“Chapter Thirty: The Civil War Period,” Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (2003), 381–91
“Chapter Thirty,” Church History in the Fulness of Times, 381–91
The United States had experienced a decade of intense sectional division between the North and the South. In 1861 after Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States, several southern states seceded from the Union. On 12 April 1861 the first shots of the Civil War were fired on Fort Sumter, South Carolina. This fratricidal conflict lasted four years, destroying the Old South and costing 602,000 lives. In Utah during this period the Latter-day Saints enjoyed relative peace and progress.
When the Civil War broke out,1 many Saints remembered the “revelation and prophecy on war” received by the Prophet Joseph Smith 25 December 1832:
“Verily, thus saith the Lord concerning the wars that will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina, which will eventually terminate in the death and misery of many souls. …
“For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States” (D&C 87:1, 3). In 1843 the Prophet had declared that the bloodshed that would begin in South Carolina “may probably arise through the slave question” (D&C 130:13). Many missionaries had often referred to this prophecy and felt some satisfaction in seeing the word of the Lord so literally fulfilled.
As the conflict deepened, the Saints viewed the Civil War with mixed emotions. They considered the bloodshed and devastation in the “states” a judgment upon the nation for the murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, for not keeping the commandments of God, and for the injustices inflicted upon the Saints in Missouri and Illinois. Members of the Church followed Joseph Smith’s lead in firmly supporting the American Constitution. John Taylor expressed the feelings of many Latter-day Saints when he addressed them:
“We have been driven from city to city, from state to state for no just cause of complaint. We have been banished from the pale of what is termed civilization, and forced to make a home in the desert wastes. …
“Shall we join the North to fight against the South? No! … Why? They have both, as before shown, brought it upon themselves, and we have had no hand in the matter. … We know no North, no South, no East, no West; we abide strictly and positively by the Constitution.”2
After war had raged for nearly a year, President Young acknowledged that the Saints were much better off in the West: “Had we not been persecuted, we would now be in the midst of the wars and bloodshed that are desolating the nation, instead of where we are, comfortable located in our peaceful dwellings in these silent, far off mountains and valleys. Instead of seeing my brethren comfortably seated around me to-day, many of them would be found in the front ranks on the battle field. I realize the blessings of God in our present safety. We are greatly blessed, greatly favored and greatly exalted, while our enemies, who sought to destroy us, are being humbled.”3
Church leaders never seriously considered supporting the Confederacy, and when President Abraham Lincoln asked them for soldiers to guard the transcontinental telegraph lines and transportation routes, the Church responded enthusiastically. The Saints also willingly paid an annual war tax of $26,982 imposed on the Utah Territory by the United States Congress. The Brethren repeatedly reaffirmed their loyalty to the Union. Indeed, just as some states were trying to get out of the Union, Utah was trying to get in.
Utah and the Church immediately felt the effects of the Southern States seceding. Governor Alfred Cumming, whose native state was Georgia, felt it his duty to resign from his federally appointed position. He quietly left Utah for his home. General Albert Sidney Johnston, from Virginia, resigned his post and joined the Confederate army. After a few months the army of Utah was withdrawn altogether. In March 1861 the Union, now minus several southern states, created the Territory of Nevada out of the western portion of Utah, and in 1862 and 1866 more territory was added to Nevada, which became a state in 1864.
With the federal troops gone from Utah, the overland mail and telegraph needed protection from Indians who were reportedly becoming more hostile and had destroyed several mail stations between Fort Bridger and Fort Laramie in Wyoming. In the spring of 1862 war officials contacted Brigham Young (though he was no longer governor) with a request that he organize a cavalry to give ninety days’ service on the trail until other U.S. troops could arrive. Soon a company of 120 men was raised and ready to travel. Ironically their commander was Captain Lot Smith of the Utah Militia, who had been instrumental just four years earlier in delaying federal troops. He was charged by Brigham Young to prevent the use of profanity and disorderly conduct among the men and to cultivate friendly and peaceful relations with the Indians. The men performed their work admirably, encountered no real fighting, pursued only a few Indians, and received compliments from the United States government for their service.4 This service was the only direct military participation by an organized unit of the Latter-day Saints in the Civil War.
Also in 1862 the citizens of Utah made their third attempt to gain statehood. The Saints drafted a constitution for the proposed State of Deseret and elected a full slate of officers, with Brigham Young as governor. But their petition was denied, mostly because of polygamy, which the ruling Republican Party was determined to oppose.
Republican President Abraham Lincoln, although he signed the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862, which was directed against the Latter-day Saints, did not press for its enforcement. He was fair-minded regarding the Mormon question and was more concerned about dealing with the southern rebellion. When Brigham Young sent Deseret News assistant editor T.B.H. Stenhouse to Washington, D.C., to ascertain Lincoln’s plans for the Mormons, the president told him, “Stenhouse, when I was a boy on the farm in Illinois there was a great deal of timber on the farms which we had to clear away. Occasionally we would come to a log which had fallen down. It was too hard to split, too wet to burn and too heavy to move, so we plowed around it. That’s what I intend to do with the Mormons. You go back and tell Brigham Young that if he will let me alone, I will let him alone.”5 Throughout the remainder of the war, President Lincoln’s tolerant attitude won him the respect of the Saints.
Although disgruntled politicians had biased many people against the Mormons, other noteworthy visitors to Utah were favorably impressed with what they saw and published their observations. In 1855 Jules Remy, a French botanist, arrived in Salt Lake City to stay a month. Remy published his observations in Europe in 1860, describing the Saints as an industrious and worshipful people, which helped change some of the negative perceptions many Europeans had of the Church. New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley, one of the most prominent journalists in America, visited Utah in 1859 and relayed his more balanced impressions of Brigham Young and the Mormons to the nation. One interesting and instructive piece of contemporary observation came from the famous world traveler Richard Burton, who arrived in Utah in 1860 and later published an insightful book about the Mormons titled The City of the Saints, which was widely read.6
Communication with the outside world was further enhanced starting in April 1860 with the pony express. Eighty daring, lightweight riders relayed the mail from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, nearly two thousand miles, in just ten days. The riders changed horses approximately every ten miles, at 320 stations, to accomplish this legendary feat. The pony express route crossed Utah, and numerous Mormon men participated in this dangerous but romantic venture during its eighteen months of existence.
The transcontinental telegraph line, completed through Salt Lake City in October 1861, was the main reason for the discontinuation of the pony express. From then on, messages could be sent to key centers in the United States without delay. This put a stop to problems like the false information disseminated by the “runaway officials” in 1851 and President Buchanan’s deployment of the Utah Expedition in 1857.
President Brigham Young was given the privilege of sending the first message over the new telegraph line. The prophet wired his congratulations to the Honorable J. H. Wade, president of the Pacific Telegraph Company in Cleveland, Ohio, saying also, “Utah has not seceded, but is firm for the Constitution and laws of our once happy country; and is warmly interested in such useful enterprises as the one so far completed.”7
Immediately after the transcontinental telegraph reached Salt Lake City, Brigham Young began laying plans for a local telegraph line to connect all the settlements. He established a telegraphy school in Salt Lake City. Wire, batteries, insulators, sending and receiving sets, and other equipment was ordered but, due to the Civil War, could not be obtained until 1866. In 1867 some five hundred miles of line were completed. Over a series of years the line was extended to nearly all Mormon settlements, including southern Idaho and northern Arizona. By 1880 over one thousand miles of line had been installed.
Some of President Lincoln’s first political appointments to Utah proved unfortunate. John W. Dawson of Indiana, the territorial governor, remained only a month in Utah. Upon arriving, he unwisely spoke to the legislature about imposing a tax upon the Mormon people to vindicate the community of the charge of disloyalty. Within a few days he had made an indecent proposal to a woman in Salt Lake City, was exposed, and left the city in disgrace. He was discovered at the Mountain Dell mail station, where he was beaten by a number of drunken, lawless men, who were later brought to justice.
About two months later, President Lincoln appointed Stephen A. Harding, also of Indiana, to replace Dawson. Harding had known the Joseph Smith family in Manchester, New York, and when he arrived in Utah, he pretended friendship with the Saints. Soon, however, he showed his contempt for the Church and its institutions and accused the Saints of disloyalty.
Harding’s accusations provided justification to the war department in Washington, D.C., for not renewing the enlistment of the Mormon military company and for sending to the area instead the “California volunteers” under the direction of Colonel Patrick Edward Connor. Church leaders and members were naturally distressed at the arrival of an outside military force, especially since they had been so willing to assume responsibility for maintaining the safety of the mail routes and telegraph lines and for keeping the Indians under control. What made matters worse was that Connor clearly felt that the Mormons were disloyal to the Union and that his most important task was to keep them under surveillance. The Saints expected Connor to take his seven hundred men to the military post recently vacated by Johnston’s Army, but instead he chose a site in the foothills directly east of Salt Lake City and named it Camp Douglas after the late Stephen A. Douglas.8
The troops came in October 1862 and remained until the end of the Civil War. They proved an irritant to the community life of Utah. The California soldiers were not happy to be in Utah because they wanted to be in the actual war. Charges and counter-charges went back and forth between the members of the Church and the army. The Saints considered the army a nuisance and a contributor to the lowering of the morals in their beloved mountain home. As a military officer, Connor, who became a general during his stay in Utah, led his troops well. He protected the trade routes, and in the famous Battle of Bear River in January 1863, rid northern Utah and southern Idaho of the threat of marauding Indians. This meant the Saints could safely colonize these inviting regions. Connor also kept his men busy prospecting for precious metals in the mountains.9 Because of his efforts, he became known as the “father of Utah mining.”
Meanwhile, Governor Harding became such an irritant to the Saints that they petitioned President Lincoln to remove him from office. Lincoln agreed, but to satisfy the “Gentiles” in Utah, he also released Judge John F. Kinney, who had shown respect and friendship toward the Mormons. Under Brigham Young’s direction, the Saints turned around and elected Kinney to be their delegate to Congress between 1863 and 1865. He thus became the only non-Mormon delegate in Utah Territory’s history. Lincoln appointed James Duane Doty, the Indian agent in Utah, to be the new governor. He assumed office in June 1863 and governed diplomatically throughout the duration of the Civil War.10
During the summer of 186211 Utah experienced the unfortunate Morrisite War. The Morrisites were an apostate faction led by former English convert Joseph Morris. They established a settlement at South Weber known as Kington Fort, thirty-five miles north of Salt Lake City. Morris had claimed as early as 1857 that he was the prophet, seer, and revelator of the Lord; by 1860 he had attracted a few followers, including the bishop of South Weber and some of his congregation. In February 1861, President Young sent Apostles John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff to South Weber to investigate. They excommunicated sixteen members of the ward, including the bishop, who refused to support Brigham Young and who maintained that Joseph Morris was the prophet. The Morrisites consecrated all their belongings to a common fund and awaited the imminent coming of Christ as described in Morris’s “revelations.”
In early 1862, after successive incorrect prophecies about the Second Coming, some of Morris’s followers became disenchanted and wanted to leave with the property they had consecrated. Three dissenters who attempted to escape were imprisoned by Morris, causing their wives to appeal to legal authorities for assistance. Chief Justice Kinney issued a writ on 22 May for the release of the prisoners and the arrest of Morris and his main lieutenants. When Morris refused to obey and continued instead to announce his revelations, Kinney urged acting governor Frank Fuller to call out the militia as a posse to enforce the writs.
Robert T. Burton, chief deputy for the territorial marshal, led approximately 250 men to the bluffs south of Kington Fort early in the morning of 13 June. They sent a message to Morris demanding his surrender and compliance with the writ. Morris and his group assembled in an open bowery while Morris awaited a revelation. Impatient with the delay, Burton ordered two warning shots from a cannon to be fired over the fort. The second shot fell short, struck the plowed ground in front of the fort, and ricocheted into the bowery where the Morrisites were assembled. Two women were killed, and a young girl was seriously wounded. The fighting that erupted resulted in a three-day siege.
On the third day a white flag of truce appeared from inside the fort, and the fighting ceased. After demanding unconditional surrender, Burton and thirty militiamen entered the fort. Morris then asked the privilege of speaking to his people one more time. But instead of delivering a farewell address, he shouted, “All who are for me and my God, in life or in death follow me!” Whereupon a rush was made for the stacked rifles that had been surrendered.12 Shots rang out, and Joseph Morris and John Banks, second in command, were killed. Ten Morrisites and two members of the Utah posse were killed during the three days of fighting. Ninety Morrisite men were taken to Salt Lake City for trial on charges of murdering the two posse members and resisting due process of law. Seven of them were convicted, but they were pardoned by Governor Harding. Most of the remaining Morrisites who wished to go were escorted by Connor’s army to Soda Springs in Idaho Territory. Although the Church was not directly involved in this unfortunate affair, the reputation of the Church suffered in the East as a result.
Another person to concern Church officials during this period was soldier of fortune Walter Murray Gibson. Gibson had advocated the Church’s cause in Washington, D.C., during the Utah War and came to Salt Lake City to learn more about the Saints. He became acquainted with numerous Church leaders, spoke to large crowds in the Old Tabernacle about his travels, and was baptized by Heber C. Kimball on 15 January 1860 along with his daughter Talula. He was confirmed by Brigham Young. President Young rejected Gibson’s proposal that the Saints move to the islands of the East Indies but called Gibson on a mission to the eastern United States. He served only six months and then convinced the Saints in New York that he was needed in Salt Lake City immediately. They responded generously to his request for funds to make the return trip.
In November 1860 he was called by President Brigham Young to do missionary work in the Pacific. President Young told Gibson that he would do more good than he ever anticipated if he would magnify his calling.
Arriving in Hawaii in the summer of 1861, Gibson exceeded the bounds of his authority, mixed native traditions with gospel teachings, and won support of the Hawaiian Saints. Because the missionaries had been called home during the Utah War, Gibson was able to take over the leadership of the Saints. He proclaimed himself “Chief President of the Islands of the Sea, and of the Hawaiian Islands, for the Church of Latter-day Saints.” Gibson persuaded the Hawaiian members to turn over to him all of their property. He ordained twelve apostles, charging them $150 each for that office. For other offices, such as high priest, seventy, and elder, he charged proportionate fees. He also installed archbishops and minor bishops.13 He conducted church services with extraordinary pomp and ceremony and even wore robes and required members to bow and crawl in his presence. Gibson’s design was to build an army, unite all the Hawaiian Islands into one empire, and proclaim himself king.14
Finally in 1864, concerned native Saints wrote to Salt Lake City about the situation. President Young sent Ezra T. Benson and Lorenzo Snow of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Joseph F. Smith, Alma Smith, and William Cluff, who all had labored in Hawaii as missionaries, to take care of the problems.
Arriving at the island of Lanai, where Gibson had his headquarters, the Brethren encountered stiff winds and turbulent seas in the harbor. While going ashore in a smaller craft, they were capsized. Except for Lorenzo Snow, everyone was safely rescued by natives who witnessed the accident from the shore. Lorenzo’s lifeless body was finally found under the capsized boat. There was little doubt in the minds of any of those present that he was dead. His devoted brethren laid his body across their knees and with faith prayed over him and administered to him, although the natives declared there was no use. The Brethren endeavored to stimulate breathing by rolling him over a barrel and then by compressing his chest and breathing into his mouth and drawing the air out again. It was one hour or more after the accident before the first signs of life returned.15
After locating Gibson, the elders found that conditions were even worse than they had been told. They confronted Gibson and ordered him to turn over to them all the property and money he had acquired in the name of the Church. He refused. The Brethren then excommunicated him. After a few weeks, most of the Hawaiian Saints were reconciled to the leaders of the Church who had been sent to them. One incident that helped the Brethren regain the confidence of the Hawaiian Saints occurred when two of them walked on a rock that Gibson had identified as a sacred shrine and had warned that anyone who walked on it would be struck dead. After setting the Church in order the Apostles returned home and left Joseph F. Smith and his two companions in charge of the mission. Elder Smith obtained and began to develop a plantation at Laie, which became mission headquarters and the home of many Hawaiian Saints. In the twentieth century this site would become the location of the Laie Hawaii Temple, Brigham Young University–Hawaii, and the Polynesian Cultural Center.16
Despite the Civil War that was raging in the United States, Connor’s army, the Morrisites, and Walter Murray Gibson, the greatest interest of Church leaders was still the expansion of Zion—converting more people to the Church and gathering as many members as possible to Utah.
Approximately fifty more colonies were started during this time when most of the nation was experiencing its greatest turmoil. New settlements included St. George in southern Utah, which was part of the “cotton mission,” begun when supplies could not be obtained from the American South. Pipe Springs was founded in northern Arizona; Monroe, Salina, and Richfield in central Utah; and Laketown, Paris, and Montpelier in the Bear Lake country of Utah and Idaho. Older colonies, most of them agriculturally based, became stronger. When mining in Colorado, Montana, Idaho, and Nevada became big business during the early 1860s, hundreds of Utah wagons were filled with flour, grain, and other farm produce and freighted to the mining camps for sale, thus greatly increasing the Saints’ well-being. This was a tremendous boon to the people who had recently suffered during the Utah War and the move south.
Missionary work was also strengthened again during the Civil War. While virtually no missionary activity occurred in North America during this time, the Church grew throughout Europe. The development of the transatlantic telegraph greatly aided communication with the European Saints. In 1860 the First Presidency sent three members of the Council of the Twelve—Amasa M. Lyman, Charles C. Rich, and George Q. Cannon—to preside over both the British and European Missions, headquartered in Liverpool. These three Apostles presided over the European Mission until 14 May 1862 when Elders Lyman and Rich returned home. Elder Cannon went to Washington, D.C., to work briefly on obtaining statehood for Utah, then he returned to England to preside until his return to Utah in 1864.
Using native British and Scandinavian missionaries where American elders were not available, these Apostles rejuvenated the gathering of Israel both in the British Isles and on the European continent. The number of conversions surged again following a decline that had occurred during and after the Utah War. England and the Scandinavian countries were the most fertile fields of labor. To save costs to the Church, Brigham Young directed the missionaries to travel “without purse or scrip” and to obtain their board and bed from willing members of the Church. Most missionaries also had children and wives who would have to support themselves, with backup from local quorums of the priesthood.
Church leaders were constantly on the lookout for new and better ways to bring the European Saints to Zion. In the fall of 1860, John W. Young brought immigrants by ox teams from the Missouri River after having taken an ox train of produce to the East to sell to provide for immigrants. His venture was so successful that he was allowed to speak in October general conference about it.
Thereafter ox teams were sent from Utah in April with provisions for the yearly immigration, and they returned with immigrants in the summer and early fall. Young men were called as missionaries to be teamsters for these “Church trains.” Between 1861 and 1868 the Church brought more than sixteen thousand Europeans to Utah at a reduced cost because the Saints gave teams, labor, and supplies. Furthermore, fewer supplies needed to be purchased from outsiders.
By 1860 there were 8,200 people in Salt Lake City; by 1870 there were 12,800. According to the 1870 census, 65 percent of the population was foreign born. Most were from the British Isles, but there were also many from Scandinavia. Salt Lake City served as the hub of colonization for the rest of the Church.
Utilizing the labor of recently arrived immigrants, the department of public works constructed numerous important buildings. During the 1850s the Council House, the Social Hall, the Endowment House, and a tithing store were constructed in the growing community. Then in the 1860s the Salt Lake Theatre, the city hall, an arsenal, the Beehive House, the Lion House, and the Salt Lake Tabernacle were constructed. The Salt Lake Theatre, completed in 1862, became the center of much of the recreational and cultural activity in the valley.
From 1850 to 1870, Daniel H. Wells served as Superintendent of Public Works in Salt Lake City. He also served as commanding officer of the Nauvoo Legion, as Second Counselor in the First Presidency from 1857, and as mayor of Salt Lake City from 1866.
Believing that the Saints would be strengthened spiritually if they had an adequate building where they could gather to receive instruction from their leaders, President Brigham Young laid plans for a new tabernacle. He envisioned a large, dome-shaped house of worship. President Young, with the help of Henry Grow, a bridge builder, William H. Folsom, Church architect at the time, and Truman O. Angell, largely responsible for the interior, directed the construction of the unique building. It was 150 feet wide, 250 feet long, and 80 feet high. The tabernacle was completed in time for the October 1867 general conference. At the same time a gigantic organ for the tabernacle was constructed by the superb craftsman Joseph H. Ridges, a convert from Australia. The right kind of wood for the organ was finally located in Pine Valley, three hundred miles away in southern Utah, and was carefully transported by as many as twenty wagon teams to Salt Lake City. Acoustics were at first a problem in the tabernacle, but with the addition of a balcony by 1870, the famed structure, seating eight thousand people, became an ideal place for large meetings.
Work on the Salt Lake Temple was reinstituted in 1860, but in 1861 Church leaders concluded that the foundation was defective. Brigham Young decided that a new foundation made entirely of granite quarried from nearby mountains was required to carry the massive weight of the proposed temple. The new footings were to be sixteen feet thick. President Young declared, “I want this Temple to stand through the Millennium and I want it so built that it will be acceptable to the Lord.”17 The work of rebuilding the foundation moved slowly, and the walls did not reach ground level until 1867.
Despite the problems with apostates and military troops, improvements in communication and transportation, growth in missionary work, increased colonization, and better economic opportunities all brought joy to the Church. While most of the nation suffered a bloody conflict, the circumstances of the Latter-day Saints during the Civil War period formed a stark contrast to those of the rest of the United States. Citizens of Utah enjoyed peace and prosperity. After the difficult years associated with the Utah War, the Church was once again moving forward in its divinely designed course.