One of the main purposes of the Mormon Battalion was to provide Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny, Army of the West, with vital military manpower to back his assignment as military governor of Alta California. Kearny determined to employ his assets: The Mormon Battalion, 1st Dragoons, and 1st New York Volunteers (arrived by ship at Monterey, CA) to garrison duty at various key locations from San Diego to Los Angeles to put down any potential Mexican-Californio revolts to American occupation.
San Luis Rey Mission
After 2 days in San Diego, the Battalion was ordered to occupy the spacious Mission San Luis Rey de Francia as a garrison post. With dragoons in the lead in route to this Mission, the Battalion passed by “Mule Hill,” immediately northeast of Lake Hodges in southern Escondido, where Kearny and his dragoons took refuge and resorted to eating their mules while awaiting naval and marine reinforcements from Commodore Stockton to break a siege laid by a Californio army under Andrés Pico following the fierce Battle of San Pasqual on Dec. 6, 1846. At San Luis Rey, the Battalion cleaned and repaired the vermin and flea-infested Mission to make it more livable. With the rigors of the march behind them, the Battalion now became subject to military standards. Hair was cut and beards were shaved. Col. Cooke instigated an intense 20-day crash course in military drills conducted by dragoon Lt. George Stoneman, initially for the officers, followed by companies and then the Battalion as a unit in building-block fashion. Robert Bliss, Co. B, recorded their activities: “Nothing very interesting takes place from day to day only camp duties & those are first Revillee a little after daylight when we have to parade & answer to our names then sweeping our rooms & breakfast next our parade ground all about our quarters is cleaned and drained of the ground at 10 O clock one hour’s drill then Dinner Call at 3 O clock 1 hour drill at 5 O clock Parade & Inspection of arms then supper at 8 O clock Tattoo or roll call then we have a chance to sleep till daylight.”
On Mar. 15, Col. Cooke issued orders dispatching Co. B under Capt. Jesse Hunter to garrison duty in San Diego to relieve the 1st Dragoons stationed there, and 2nd Lt. Robert Clift, Co. C, to take over quartermaster duties at San Diego. On Mar. 19, Col. Cooke led Companies A, C, D and E to Pueblo de Los Angeles to perform garrison duties and erect a permanent fort. 30 Battalion men (mainly sick soldiers unable to travel) under Lt. Oman, Co. A, were assigned to remain at the San Luis Rey Mission for garrison duty serving with a detachment of dragoons from Company C, 1st Dragoons, Lt. Stoneman in overall command.
Company B in San Diego
One of the first activities of Co. B was to reinforce an earthen fortification (Fort Stockton) initially erected by U.S. Marines on the presidio hill overlooking the town. After constructing the barricade, they positioned 17 artillery pieces in place to protect the town and surrounding country. Although officially serving garrison duty, members of Co. B hired themselves out and performed many jobs to help improve the community, including: building a brick kiln and firing over 40,000 bricks, digging 15-20 wells 30-feet deep and lining them with the bricks, constructing a school, erecting a brick courthouse, opening a blacksmith shop and tannery, opening a bakery, producing leather goods, carpentry work, repairing adobe walls, whitewashing buildings. Lydia Hunter, pregnant the entire trek, gave birth to a son, Diego Hunter, around April 16, 1847. However, Lydia died 10 days later at age 23 of complications from possibly typhoid or influenza and was buried at Pt. Loma. (A marker for Lydia and Albert Dunham, Co. B, who died suddenly of a brain ulcer at age 19 while serving in San Diego, now stands in Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery adjacent to a large rock marker in memory of the 21 dragoons of Gen. Kearny’s 1st Dragoons, killed at the Battle of San Pasqual on Dec. 5, 1846).
Activities in Los Angeles
Co. C, Mormon Battalion, under the command of Lt. George Rosecrans was ordered to guard the Cajon Pass east of Los Angeles and patrol the area to defend the surrounding ranchos. 11 days later, 27 soldiers from Co. E under 1st Lt. James Pace were sent to relieve Co. C. The rest of the Battalion companies remained in Los Angeles where they continued to drill and practice combat tactics, conducted routine military duties and erected a fort in Los Angeles (later named Fort Moore in tribute to Capt. Benjamin Moore who was killed in the Battle of San Pasqual). Col. Cooke sent out patrols to guard passes and police areas against the violence that continued between the Californios and the local Indians. The most serious action occurred when, on May 8, Col. Cooke dispatched a special detachment of 20 Battalion soldiers under Lt. Samuel Thompson, Co. C, to patrol the area around the Rancho de Feliz north of Los Angeles with orders “to use every effort to destroy the hostile Indians reported to be in the vicinity.” They encountered a band of marauding Indians who had robbed and murdered some Mexicans and engaged them in a fire fight amid a shower of arrows. A description of the action is recorded by Nathaniel Jones: “On the 9th, at the mouth of the canyon, we separated, eight of us went up on the mountain to cut off their escape in that way. We attacked them in the head of the canyon. We killed six of them. How many there were in the first place I do not know, but there were some escaped certain. We returned to camp just before night. There were two men wounded, one in the face and one in the thigh, though not dangerous.” These patrols provided a peace-keeping presence to quell the lawless theft, plunder, murder, and mayhem that had been occurring.
Discharge of the Battalion
In May 1847, Gen. Kearny became satisfied that California was under American control with a strong and efficient government in place. The American occupation force consisted of 88 1st Dragoons, 107 3rd U.S. Artillery, Col. Stevenson’s 550 1st New York Volunteers, and 314 Mormon Battalion. Trying to get the Battalion to reenlist was a high priority for Kearny and Col. Jonathan Stevenson (now commander of the Southern Military District, relinquished by Col. Cooke). Enticements included clothing and uniforms, an 18 cents/day bonus over their regular pay, rank advancement and command opportunities for the officers. Robert Bliss, Co. B, recorded that Col. Stevenson, “Gave us the praise of being the best company in the Southern Division of California; the most Intelligent & correct Soldiers Said we were universally esteemed & respected by the Inhabitants & in Short we had done more for California than any other people & gave us an invitation to List again for months.” Some men were interested in rejoining, but most were looking forward to being reunited with their families. Sgt. Reddick Allred, Co. A, wrote, “I enlisted by council and will not again without it.” On May 31, Gen. Kearny departed from Monterey taking Lt. Col. John C. Frémont under guard to face court-martial back East with an escort of 63 men including 15 selected Battalion soldiers who would be discharged at Ft. Leavenworth. Included in the company were Dr. Sanderson and Capt. Philip St. George Cooke, who resigned as commander of the Mormon Battalion and returned to his former rank in the regular army. Unbeknownst to Cooke, he had been promoted to Major in the 2nd Dragoons with a brevet promotion to Lt. Col. as recommended by Pres. Polk and approved by Congress for gallant war service.
Through the end of June and early July, the Battalion men bought horses, mules, saddles, provisions and sought the best routes back east in anticipation of leaving army service. On July 15, Co. B arrived in Los Angeles from duty in San Diego. The entire Battalion was reunited for their formal discharge. On July 16, 1847, one year since their enlistment, with the Battalion formally assembled by companies at Ft. Moore, newly promoted Capt. A.J. Smith, 1st Dragoons, “marched up and down between the lines in one direction and back between the next lines, then in a low voice said: ‘You are now discharged.’” According to Azariah Smith, “This was all there was of the ceremony of mustering out of service, this veteran corps of martyrs to the cause of their country and religion. None of the men regretted the Lieutenant’s brevity; in fact, it rather pleased them.” After some brief remarks by their leaders, the men gave 3 cheers and then traveled 3 miles up the San Pedro River to organize themselves for their journey back to their families. Four men remained in California and 6 contracted out with Isaac Williams to build a mill at his ranch. Five men retraced the Battalion’s route back East. The remainder divided into several groups, traveling either north on the El Camino Real to San Jose and then east, or up the Central Valley to Sutter’s Fort, over the Sierra Nevada at either Carson Pass or Donner Pass, followed the Humboldt River across northern Nevada to Fort Hall, ID, then due south to Salt Lake. Numerous men trekked back to Iowa to bring their families to Utah.
The day following the Battalion’s discharge, re-enlistment activities commenced under Capt. Daniel Davis and Lt. Cyrus Canfield. On July 20, 1847, 79 Battalion veterans and 3 former civilian aides had signed up for another 6 months of army service and were mustered back into the Army by dragoon Capt. A. J. Smith. Capt. Davis was appointed Captain of the Volunteers. They were issued army uniforms of the 1st New York Volunteers (different than regular army infantry uniforms) and were assigned garrison duty in San Diego and San Luis Rey by commanding officer Col. Jonathan Stevenson. Capt. Davis received orders to police the areas, provide protection to the local citizenry and uphold the law. Lt. Robert Clift took over as alcalde (mayor/justice of the peace) in San Diego. The Volunteers continued the work of Co. B by engaging in physical work when not attending to military duties. Henry Boyle recorded: “We have met with nothing of a Serious nature Since we reenlisted. I have been at work in company with four others of my brethren making brick. I have also during the winter been engaged white washing. I have white-washed nearly all the town, & have been otherwise engaged to the best advantage. We did their blacksmithing, put up a bakery, made and repaired carts and … did all we could to benefit ourselves as well as the citizens. We never had any trouble with Californians or Indians.” Although their enlistment was up on Jan. 20, 1848, the Volunteers weren’t mustered out until Mar. 14. Boyle also wrote, “The citizens became so attached to us that before our term of service expired, they got up a petition to the governor of California to use his influence to keep us in the service. The petition was signed by every citizen in the town.” Boyle led 35 of the released Volunteers to the Isaac Williams Ranch (Rancho Santa Anna del Chino, 40 miles east of Los Angeles), where they met Orrin Porter Rockwell and James Snow. Familiar with the southern route, Snow lead this group along the Old Spanish Trail via San Bernardino, Las Vegas, Antelope Spring (near Cedar City, UT) and then north to the Salt Lake Valley with one wagon and 135 mules and horses. Other discharged Volunteers went to Sutter’s Fort and San Francisco.
Summary of Accomplishments and Legacy of the Mormon Battalion
On Feb. 6-7, 1855 a reunion of Battalion veterans was held in the Social Hall in Salt Lake City in which Brigham Young included in his remarks, “The Mormon Battalion will be held in honorable remembrance to the latest generation. And I will prophesy that the children of those who have been in the army in defense of their country will grow up and bless their fathers for what they did at that time. … As the Lord lives, if you will but live up to your privileges, you will never be forgotten, worlds without end, but you will be had in honorable remembrance, for ever and ever.”
This series of 6 articles is written in honor of my Great-Great-Great Grandfather, Reddick Newton Allred, 3rd Sergeant, Co. A, and Command Staff Quartermaster, Mormon Battalion, Army of the West, U.S. Army, and the men and women who served in or were associated with the Mormon Battalion.