Book review: Mormon Battalion shaped much of the history of the United States

By Stephanie Abney

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Oct. 13 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

"HISTORY OF THE SAINTS: The Remarkable Journey of the Mormon Battalion," by Michael N. Landon and Brandon J. Metcalf, Covenant Communications, $24.99, 128 pages (nf)

Michael N. Landon and Brandon J. Metcalf, two archivists in the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pooled their vast knowledge and resources to write a comprehensive account of “The Remarkable Journey of the Mormon Battalion.”

The Mormon Battalion was unique among American military units as it was based solely on religious affiliation. However, this book is intended for a general readership. This fascinating and well-documented account of the Mormon Battalion is a satisfying read.

At a time when the Saints had lost faith and trust in a government that had not protected or helped them, a call was sent out for 500 Mormon volunteers to join the ranks to assist with the war with Mexico. LDS Church President Brigham Young asked them to comply and said they would do a great work for the Lord and this nation. Their 2,000-mile trek on foot from Council Bluff’s Iowa Territory to the California Pacific coast from 1846-1847 is well-known in Mormon history.

These soldiers left their families in dire circumstances and followed the prophet’s counsel. None of them ever had to engage in gun battle. They gave up their uniform allowance and most of their pay to help finance the emigration to the Salt Lake Valley of poor Saints.

Just as President Young predicted, the Mormon Battalion played an important role in the westward expansion of the United States. The trails they opened going to California and on their return trip to Utah became well-travelled routes for many seeking their futures in the West. The route to Pacific coast, known as Cooke’s Wagon Road, became a major emigration and freighting route and eventually led to the 1853 Gadsden Purchase.

The trials and triumphs of the Mormon Battalion are beautifully recounted in this volume, filled with maps, photos and journal entries, courtesy of the Church History Library, Library of Congress National Archives and several university libraries.

The Mormon Battalion is still remembered today, as evidenced in the Mormon Battalion monument at the Utah State Capital and the recently remodeled Mormon Battalion Historical Site in Old Town San Diego, Calif.

Tales of the post-battalion life for several prominent members can be found in the epilogue and a roster of the Mormon Battalion members is included at the end of book.

Stephanie Abney, eternal optimist, private school teacher and freelance writer, lives in Mesa, Ariz., with her husband, Jim. They have five children and 18 grandchildren. She blogs at stephaniesaysso.blogspot.com. Email: sabneyfeedback@cox.net

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