Not a drop of blood from the Civil War was spilled in Utah.
But was Utah a key ingredient in a complicated pre-Civil War conspiracy to divert Union troops and drain the U.S. Treasury in the days immediately preceding the war?Brigham Young University archaeologist Dale L. Berge is convinced that Utah played a much larger role in the
Civil War than historians have imagined. And his ongoing excavations at Camp Floyd, he says, certainly point in the direction of a conspiracy.
The conspiracy theory goes something like this: With North-South tensions mounting in the 1850s and war seemingly inevitable, several Southerners in the War Department hatched a scheme to lure the Union Army as far away from the South as they could.
Rumors that Mormons in Utah were rebelling against the U.S. government conveniently offered a reason to dispatch the Union Army 2,000 miles away to put down the "rebellion."
In 1857, President James Buchanan - who the year before had campaigned for the presidency against the "twin relics of barbarism: slavery and polygamy" - ordered Col. Albert Sydney Johnston, a Southerner, and 5,500 Union troops to Utah. In addition, thousands of horses and wagons were employed, altogether costing the U.S. Treasury some $40 million.
The number of soldiers represented one-third of the 15,000-man Union Army, not to mention the accompanying amount of the nation's war supplies.
But the conspiracy theory goes even further. By the time Johnston reached Utah in 1858, Buchanan had canceled the Army's mission. But no orders ever were given for the army to return to the East.
Instead, the army proceeded to build Camp Floyd, near modern-day Fairfield in Utah County - a huge military camp of more than 250 buildings that became the largest pre-Civil War military fort in the United States.
The contracts to build the fort and the supply lines from Kansas were all awarded to three Missourians with strong Southern ties. "Much of that $40 million was siphoned directly from the Union treasury to the South through those contracts," Berge said.
"It's very hard to prove a conspiracy. But it certainly seems feasible. All of the major players were Southerners or Southern sympathizers. And the drain on money and manpower had to have had a tremendous impact on the U.S. government."
By sending troops, Buchanan may have intended to "send a message" to the South that rebellion would not be permitted. But the problem was there was no rebellion in Utah, and Buchanan's failure to investigate the rumors is today referred to as "Buchanan's Blunder."
"He played right into their (Southerners') hands," Berge said. "Whether it was a conspiracy or not, it dispersed the Union Army 2,000 miles in the middle of nowhere just prior to the secession."
The story of Camp Floyd was brief but colorful. The army stationed there was 3,500 soldiers strong the first year - 2,000 of the originally ordered troops were diverted before they got to Utah. But the fort itself grew in size to accommodate an additional 1,000 civilian employees and another 500 camp followers, including bartenders and prostitutes. Records indicate that 10,000 head of cattle were kept on hand for slaughter.
Almost overnight, the pioneer town of Fairfield became the third largest city in Utah with a population of more than 7,000. It also had 17 saloons - more than could be found anywhere else in the territory.
While certainly a drain on the U.S. Treasury, the military presence at Camp Floyd was a tremendous economic boon to Utah. The army spent a fortune on contracts with local masons, carpenters, farmers and blacksmiths.
"They bought fruits and vegetables from the neighboring farmers. And interestingly enough, they established contracts with the LDS Church's lumber mill and Brigham Young's lumber mill," Berge said.
But as tensions mounted in the East, the days of Camp Floyd were clearly numbered. By 1860, Southern states had begun leaving the Union and the size of the army stationed at Camp Floyd was reduced to 700 men.
By the time the Civil War broke out in 1861, Johnston had defected from Utah to take command of the western front for the Confederacy. He was later killed in the Battle of Shiloh.
Other soldiers in the West - many the cream of the Union Army - also departed, taking with them wagons, horses and military supplies.
Others who left Utah included Secretary of War John B. Floyd, for whom the fort had been named. After that, Camp Floyd was renamed Camp Crittenten, after the new secretary of war. The camp was then placed under the command of Phillip St. George Cooke.
But the days of the fort were essentially over by that time. The fort was abandoned in late 1861, and an estimated $4 million in army supplies and staple goods - Johnston had stockpiled huge amounts of supplies in the event of a siege by the Mormons - were auctioned off for $100,000. Most of the goods were sold to the LDS Church and helped give rise to the ZCMI Corp.
When Patrick Conner arrived in 1862 to take command of the fort, he found nothing remaining but adobe walls. Instead of rebuilding the fort, he chose to build Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City.
Today, about two-thirds of Camp Floyd has been destroyed to provide space for farming, and most of the remaining one-third is in private hands. Berge and Utah historians have embarked upon a campaign to acquire what remains of Camp Floyd and convert it into an historical park.
Berge, through the cooperation of a private land owner, has excavated a number of barracks and officers quarters, a mess hall and several garbage dumps - all of which offer a glimpse into the everyday life of those who lived in the fort.
Currently, the Division of State Parks operates the Stagecoach Inn and a small museum at the site. But considering the significant role Camp Floyd played in both American and Utah history, Berge said, a greater effort should be made to preserve what remains of the site.
"It has the potential to be a wonderful educational tool about the Civil War, about life in Utah," Berge said.