The Mormon Battalion

The Mormon Battalion was a unique military unit in American history, formed during the Mexican-American War in 1846. It consisted of about 500 Latter-day Saints (Mormons) volunteers. This battalion was the only religiously based unit in United States military history and was recruited to help the U.S. secure new territories in the American West.

The battalion was mustered in at Council Bluffs, Iowa, and marched nearly 2,000 miles to San Diego, California, one of the longest military marches in history. The journey helped to open new wagon routes in the West and was instrumental in the settlement and development of the region. The battalion never engaged in battle but faced hardships like disease, lack of provisions, and challenging terrain.

The Mormon Battalion is significant for its military contribution and impact on the westward expansion and settlement of the United States, particularly in Utah and California. Its members helped to establish communities and build infrastructure in the West after their military service ended.

After their discharge in 1847, members of the Mormon Battalion played a significant role in the history of the Mojave Desert and the broader American West. Their journey and subsequent activities helped to establish and improve trails across the desert, facilitating the movement of people and goods.

Some of the discharged members of the Mormon Battalion, along with other Mormons, were instrumental in developing the Southern Route, also known as the Mormon Road, through the Mojave Desert. This route later became critical for settlers moving to California, especially during the Gold Rush. They improved the trail, making it more passable for wagons, and established supply stations along the way, vital for the survival of travelers crossing the harsh desert environment.

Additionally, these battalion members engaged in early exploratory and settlement activities. They were among the first U.S. citizens to extensively travel through and document the Mojave Desert region. Their efforts contributed to the mapping of the area and provided valuable information about resources and potential settlement sites.

Their work in the Mojave Desert facilitated westward expansion and laid the groundwork for future economic development in the region, including mining, agriculture, and transportation. Through their endeavors, the discharged members of the Mormon Battalion left a lasting legacy in the development of the American Southwest.

Mormon Battalion

Mormon Battalion, flag

The Mormon Battalion was a United States Army volunteer unit composed primarily of Latter-day Saint (Mormon) men. It was formed during the Mexican-American War in 1846. The battalion played a significant role in the western expansion of the United States and the development of the American West.

Here are some key points about the Mormon Battalion:

  1. Formation: The Mormon Battalion was officially organized on July 16, 1846, in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The Mormon pioneers, led by Brigham Young, had been forced to leave their homes in Nauvoo, Illinois, and were headed west to the Salt Lake Valley.
  2. Purpose: The battalion was created to support the U.S. war effort in the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). The U.S. government, in need of troops to secure the territory acquired in the Southwest, allowed the Mormons to form their unit.
  3. Service: The Mormon Battalion marched over 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs to San Diego, California, through harsh and challenging conditions. They were mustered out of service in July 1847.
  4. Contribution to Western Expansion: The journey of the Mormon Battalion played a role in opening up a southern wagon route to California and exploring potential routes for future transportation and communication lines.
  5. Legacy: The legacy of the Mormon Battalion is still remembered today. Many battalion members settled in California after their service, and their contributions are commemorated in various historical sites and monuments. The battalion is also remembered as a unique episode in American military history and the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Mormon Battalion’s journey was a remarkable chapter in the American West’s history and the United States’s expansion during the 19th century.

Death Valley’s Lost ’49ers

Jefferson Hunt’s Mojave San Joaquin Company, a wagon train made up of anxious gold seekers and settlers frustrated by a late start across the desert in late 1849 join with Captain Hunt to be guided across the Mojave Desert along the new southern route. Tensions rise with a wrong venture into the Escalante Desert and at a point east of Enterprise, and north of Mountain Meadows, Utah, anarchy ensues and the train breaks up into two factions; those who will become lost and those who will go on as planned. Of the 107 wagons in this once large party, only seven wagons remain.

Furnace Creek, Death Valley National Park

On December 22, 1849, the ‘Mojave Sand-walking Company,’ as it became known, arrived in San Bernardino, California. At the same time the remaining ‘Lost ’49ers,’ about one-quarter of those who broke away originally, were entering the desolate Death Valley and would be celebrating Christmas Day near what we know as Furnace Creek.

Death Valley in 1849