reach the Pacific in a much shorter time than originally contemplated. Col. Cooke did not intend to take the route directed by Gen. Kearney, but would pass near Yonas and Fonteras, making the distance much shorter to the Pacific. He had more provisions than were necessary, having then 88 days' supply on hand, and regreted being encumbered with such a quantity.


Daily Missouri Republican March 9, 1847


THE CALIFORNIA EXPEDITION. -- We were favored yesterday with the perusual of a letter written by an officer in the command of Col. Cooke, who is at the head of the Mormon battalion on its way to California. This letter is dated on the 24th of November, at Las Playas, Sonora... The health of the command is good... the latest intelligence from that quarter.


The Californian Star October 2, 1847

SAN FRANCISCO, Sunday Sept. 19th, 1847.       

Sir, In your editorial yesterday, I noticed the remark that "The Mormon Battalion," of about 200 men, had been met in the mountains of California, many of whom were returning to winter here. Of this Battalion, 150 whom sickness detained at Santa Fe, had joined the emigration at Salt Lake, their term of enlistment having expired."

This report, arising probably from misunderstanding, gives a most incorrect view of the movements of the above mentioned corps. Having myself been connected with, and a spectator of all its movements, I wish to make a brief, true statement of the affair.

The Battalion on its organization, mustered five hundred and one rank, file and official. At the crossing of the Arkansas river, eight of the command were detached to the Puebla near the source of the Arkansas, as an escort to a few families who designed wintering there. At Santa Fe, the scarcity of transportation made it necessary for the number of our command to be reduced. Capt. Brown, Lt. Ludington, and about eighty men were ordered back to join the families at the Puebla; of this number about fifty were sick or feeble. About one hundred and fifty miles south of Santa Fe, on the Rio Grande Del Norte, the weakness and incompetence of our transportation. as well as the prospect of much fatigue and hunger over an undiscovered country, rendered it expedient to still lessen the number of our force. Lt. Willis was detached to SantaFe from there in command of about sixty men; one third of whom were either worn down with fatigue, or rendered unfit for service through sickness.

The remainder, with the exception of two who died on the way, arrived at San Diego under the command of Lt. Col. Cook. Their movements since that time must be well known to almost every one in the country. About a hundred re-volunteered to garrison the town of San Diego. The party met in the mountains, I presume were those who left the Angeles, intending to join their families in the emigration.   Respectfully, yours.
                                 SANTIAGO DE IRLANDA.


Mormon Battalion More Important Than Many Know

By Elizabeth Gosney - 30 Jan 2008

BYU Newsnet

In 1846, the U.S. government requested members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Iowa to enlist in the U.S. war with Mexico. In July 1846, the Mormon Battalion was formed.

According to, more than 500 men and 20 women were enlisted as soldiers and laundresses. Susan Black, BYU professor of church history and doctrine, is currently co-authoring a book containing the biographies of all the members of the Mormon Battalion. Black said the battalion was significant for several reasons.

"The importance was that it showed that the Latter-day Saints were loyal to the United States," Black said. "By their willing[ness] to form a battalion, Latter-day Saints were able to stay on Iowa soil."

The battalion marched 2,000 miles from Iowa to California - the longest military march on American soil. According to Black, the group marched from Fort Leavenworth, Kan., to Sante Fe, N.M., and then on to Arizona and California.

The Mormon Battalion was discharged from service in Los Angeles on July 16, 1847, exactly one year after their enlistment. Because of the timing of their march and other factors, including sickness, the battalion never saw combat. Although history sees it as coincidence, Black sees it as something greater.

"Brigham Young prophesied that no one in this military unit would die in battle," Black said. "So I think it was fulfillment of prophecy."

On the Web site,, Brigham Young is quoted as saying: "The Mormon Battalion will be held in honorable remembrance to the latest generation; and I will prophesy that the children of those who have been in the army, in defense of their country, will grow up and bless their fathers for what they did at that time."

Through memorials, Web sites and this weekend's Dance in Concert performances, the Mormon Battalion has been remembered. But Black said there are skewed perceptions of the battalion's soldiers.

"As a church we view them all as heroes," Black said. "But I think a misunderstanding is that about a third of them never returned to their families."

Black explained that many of the soldiers stayed in California, deserting their families and the church.

"We honor their legacy and willingness to march, but not all of them stayed faithful in the end," she said.