Departure from Council Bluffs
The Battalion departed from Council Bluffs with the companies in alphabetical order (A-E). Each company was lead by their captain, officers and musicians on horseback, followed by some 90 men marching in column, and then the wagons and families accompanying that company. The Battalion averaged about 20 miles per day traveling south on the eastern side of the Missouri River. Two days out, Samuel Boley, who was very ill before the departure, became the first to succumb to the rigors of the ordeal and was buried on July 23, 1846. The Battalion became an impressive display to the residents of Missouri towns as the 500-man procession marched through the Missouri countryside.
Arrival at Ft. Leavenworth
The approximate 200 mile distance to Ft. Leavenworth was accomplished in 10 days when on August 1, 1846 the Battalion crossed the Missouri River and arrived at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. The ferry crossing took about 5 hours to get the entire Battalion across the river. The Battalion set up their camp on the west side of the fort. Lt. Col. Allen arranged with the Quartermaster in charge of supplies to provide the Battalion with the necessary accouterments (military equipment) for the march to San Diego.
Individually, the men were issued the following items: a black leather cartridge box with a 2.25” white buff leather shoulder belt and a “US” brass plate; black leather bayonet sheath held by a 2.35” white buff leather shoulder belt with a brass Eagle plate (baldric); a 1.9” white buff leather waist belt with a “US” belt buckle; a 3-pint wood or tin canteen; a canvas haversack (to carry daily food rations), and a canvas knapsack with a wool blanket. The men lined up eager to receive their muskets and shooting accessories: Harper’s Ferry Model 1816, 0.69 caliber, smoothbore flintlock weighing about 10 lbs with leather sling and triangular bayonet; wipers, brush and picks, ball screws, musket screwdrivers, musket spring vises and flint caps. Seeing their eagerness, Col. Allen told the men, “Stand back, boys; don’t be in a hurry to get your muskets; you will want to throw the d—-d things away before you get to California.”
Each company was also issued 5 sabers and harnesses for the officers and 4 half stock flintlock rifles (probably 1803 Harper’s Ferry 0.54 caliber rifles similar to those used by Lewis and Clark) or 1841 percussion jaeger rifles for hunting. The soldiers were divided into groups (messes) of six for eating and sleeping. Each mess was issued a white canvas A-frame tent with poles and cooking equipment: camp kettle, frying pan, and coffee pot.
Each of the soldiers received a clothing allowance of $3.50 per month or $42 in cash on August 6. Instead of purchasing uniforms, the soldiers opted to wear their own clothes. $5860 was sent back to their families and Church leaders for supplies and missionary work. The army paymaster was surprised that all the Battalion soldiers could sign their own names to the payroll receipts in comparison to only about a third of the Missouri volunteers and the army regulars. Parley P. Pratt rode down, secured the funds and returned to Council Bluffs. Bishop Newel K. Whitney traveled to St. Louis with some of the Battalion funds to secure such items as sugar, medicine, cloth and other supplies where the wholesale prices were cheaper than at local trading posts. Others Church agents went to Missouri to buy grain.
Preparations for Departure
While at Ft. Leavenworth, the Battalion busied themselves in hasty preparation to catch up with Gen. Kearny who had embarked to Santa Fe towards the end of June accompanied by Col Doniphan and the 1st Missouri Mounted Volunteers. August was very hot and dry (reportedly 101º in the shade, 135º in the sun, but possibly an exaggeration), and many men suffered with ague (fever and chills, possibly from malaria). Many men tasted ice cream for the first time at 5 cents. Col. Allen also fell sick, but from his bed, he supervised the introduction of the soldiers to some very basic military drills, discipline, and tactics. The soldier also had to break in mules for their wagon teams. The Battalion companies organized their supplies and foodstuffs into baggage and supply wagons. The wagons were pulled by teams of 6 mules or oxen (both were stronger and more durable than horses for pulling wagons).
Departure to Santa Fe
The Battalion companies departed Ft. Leavenworth on August 13 and 14, for the 700 mile journey to Santa Fe via Bent’s Fort (a resupply station) on the Arkansas River. Col. Sterling Price (a Missouri mobster) and 5 companies of his 2nd Missouri Mounted Volunteers also left Ft. Leavenworth for Santa Fe around this time. Col. Allen was too ill to travel, so he stayed behind and gave command to Capt. Jefferson Hunt, Co. A, to lead the Battalion 130 miles to the army supply depot at Council Grove, KS until Allen felt strong enough to catch up. However, on August 23, 1846, Col. Allen died of a congestive fever, which greatly saddened the Battalion when word reached them of Col. Allen’s untimely death.
Amid correspondence between Army and Battalion officers and Brigham Young as to new leadership of the Battalion, 1st Lt. Andrew Jackson Smith, Jr. of the 1st Dragoons was given temporary command of the Battalion and assumed the temporary rank of Lt. Col. under directions from Ft. Leavenworth’s commander, Major Wharton. Acting Lt. Col. Smith and Dr. George B. Sanderson, who had been appointed Battalion Surgeon by Lt. Col. Allen, rode out to join up with the Battalion at Council Grove. In stark contrast to the more benevolent leadership style of Lt. Col. Allen, Lt. Smith led the Battalion with strict military discipline according to his West Point training. Soldiers complained about receiving the standard army medicines of calomel (mercurous chloride, Hg2Cl2) and arsenic being routinely administered by Dr. Sanderson for any and all ailments. Much illness and fatigue was experienced by the Battalion because of the fast and demanding marching pace exacted on the Battalion by Smith for an expeditious arrival at Santa Fe.
On Sept. 12, a chance meeting occurred with John Brown on the Santa Fe Trail where Brown disclosed that a small group of Latter-day Saints he had led from Mississippi was wintering at Ft. Pueblo. Upon reaching the Cimarron Cutoff junction on Sept 16, Lt. Smith ordered Capt. Nelson Higgins, Co. D, and 10 soldiers to escort the rear guard consisting of straggling wives, families, soldier husbands and sick soldiers (56 in number) to detach (First Sick Detachment) from the Battalion and proceed due west to Ft. Pueblo via Bent’s Fort. The main body of the Battalion turned southwest and traveled the shorter (by 160 miles), but dry, sandy and waterless route to Santa Fe across the Cimarron desert, referred to by the Spanish and Mexicans as Jornada del Muerte: Journey of Death. The daily grind and positive attitude were recorded in James A. Scott’s journal: “March, March is the daily task.
Day break brings Reveilee sick or well must go either to roll call or it’s the Doctor. Next, boys!, get your breakfast, & strike your tents with all possible speed, then left, left, all day over the road through dust, over hills, and across valleys, some 12, 13 & 18 miles. Halt, stack arms, pitch tents. run all over creation gathering Buffalo chips or a little brush & getting water, draw rations, cook supper, etc; while this is going on, roll call comes on again. by the time the evening chores are finished dark is at hand, attend to evening duties, go to bed & sleep on the rough cold ground with only one blanket & a thin tent to shelter from the cold. … But dwell not my mind on these things; gloom, perhaps repentance at having started the journey, might overcome thee. Cheer up, drooping Saint, & look forward to green fields, pleasant gardens & neat farm houses that will soon adorn the valleys of California & think thy hand had a part in the accomplishment of this.”
Arrival at Santa Fe
On Oct. 2, dragoon couriers from Gen. Kearny intercepted the Battalion with instructions to be in Santa Fe by Oct 10 or be disbanded. A council of Lt. Smith and Battalion officers decided that a detachment of 50 men of the strongest and most able bodied soldiers from each company and Battalion officers should proceed on a forced march to cover the remaining 100 miles before the 10th. This vanguard group marched into Santa Fe on Oct. 9 in military fashion with sabers drawn and bayonets fixed. The arriving Battalion received a 100-gun salute from the housetops by order of Col. Alexander Doniphan, commander of Santa Fe by appointment from Gen. Kearny, who had departed for California on Sept 25 with 300 dragoons. On Oct. 12, the second Battalion group, lead by Lt. Oman of Co. A, comprised of sick and feeble men, families, worn out teams, supply wagons, ammunition wagons, and 2 cannons (obtained at Council Grove) arrived at Santa Fe. On Oct. 13, Lt. Smith turned over command of the Battalion to veteran frontier Dragoon Capt. Philip St. George Cooke, who assumed the rank of Lt.
Colonel of Infantry by appointment from Gen. Kearny and readied the Battalion for the final 1100 mile leg of their epic trek to San Diego.