Utah, Mormons and the Civil War

Published: Monday, Aug. 13 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

While living on the East Coast, Kenneth L. Alford began noticing the hype and anticipation for the approaching 150th anniversary of the Civil War as early as 10 years ago.

In 2008, Alford retired as an Army officer and moved to Utah to join the Brigham Young University faculty as an associate professor of LDS Church history and doctrine. He asked around to find out how Utahns would celebrate the sesquicentennial.

“I was met with crickets chirping,” Alford laughed. “It was completely off everybody’s radar.”

Alford and BYU colleagues were curious to know how many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had served in the Civil War, as well as how the war had impacted Utah Territory, but found any existing information to be insufficient.

That’s when Alford came up with the idea for “Civil War Saints” (Deseret Book and the BYU Religious Studies Center, $31.99), 569-page book that takes a closer look at Latter-day Saints and Utah Territory during the war and includes a large appendix listing Mormon Civil War veterans.

“Utah was a minor player in the actual war, but the war had a variety of effects upon the Latter-day Saints across the United States, as well as those in Europe who were hoping to emigrate,” Alford said. “I wanted to honor the Latter-day Saints who were either soldiers in the war, both Union and Confederate, as well as those who were affected by the war.”

With the help of historians, independent researchers, countless hours of investigation by students and financial assistance from BYU’s Religious Studies Center, the book is now on store bookshelves, released in time to mark the 150th summer anniversary of the Lot Smith Cavalry Company — the only unit from Utah to be called to active duty military service during the Civil War.

In April 1862, LDS Church President Brigham Young was authorized by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln to organize a company of cavalry to protect the mail and telegraph lines along the continental route. Within two days, 106 men had volunteered for duty. Lot Smith, a frontiersman noted for his military exploits during the Utah War, was asked to serve as captain. From May to August, the Utah soldiers protected the Overland Trail, tracked down horse thieves and worked at improving relations with the Indians. The men were honorably discharged in August 1862, and collectively earned more than $35,000, a blessing for the economy in Utah Territory. The Daughters of Utah Pioneers erected a monument on the grounds of the Utah Capitol in 1961 to honor the men of the Lot Smith Cavalry Company and others from Utah who served during the Civil War.

An appendix in “Civil War Saints” lists the names of 384 Latter-day Saints who served in the Civil War. Alford was quick to say this list is not definitive, but a start. The process of identifying the individuals, which involved a small army of researchers who put in hundreds of hours during three years, included finding a name of a possible LDS veteran, confirming they were baptized, confirming the individual qualified as a Union or Confederate veteran, and double-checking that the LDS member and veteran were the same person.

“There have been some smaller efforts, but as far as we have been able to determine, this is the most comprehensive list of Latter-day Saint Civil War veterans ever researched and published,” Alford said. “We tried to turn over every rock we could. It was one of those things that mushroomed and consumed our lives, but we’re pleased with what we've found. I’m not under the illusion, though, that our list is complete or even 100 percent accurate because of inaccuracies in the records.”

Perhaps the reason why no LDS Civil War list has been previously published, Alford said, is because resources that document Latter-day Saint membership and Civil War veteran status have been largely unavailable or were difficult to examine.

“Over the last couple of years records have been digitized,” he said. “Doing this without digital records would have been almost impossible. As it was, it was still hard.”

The book, illustrated with period photographs and images, includes the stories of many Latter-day Saint veterans, both Union and Confederate, as well as new research regarding the Civil War legacy from the Utah War, an LDS/Civil War timeline, Abraham Lincoln’s connections to the Mormons, Joseph Smith’s prophecy of the war in Doctrine and Covenants 87, wartime LDS emigration, the establishment of Camp Douglas, how Civil War newspapers viewed Mormonism, and how the war’s aftermath affected Utah, among other interesting topics.

Alford hopes readers enjoy learning about these lesser-known aspects of the Civil War. The BYU professor will treasure what he has learned.

“This project deepened my sense of appreciation for the people who sacrificed tremendously to keep this country together,” Alford said. “It also gave me a new respect for the depth of conviction on both sides. This was an event that deeply divided the nation and still influences the makeup of the nation today. I’m grateful that we’re able to honor these people.”

If you have LDS Civil War ancestors not found in the book, Alford can be reached at alford@BYU.edu.

Email: ttoone@desnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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