Utah War

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Utah War
Date 1857-1858
Location Utah Territory
Result US victory
President Buchanan declaration of Utah in rebellion
United States Mormon settlers
Albert Sidney Johnston Brigham Young
John D. Lee
Lot Smith
Unknown Unknown
Unknown Unknown

The Utah War was a dispute between Mormon settlers in Utah Territory and the United States federal government. From 1857 to 1858, the Mormons and Washington each sought control over the government of the territory, with the national government victorious. One famous incident was the Mountain Meadows massacre, which was a massacre of unarmed California-bound settlers from Arkansas by Mormon militia.


[edit] Background

In the Presidential Election of 1856 the Republicans attacked the "twin relics of barbarism"—polygamy and slavery. Newly elected President James Buchanan (a Democrat) opposed polygamy but more important he opposed theocratic dominance of Utah territory by the Mormon Church under Brigham Young as a violation of American principles. Buchanan appointed Alfred Cumming as the new governor and ordered the U.S. Army to escort Cumming to the Utah Territory.

[edit] Troop movements

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The U.S. troops marching toward Utah were originally led by Gen. William S. Harney, but Harney was forced to return to Kansas to deal with border skirmishes between Missouri and Kansas during the Bleeding Kansas build up to the American Civil War. Because of Harney's unavailability, Col. Edmund Alexander was charged with the first detachment of troops headed for Utah, only to later rendezvous with and relinquish command to Col. Albert Sidney Johnston. The Nauvoo Legion, a Utah militia commanded by Lot Smith and under Young's leadership, harassed the federal mission while under Alexander's command. It was only days after Col. Johnston took command of the combined U.S. forces that he decided to settle in at the burned out remains of Fort Bridger, Wyoming for the winter.

In spring, reinforcements arrived to resupply and strengthen the American military presence in Utah, but negotiations were already underway. Hearing of the potential conflict, Thomas L. Kane had contacted Buchanan and offered to mediate. As it was a heavy winter, he traveled under an alias to Utah by way of Panama, crossing the isthmus by railway, and taking a ship to southern California. He then went overland through San Bernardino to Salt Lake City, arriving in February 1858. Kane persuaded Young to accept Buchanan's appointment of Cumming as Territorial governor, and to present no opposition to the troops acting as escort. Kane then traveled to the winter base at Fort Bridger, and persuaded Governor Cumming to travel to Salt Lake City without his military escort. Cumming was courteously received by Young and Utah residents, and was shortly installed in his new office.

[edit] Consequences

By the time Governor Cumming was securely placed in office, the Utah War had become an embarrassment for President Buchanan. Called Buchanan's Blunder by elements of the national press[1], the President was criticized for:

  • failing to officially notify Governor Young about his replacement,
  • sending troops without investigating the reports on Utah's disloyalty to the United States,
  • dispatching the expedition late in the season, and
  • failing to provide an adequate resupply train for the winter.

In response to public opinion, Buchanan sent two peace commissioners to Utah. Arriving in June 1858, Ben McCullock and Issac Powell carried a global pardon to the Latter-day Saints, if they would reaffirm their loyalty to the federal government. Indignant, the Latter-day Saints insisted they had never been disloyal. Arthur P. Welchman, member of a company of missionaries recalled due to the war, wrote in his travel journal: June -- On the head-waters of the Sweet-Water, met Grosebecks' camp going to Platt Bridge for a train of goods. By these Brethren we had a proclamation from President Buchannan(sic) to the Inhabitants of Utah read to us. It was so full of lies, and showed so much meanness, that it elicited three groans from the company. However, President Young and the people of Utah accepted the pardon to establish peace in the territory.

The people of Utah lost much during the brief period of conflict. Suspicious and fearful, Young and the Saints made plans to abandon their fields, orchards, businesses and homes and destroy them if the army should invade Utah territory. Scouts had identified new areas for settlement in central and southern Utah and in the White Mountains of Arizona. Up to 30,000 Latter-day Saints boarded up their homes, packed their property, and began to move south. Historians James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard wrote:

It was an extraordinary operation. As the Saints moved south they cached all the stone cut for the Salt Lake Temple and covered the foundations to make it resemble a plowed field. They boxed and carried with them twenty thousand bushels of tithing grain, as well as machinery, equipment, and all the Church records and books. The sight of thirty thousand people moving south was awesome, and the amazed Governor Cumming did all he could to persuade them to return to their homes. Brigham Young replied that if the troops were withdrawn from the territory, the people would stop moving.... (Allen/Leonard p. 308)

Once the troops had peacefully passed through Salt Lake City and settled in a permanent base, Camp Floyd, near Fairfield in Cedar Valley, west of Utah Lake, Young personally led a large group of Saints back into northern Utah and the Salt Lake Valley. However, the settler's livelihoods and economic well being were seriously impacted. Field crops had been ignored for up to two months and livestock had been culled for the journey. Poverty would be widespread in the territory for several years.

Utah was under military occupation. Historian Leonard J. Arrington noted that "the cream of the United States Army" jeered and reviled the Utah settlers. Relations between the troops, their commanders and the Mormons were tense. However, settlers living near the 7,000 troops quartered in Cedar Valley did sell farm produce and manufactured goods to the troops. In addition, when the army finally abandoned Camp Floyd in 1861, surplus goods worth an estimated four million dollars were auctioned off for a fraction of their value.

[edit] Timeline of events

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Poll, Richard D., and Ralph W. Hansen. ""Buchanan's Blunder" The Utah War, 1857-1858." Military Affairs (Lexington, VA) 25, 3 (1961): 121-131.

[edit] References

  • Allen, James B. and Leonard, Glen M. The Story of the Latter-day Saints. Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, UT, 1976. ISBN 0-87747-594-6.
  • Arrington, Leonard J. Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958, reprinted by University of Illinois Press, October 2004. ISBN 0-252-02972-0.
  • Fleek, Sherman L. "The Church and the Utah War, 1857-1858," Robert Freeman, ed., Nineteenth Century Saints at War, Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2006.
  • (1)Poll, Richard D., and Ralph W. Hansen. ""Buchanan's Blunder" The Utah War, 1857-1858." Military Affairs (Lexington, VA) 25, 3 (1961): 121-131.

[edit] External links

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