Thursday, April 3, 2014

Book Review: The Mormon Battalion from Sam Brannan and the California Mormons

Sam Brannan and the California Mormons Paul Bailey, Westernlore Press, Los Angeles, CA, 1943
Sam Brannon and his story are intermingled with the history of California, and especially Mormons in California.  There are a couple chapters that deal almost exclusively with the Mormon Battalion. 
The Mormon Battalion:  In 1846 the United states government asked the Mormon church for 500 volunteers to help in the war against Mexico.  This was a method for the government to help support the migration of the Mormons, while also having the services of these men to secure Southern California.  They began their march to San Diego July 20, 1846; first to Fort Leavenworth to be outfitted and armed.  The original commander was Colonel James Allen, who became ill and died.  Lieutenant A.J. Smith took over command as the highest ranking regular.  The Battalion did not like him, nor the Dr. George Sanderson who came with him.  The doctor would give Calomel and arsenic for treatment of malaria, while before they had related on herbs and priesthood power.  The poor treatment by the Lieutenant and the doctor are documented in this poem by Levi Hancock: 
A doctor which the government
Has furnished, proves a punishment!
At his rude call of “Jim Along Joe,” (his concoction)
The sick and halt to him must go.
Both night and morn, this call is heard;
Our indignation then is stirred,
And we sincerely wish in hell,
His arsenic and calomel.
Many of the battalion were sent back in sick groups so as to not slow their progress.  These congregated to Pueblo and then regrouped with the migrating Saints.  When they reached Santa Fe, the lieutenant was replaced with Colonel Philip St. George Cooke.  At Santa Fe also all the women and more invalid troops were sent to Pueblo.  The men respected him more, but still hard things were required of them.  The hard things included pioneering a trail, which meant taking a wagon with them.  They men had to pull the wagon, which was a hardship.  The not only pioneered a southern trail, but also dug wells.  They arrived at the Pacific north of San Diego, and followed the coast to San Diego where they were employed making improvements.   In San Diego the troops were divided, with some garrisoning San Diego and others to make a fort in Los Angeles to protect against Indian attack.  General Kearney had arrived some weeks before the battalion and finished the fighting with General Pico.  Mustering out for most of the battalion took place July 18, 1847.  Only a few stayed on for garrison work.  Colonel Cooke praised them heartily.  “History may be searched in vain for a equal march of infantry.  Half of it has been through a wilderness, where nothing but savages and wild beasts are found, or deserts where, for want of water, there is no living creature.  There with almost hopeless labor, we have dug wells, which the future traveler will enjoy.  Without a guide who had traversed them we have ventured into trackless tablelands where water was not found for several marches.  With crowbar and pick, and axe in hand, we worked our way over mountains, which seemed to defy aught save the wild goat, and hewed a pass through a chasm of living rock more narrow than our wagons.  To bring the first wagons to the pacific, we have preserved the strength of our mules by herding them over large tracts, which you have laboriously guarded without loss.”

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