The Mormon Battalion was the only religious unit in United States military history in federal service, recruited solely from one religious body and having a religious title as the unit designation.[2] The volunteers served from July 1846 to July 1847 during the Mexican–American War of 1846–1848.[3] The battalion was a volunteer unit of between 534[4][5] and 559[6][Note 1] Latter-day Saint men, led by Mormon company officers commanded by regular U.S. Army officers. During its service, the battalion made a grueling march of nearly 1,950 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to San Diego, California.

Mormon Battalion
Soldiers of the Mormon Battalion honored at Fort Moore Pioneer Memorial in Los Angeles
ActiveJuly 1846 – July 1847
Country United States
Allegiance United States

 United States Army

Army of the West
Garrison/HQFort Leavenworth, Kansas[1]
EngagementsMexican–American War
Alleged to be the Mormon Battalion Flag but likely was not. This flag belonged to the Utah-period Nauvoo Legion
"Mormon Battalion Monument" by Edward J. Fraughton, Presidio Park, San Diego, California

The Battalion’s march and service supported the eventual cession of much of the American Southwest from Mexico to the United States, especially the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 of southern Arizona and New Mexico. The march also opened a southern wagon route to California. Veterans of the Battalion played significant roles in America's westward expansion in California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and other parts of the West.



At the time they enlisted, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were seeking U.S. government aid for their migration west to the Rocky Mountains and Salt Lake Valley, despite having their previous petitions for redress of grievances denied. Under continued religious persecution, they had fled Nauvoo, Illinois, starting on February 4, 1846, across the Mississippi River. They camped among the Potawatomi Indians near present-day Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Brigham Young, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, sent Elder Jesse C. Little to Washington, D.C., to seek assistance from the federal government for the Mormon Pioneers fleeing from the Illinois mobs. Little arrived in Washington, D.C., on May 21, 1846, only eight days after Congress had declared war on Mexico.[4] Pennsylvania Army officer and attorney Thomas L. Kane offered the Mormons his advice and assistance. Politically well connected through his jurist father, Kane provided letters of recommendation and joined Little in Washington, D.C. The two called on the Secretary of State, Secretary of War, and President James K. Polk. After several interviews in early June 1846, President Polk agreed to Little's offer[clarification needed] if "a few hundred" men enlisted. On June 2, 1846, President Polk wrote in his diary: "Col. [Stephen W.] Kearny was ... authorized to receive into service as volunteers a few hundred of the Mormons who are now on their way to California, with a view to conciliate them, attach them to our country, and prevent them from taking part against us."[7]

On July 1, 1846, Captain James Allen, dispatched by Colonel (later Brigadier General) Stephen W. Kearny, arrived at the Mormons' Mosquito Creek camp. He carried President Polk's request for a battalion of 500 volunteers to fight in the Mexican War.[8] Most members of the Church were suspicious of the request, as the federal government had ignored the persecutions that they suffered. They were concerned about facing discrimination by the government, as they had from both the state and federal government in the past.[9]

Kane obtained federal government permission for the refugee Mormons to occupy Pottawattamie and Omaha Indian lands along the Missouri River. After carrying dispatches relating to the land agreements and battalion criteria to Fort Leavenworth, Kane sought out Little in the Mormon encampments on the Missouri. On July 17, 1846, he held a meeting with church leaders and Captain Allen.

Young had planned on moving the Mormons west that summer, but circumstances were against his plan. He saw several possible advantages to the Saints in the proposed federal service. Their enlistment would be a public relations victory for the church, demonstrating additional evidence of its loyalty to the United States.[9] As the men were given a uniform allowance at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., of US$42 each, paid in advance, for their one-year enlistment and as they were allowed to wear their civilian clothing for the march, the bulk of those funds were immediately donated to a general Church fund. These funds were used to purchase wagons, teams, and other necessities for the American exodus (Actual wages paid over the next year to the Mormon Battalion totaled nearly $30,000).[10] Having been forced to leave farms and homes in Nauvoo, the Latter-day Saints were going to spend the winter on the banks of the Missouri River. Raising a group of able-bodied men would be difficult. Many men had already scattered to outlying areas where they sought jobs with wages to help support the group. Young wrote a letter to the Saints living in Garden Grove in which he justified the call-up and asked for help:

The President wants to do us good and secure our confidence. The outfit of this five hundred men costs us nothing, and their pay will be sufficient to take their families over the mountains. There is war between Mexico and the United States, to whom California must fall a prey, and if we are the first settlers the old citizens cannot have a Hancock or Missouri pretext to mob the Saints. The thing is from above for our own good.[11]

The public approval of Young and other members of the Twelve were critical to gain men's enlistment. While some men quickly volunteered, Young had to persuade reluctant enlistees.[5] It took three weeks to raise the five companies of men.

Allen's instructions were to recruit "four or five companies" of men who were to receive the "pay, rations, and other allowances given to other infantry volunteers."[12] Each company was authorized four women as laundresses, "receiving rations and other allowances given to the laundresses of our army."[12] Approximately thirty-three women, twenty of whom served as laundresses, and fifty-one children accompanied the men.[4] Five women would eventually complete the cross-continental trek.[13] The Mormon Battalion was mustered into volunteer service on July 16, 1846, as part of the Army of the West under General Kearny, a seasoned veteran. His units included two regiments of Missouri volunteers, a regiment of New York volunteers who had traveled by ships to California to meet him there, artillery and infantry battalions, Kearny's own 1st US Dragoons, and the battalion of Mormons. For years afterward, some Mormons viewed the Mormon Battalion as an unjust imposition and as an act of persecution by the United States.[14]

Journey begins

Revised map of Mormon Battalion routes with all detachment routes shown.

The battalion arrived at Fort Leavenworth on August 1.[15] For the next two weeks, they drew their clothing allowance of $42 per man, received their equipment (Model 1816 smoothbore flintlock muskets and a few Harper's Ferry Model 1803 Rifles), and were more formally organized into a combat battalion. The volunteers took the approved clothing allowance in cash per regulations. To assure the main body of the group benefited from the men's wages, Young sent Parley Pratt to see that the men handed over the pay they had committed to contribute. Young used this and the wages they earned later to buy supplies for the main group at wholesale prices in St. Louis, Missouri. He wrote to the enlistees that the money was a "peculiar manifestation of the kind providence of our Heavenly Father at this time."[12] There was little time for training and instilling discipline. Newly promoted Lieutenant Colonel James Allen became ill but ordered the battalion forward along the Santa Fe Trail to overtake Kearny's Army of the West. On August 23, Allen died and was the first officer buried there in the old officer's burial grounds. Later his remains were moved to what became Fort Leavenworth National Military Cemetery.

Captain Jefferson Hunt, commanding A Company, was the acting commander until word reached Council Grove, Kansas, that Allen had died. While there, Lieutenant Andrew Jackson Smith, West Point Class of 1838, arrived and was given temporary command of the Battalion with the Mormons' consent. For the next several weeks, the Mormon soldiers came to hate "AJ" Smith and the assistant surgeon, Dr. George B. Sanderson, for their treatment of the men, and the long marches suffered across the dry plains of Kansas and New Mexico. The Mormon men were not accustomed to the austere military standards of the day nor to the medical treatments imposed by Dr. Sanderson, including the use of feeding mercury compounds to the sick, which were standard for the time. Because the church leaders had counseled the battalion members to avoid military medical treatment, they challenged the doctor's authority and unrest arose among the men. Smith and Sanderson continued to hold the Mormon Battalion to ordinary standards of discipline, and tensions continued.

Cooke assumes command

Philip St. George Cooke

Arriving in Santa Fe in October, General Kearny had dispatched Captain (brevet promotion to Lieutenant Colonel) Philip St. George Cooke, West Point class of 1827, to assume command of the Battalion. His assignment was to march them to California and to build a wagon road along the way (today known as Cooke's Wagon Road). In Santa Fe, 91 sick men and all but five of the women and one child were sent to Pueblo, in present-day Colorado.[16] Three separate detachments left the Battalion and went to Pueblo to winter. For the next three months and 1,100 miles, Cooke led the Battalion across some of the most arduous terrain in North America. Most of the Mormon soldiers soon learned to respect and follow him. The group acquired another guide in New Mexico – adventurer and mountain man Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, who as an infant had traveled with his mother Sacagawea across the continent with the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Lieutenant Smith and Dr. Sanderson continued with the battalion, along with Lt. George Stoneman, newly graduated from West Point that Spring. During the Civil War, Cooke, Smith and Stoneman were promoted to high-level commands for the Union Army, and Stoneman would later be elected Governor of California.

Battle of the Bulls

A later-19th-century painting depicting the Mormon Battalion reaching the Gila River in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona

The only "battle" they fought was near the San Pedro River in present-day Arizona against a sizable number of wild cattle. The Battalion reached this area in December 1846, and their presence aroused curiosity among these animals. After the bulls of these herds caused destruction to some of the mules and wagons and resulted in two men being wounded, the men loaded their guns and attacked the charging bulls, killing 10–15 of the wild cattle, causing the event to be termed the "Battle of the Bulls".[12]

Capture of Tucson


Approaching Tucson, in present-day Arizona, the Battalion nearly had a battle with a small detachment of provisional Mexican soldiers on December 16, 1846. The Mexicans retreated as the US battalion approached. Interestingly, Cooke never seems to have considered the encounter as capturing the town. He never made that claim. The local O'odham and other Piman tribes along the march route were helpful and charitable to the American soldiers. Mormon soldiers learned irrigation methods from these native inhabitants and employed the techniques later as pioneers in Utah and other areas.[citation needed]

Temecula Massacre


Nearing the end of their journey, the battalion passed through Temecula, California, during the aftermath of the Temecula Massacre, a conflict between Mexican government forces and the Luiseño tribe. The Mormons stood guard to prevent further bloodshed while the Luiseño people gathered their numerous dead into a common grave.[17][18]

Journey complete


The Mormon Battalion arrived in San Diego on January 29, 1847, after a march of some 2,080 miles from Iowa. For the next five months until their discharge on July 16, 1847, in Los Angeles, the Battalion trained and performed occupation duties in several locations in southern California. The most significant service the Battalion provided in California was as a reliable unit under Cooke to reinforce General Kearny's one company of army dragoons. The construction of Fort Moore in Los Angeles was one measure Cooke employed to protect military control under Kearny. Some 22 Mormon men died from disease or other natural causes during their service. About 80 of the men re-enlisted for another six months of service.

Fifteen men were selected to accompany General Kearny and escort John C. Fremont back east to his court-martial. During their journey over the Sierra Nevada, these men encountered one of the campsites of the Donner Party, and were ordered to bury the human remains and clean up the area.[19]

After being mustered out, Jesse D. Hunter, captain of Company B, was appointed Indian Agent for southern California by the military governor, Colonel Richard Mason. Hunter was California's third indian agent, the first two being Johann Sutter and Mariano Vallejo, both appointed by Mason's predecessor, Stephen Kearny. Hunter's mission was to protect ranchos and missions from depredations, and to generally control the Indian labor force, to the point of requiring Indians to carry passports.[20]

Nearly 100 discharged veterans worked in the Sacramento, area for James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill. Henry Bigler recorded in his diary the actual date when gold was discovered, January 24, 1848. This gold find started the California Gold Rush the next year.[21] $17,000 in gold was contributed to the economy of the Latter-day Saints' new home by members of the Mormon Battalion returning from California.[10]

One group of discharged battalion members established the Carson Trail wagon road (also called the Mormon Emigrant Trail) on their return east. This road started near Placerville, California, and went across the crest of the Sierra Nevada at Carson Pass before dropping down and eventually meeting the already-established California Trail. The newly established route was afterwards used by many emigrants traveling to California's gold fields.[22] Three members of this group were killed at a location which became known as Tragedy Spring.

Historic sites and monuments

The San Diego Mormon Battalion Historic Site

Historic sites associated with the battalion include:

  • The Mormon Battalion Mustering Grounds on the campus of the Iowa School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs includes a short trail with interpretative signage. This site is located within half a mile of the actual site of the mustering.[23]
  • A stone monument with a bronze plaque that describes the details of the Mormon Battalion is located on the grounds of the Kaw Mission State Historic Site in Council Grove, Kansas. This is the site at which the Battalion camped while traveling along the Santa Fe Trail. Council Grove had a Government Blacksmith shop stationed along the Santa Fe Trail. Camp followers John and Jane Boscow (Burschough) died while at Council Grove and were buried not far from the later Kaw Mission Site.
New Mexico
  • A large bronze sculpture of a meeting between the Mormon Battalion and Mexican El Presidio leadership sits in the Northwest portion of El Presidio Park, adjacent to the Pima County Courthouse in downtown Tucson, Arizona. Although their nations were at war, the military contingents from both nations were able to avert armed confrontation in part via this peaceful meeting of representatives of both armies.[27]
  • A large bronze statue and monument is located in West Wetlands Park in Yuma, Arizona. It commemorates the crossing of the Colorado River.
Mormon Battalion memorial, Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery
  • Mormon Battalion Monument at Runyon Field Sports Complex in Pueblo, Colorado. The battalion's sick detachments wintered in this area.[36]
Mormon Battalion Trail

Notable members of the battalion


Current research


A resurgence of interest in the Battalion is linked to the 175th anniversary of the Battalion's service. Original documents held at the National Archives have been located, including original muster and pay rolls. These are being prepared for public access online along with transcriptions. A more accurate count and list of participants is being prepared. A series of events are being planned along the routes during 2021–2022.

See also



  1. ^ The numbers provided above include non-military persons who were merely camp followers; family members, officers servants, laundresses and other camp followers. The original muster and pay rolls have been located at the National Archives and analysis of names, offices and service are underway. A scholarly paper is being prepared to share the documented Army records giving the most accurate number for Battalion membership. In addition, recent research has identified more persons who traveled with the Battalion but who were not officially part of the military unit. These persons will also be publicly identified soon.


  1. ^ "Saints March In!".
  2. ^ Fleek 2006, p. 45.
  3. ^ Fleek 2006, p. 27
  4. ^ a b c Black, Susan Easton (1994), Powell, Allen Kent (ed.), Utah History Encyclopedia, Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, archived from the original on April 11, 2013
  5. ^ a b "Historic Events",, California Pioneer Heritage Foundation, archived from the original on August 13, 2011, retrieved April 9, 2013
  6. ^ a b Lloyd, R. Scott (June 6, 1992), "Monument honoring Mormon Battalion to regain its luster", Church News
  7. ^ Polk, James K. (1929), Nevins, Allan (ed.), Polk: the Diary of a President, 1845–1849, London and New York: Longmans, Green & Co., p. 109, OCLC 783494
  8. ^ "Heritage Gateways: Mormon Battalion". Archived from the original on December 11, 2008. Retrieved September 25, 2009.
  9. ^ a b McLynn, Frank. Wagons West: The Epic Story of America's Overland Trails. Grove Press. pp. 386–7. ISBN 0802140637.
  10. ^ a b "The Pioneer Story: Pioneer Trail Map",
  11. ^ Brown, Joseph D. (1980). The Mormon Trek West. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. pp. 50–52. ISBN 0385130309.
  12. ^ a b c d Roberts 1919
  13. ^ "The Mormon Battalion (1846–1847) Roster". Archived from the original on June 24, 2008. Retrieved September 26, 2008.
  14. ^ Carrington 1857, p. 5
  15. ^ "Chapter Twenty-Six: Pioneers to the West". Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual: Religion 341–343. Institutes of Religion, Church Educational System, LDS Church. 2003. p. 323.
  16. ^ "Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel: 1847–1868",, Church History Department, LDS Church, retrieved April 9, 2013
  17. ^ Hallaran, Kevin; Archibald, Allene; Bean, Lowell John; Vane, Sylvia Brakke (1991), The Indian Cemetery at Old Temecula, Riverside, California: Archaeological Research Unit, University of California, Riverside, OCLC 44431925
  18. ^ Cooke 1878, pp. 192–194
  19. ^ Dorius, Guy L. (Spring 1997). "Crossroads in the West: The Intersections of the Donner Party and the Mormons" (PDF). Nauvoo Journal. 9 (1): 24–25. Retrieved December 24, 2020.
  20. ^ Hurtado, Albert L. (Fall 1979). "Controlling California's Indian Labor Force; Federal Administration of California Indian Affairs During the Mexican War". Southern California Quarterly. 61 (3). University of California Press: 225–226. doi:10.2307/41170828. JSTOR 41170828.
  21. ^ Sutter, John (November 1857). "The Discovery of Gold in California". Hutchings' California Magazine. The Mormons did not like to leave my mill unfinished, but they got the gold fever like everybody else. After they had made their piles they left for the Great Salt Lake. So long as these people have been employed by me they hav [sic] behaved very well, and were industrious and faithful laborers, and when settling their accounts there was not one of them who was not contented and satisfied.
  22. ^ Mays, Kenneth (May 18, 2016). "Picturing history: Mormon Emigrant Trail". Deseret News. Salt Lake City. Retrieved December 24, 2020.
  23. ^ "Mormon Battalion Mustering Grounds". Ensign Peak Foundation. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  24. ^ "New monument in New Mexico memorializes Mormon Battalion -- marker replaces one built in 1940", Church News, October 5, 1996
  25. ^ Nava, Margaret M. (2006), Remembering: A Guide to New Mexico Cemeteries, Monuments and Memorials, Santa Fe, N.M.: Sunstone Press, pp. 81–84, ISBN 0865344868, OCLC 67727597
  26. ^ "The Historical Marker Database",, retrieved June 19, 2014
  27. ^ The Mormon Battalion, published by Utah State University circa 1998.[full citation needed]
  28. ^ "Mormon Battalion Trail, Box Canyon, San Diego County, California".
  29. ^ "Fort Moore Pioneer Memorial". Archived from the original on October 16, 2008. Retrieved November 17, 2007.
  30. ^ Thomas, Sean P.. (January 28, 2019). "A Downtown Waterfall Is Flowing for the First Time in 42 Years". Los Angeles Downtown News. Retrieved January 29, 2019.
  31. ^ "Mormon Battalion Memorial – Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery – San Diego County, California".
  32. ^ "Mormon Battalion Monument, (sculpture)".
  33. ^ "Monuments and Landscapes". Utah State Capitol. Archived from the original on June 24, 2012. Retrieved October 2, 2012.
  34. ^ Lloyd, R. Scott (August 21, 2020). "Elder Ballard dedicates Mormon Battalion plaza". Deseret News. Salt Lake City. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  35. ^ a b "Map, Museums, and Trail Markers". Mormon Battalion Association. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  36. ^ "Monument recording Mormon Battalion stay moved to new location". Church News. Salt Lake City. August 7, 1993. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  37. ^ Kimball 1988
  38. ^ Porter, Larry C. (2006), Freeman, Robert C. (ed.), "Nineteenth-Century Saints at War", The Church and the Mexican-American War, Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, pp. 41–76, ISBN 978-0842526517, archived from the original on October 21, 2013
  39. ^ a b c d Esshom, Frank Ellwood (1913), "Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah", Names of Those in the Mormon Battalion, Salt Lake City, Utah: Utah Pioneers Book Publishing Co., pp. 43–45, OCLC 2286984
  40. ^ Southern California Quarterly. Los Angeles County Pioneers of Southern California, Historical Society of Southern California, p. 297
  41. ^ "California Military History: Californians and the Military",, California State Military Museum, California Military Department
  42. ^ Christopher Layton's Journal