When John Mount of Highland gets ready for Memorial Day, he grabs a wool cap and a black powder musket.
Mount is a Civil War re-enactor along with his buddies in the Utah Civil War Association who dress up in Union or Confederate uniforms on certain days including Memorial Day, which was begun to honor fallen Union soldiers and re-enact battles and other important events. This year, on Sunday and today, they'll be at Camp Floyd doing drills, demonstrations and participating in a memorial service.
Mount is originally from New Jersey, where re-enactments are more common. Utah's involvement in the Civil War is lesser known and many people interested in living history get involved in Wild West-themed groups instead.
"We're all slightly insane," Mount said.
But even though he recognizes that love for that time period is limited in Utah, he wishes more people understood how intertwined Utah history is with the conflict. Early Utahns mostly stayed out of the war between the states, preferring to nurse long-held resentment over their shabby treatment by the Union. But Utah Territory actually played an important role during the war and was immensely affected by it.
Unintentionally, Mormons settled in a place of geographic importance for mail delivery. All communication between the East and the West needed to travel through Utah. As the Pacific states increased in importance at the beginning of the war, the protection of stage and mail routes became essential.
The beginning of the war in the spring of 1861 was a blessing in disguise for Utah Mormons. Territorial Gov. Alfred Cumming and Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston of Johnston's Army, among others, quietly found their ways South, where their loyalties lay. Johnston, who had led U.S. troops into the territory in 1857-58 to quell a purported "Mormon uprising," would later bleed to death at the Battle of Shiloh. Many of his officers would go on to have distinguished careers on both sides, many leading troops at Gettysburg.
Camp Floyd, the thorn in the side of Salt Lake City since the arrival of Johnston, was closed. Even the camp's namesake, John B. Floyd, defected to the Confederacy. The camp and its supporting town, Fairfield, were the third-largest community in the territory, with almost 10,000 people and consequently, it was also the largest concentration of non-Mormon "gentiles." When Col. Philip Cooke, Johnston's replacement, was ordered to disband the fort, it instantly became a ghost town. Cooke needed to get rid of assets fast and ended up selling about $4 million worth of supplies to the Mormons for $100,000.
Many Utahns blamed Abraham Lincoln for the South's secession. Democrat James Buchanan had sent Johnston to Utah, but he had preserved the Union, which Mormons believed was a divinely formed nation. Furthermore, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held a deep resentment toward Lincoln's Republican Party since it made the dissolution of slavery and polygamy, then being practiced in the territory, its two main goals in 1856.
Utahns feared that after the war over slavery was completed, there would be another war against polygamists. These sentiments were expressed in General Conference talks on April 6, 1861. Heber C. Kimball, a member of the church's First Presidency, said, "The South will secede from the North, and the North will secede from us." Some even interpreted Doctrine and Covenants Section 87 to mean that the Second Coming of the Savior would follow the war of secession.
All the same, LDS Church President Brigham Young felt the future of the church would be better served within the Union than outside it, and in October of 1861 he sent the first telegraph out of Salt Lake City to Lincoln, pledging not to secede.
In the spring of 1862 Lincoln asked President Young to assemble a military force to protect the stage and mail routes in southern Wyoming from American Indian raids. President Young ordered Lot Smith and the Nauvoo Legion to respond. Encouraged by the opportunity, President Young again pushed for statehood by pointing out the irony that as so many states were fighting to leave the Union, Utah was fighting to get in.
The trust between the church and the nation's presidents was short-lived. In July, Lincoln signed into law the first of many anti-polygamy laws. In August, he ordered Gen. Patrick Edward Connor to leave California with about 700 troops to take over from the Nauvoo Legion. In early 1863 the request for statehood was officially denied.
When Connor arrived in October 1862 with his California and Nevada Volunteers, he marched through the city, as Johnston had done, but instead of setting up base at Camp Floyd (which had been virtually destroyed) he marched three miles east and created Camp Douglas on the foothills overlooking the city.
The camp was named after Stephen A. Douglas, the famed opponent of Lincoln and an avid Mormon-hater. His bored soldiers would eventually pledge $30,000 from their own salaries if Washington would transfer them to the fighting in the East. The requests were denied and they spent their time fighting Indians and looking for ore.
Lincoln made amends with the territory in 1863 when he agreed to replace the unpopular territorial governor, Stephen S. Harding. That same year he was quoted as saying that when farming as a boy he preferred to plow around a stubborn log and leave it alone, and would do likewise with the Mormons if they would do the same. By 1865, Utah celebrated Lincoln's re-election and mourned his assassination a few months later.
After the war, Connor resigned and his California Volunteers were replaced by former Confederate infantry. Struggles over polygamy and statehood continued, but historian Richard Holzapfel describes the early 1860s as a time of prosperity for Utah and the church, which benefited from the temporary reprieve from the national spotlight.
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