The Mormon Battalion: Blazing a Trail that Helped Settle the West

August 6, 2015  - by 

You may have heard of the Mormon Battalion at some point in your life. But how much do you really know about this pioneering military unit—and what motivated so many to sacrifice so much for God and country?

Forming the Battalion

The Mormon Battalion was a U.S. Army infantry unit that explored and fortified much of the Western United States. They completed the longest infantry march in history—covering over 2,000 miles from Iowa to the Pacific Coast. Their journey is a testimony that The Lord’s promises truly come to those who keep His commandments and move forward with faith.

The battalion was formed after Jesse C. Little, president of the Eastern States Mission, spoke with U.S. President James K. Polk. Little initially offered for members to explore and fortify the western front in exchange for monetary compensation. President Polk proposed enlisting a Mormon Battalion to help fight in the U.S.-Mexican War. Under President Polk’s orders, Captain James Allen traveled to Latter-day Saint pioneer camps on the Missouri River to ask for 500 men in exchange for the money needed to travel west. This money proved to be a great blessing for the Saints in a time of great need.

541 men enlisted in the battalion, with 32 women and 50 children accompanying them. Even though the Saints had not received much help from the government, especially after being driven out of Missouri and Illinois by mobs, they enlisted. President Brigham Young prophesied that if they kept God’s commandments, they would not have to fight, and their families would be protected while they were away.

On the Trail

The first stop was Fort Leavenworth in Kansas to get supplies before heading for California. The trail was mostly peaceful, and the arduous journey included no battles. In southern Arizona, they did encounter a herd of wild bulls on the way to California, which gave them much needed meat for their trip, and resulted in no fatalities. They almost engaged in combat with the Mexican Army near what is now the Arizona-Mexico border, but the Mexican soldiers abandoned their posts when they saw the Mormon Battalion coming. The Battalion reached the Pacific Ocean on January 29th, 1847. Although they suffered hunger, sickness, and fatigue, they never engaged in combat, just as The Lord promised through President Young.

End of the Road

The battalion was released on July 16th, 1847. While some soldiers reenlisted for eight months, the rest headed back to Utah to reunite with their families. On the way home, many of them helped settle areas of California and build flour mills and sawmills in areas closer to Utah. Some of the men were also among the first to discover gold in California, starting the California Gold Rush. The members of the battalion were blessed for their service and obedience to God’s commandments, and we can see how their efforts helped start the development of much of the Western United States.

Discover Battalion Ancestors and Share Your Story

You can learn more about the Battalion on the FamilySearch Wiki.

Additional Information

Each Company of the Mormon Battalion had one Captain, one First Lieutenant two Second Lieutenants, four Sergeants, four Corporals, and two Musicians (one drummer and one fifer), totaling 14 Officers, Non-commissioned Officers, and Musicians per Company.

The 434 Privates were distributed among five Companies. Company A, captained by Jefferson Hunt, had 90 Privates. The Captain of Company B was Jesse Hunter and had 87 Privates. Company C had 93 Privates, and was captained by James Brown. Company D was captained by Nelson Higgins, had 89 Privates, and Company E, captained by Daniel Davis, had 75 Privates.

In total there were 20 Company Officers, 40 Non-commissioned Officers, and 10 Musicians. There were also 4 Staff Officers, which consisted of an Adjutant, a Quartermaster Officer, a Quartermaster Sergeant, and a Sergeant Major. There was also one Contract Surgeon with the Battalion named McIntyre. President Brigham Young appointed the Captains of each Company, and counseled with them before they left.


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  1. It is indeed a feat of faith and fortitude. You are to be highly commended for seeing to it that this remarkable feat is never forgotten.
    This is the stuff that classic epic movies are made of. This is possibly an avenue to investigate.
    May the Lord bless your endeavours.
    Yours in Christ

  2. The official name of the Mormon Battalion was the “Mormon Battalion.” In the late 1880’s, a clerk in Washington, D.C., in the process of preparing pension rolls figured that since the Battalion was mustered in the Iowa Territory, they must have had the Iowa designation. This is incorrect as our research has shown. ALL of the 1846-1847 official Army orders, correspondence and forms carried the name “Mormon Battalion” or a slight variation thereof. “Iowa” NEVER appears in any paperwork until the late 1880’s. In 1894, as the Compiled Service Record (CSR) cards were being prepared, they were initially printed with “IOWA” shown in the state section of the card. If you look at those, you’ll see in almost all cases, the clerks crossed through “IOWA” in an attempt to correct the name. Sadly, most people miss that and do not realize its significance.
    The Mormon Battalion Association is preparing a paper discussing this topic. We hope to post it late this year after we find exactly when the “Iowa” printing was authorized and by whom.