Alford, “Utah and the American Civil War: The Written Record” (reviewed by Kris Wray)


Title: Utah and the American Civil War: The Written Record
Editor: Kenneth L. Alford
Publisher: The Arthur H. Clark Company, an Imprint of the University of Oklahoma Press
Genre: Civil War; Utah Territory History
Year Published: 2017
Number of Pages: 864
Binding: Hardback
ISBN: 978-0-87062-441-4
Price: $60.00

Reviewed by Kris Wray for the Association for Mormon Letters

Utah and the American Civil War, edited by Kenneth L. Alford, is a selection of letters, military orders, dispatches, reports, and various other documents compiled from the official records of the Union and Confederate armies entitled The War of the Rebellion. In addition, Utah and the American Civil War publishes other sources found in the Military Records of the National Archives, Utah State Historical Archives, newspapers, Indian Affairs Commissioner reports, and various books. Some of the subjects discussed in the records are the Utah Territory, U.S. troops, Fort Crittenden, Fort Bridger, Camp Floyd, Camp Douglas, Brigham Young, interaction with the Mormons, Indian relations, and trail conditions.

Commissioned by the Federal Government following the Civil War, the 128-volume War of the Rebellion series was a difficult set to maneuver through prior to the digital age. Alford and his staff of helpers have sifted through these volumes to locate war-related records pertaining to Utah Territory and made them available for the first time in one book.

There is a chronology at the beginning of the book to put the Utah period in a broader United States perspective. This is followed by chapter one, an informative summary and introductory history of Utah’s relationship with the Civil War. A short chapter two takes the reader through the process which created the 128-volume War of the Rebellion Official Record, while chapter three provides an overview and explanation of Utah’s part within it.

Spanning 500 pages, chapter four contains hundreds of documents from the War of the Rebellion Official Records, arranged in chronological order. This format provides a fascinating overview of what was known, suspected and shared among different parties concerning Utah. Letters and reports by officers serving the Federal government under Lincoln comprise most of the material, while messages such as those by the fiery anti-Mormon Patrick Edward Connor provide some of the most interesting reading. For instance, to General Henry W. Halleck in 1864, Connor fumed:

“The world has never seen a system of bondage, abject slavery, espionage, and constant, unremitting tyranny in the most trivial relations of life more galling than that which Brigham Young oppresses the people in the name of religion. His teachings and those of his elders all tend to impress disloyalty upon the minds of his subjects and antagonism toward the Government, in which he recognizes neither authority over him nor goodness in itself.” (p354)

Chapter five contains almost 200 more pages of additional documents about Utah Territory which were not included in the official War of the Rebellion records. These intriguing sources are also arranged in chronological order and supplement the records in chapter four. Eight valuable appendices are included in the back of the book. The most crucial are the first two. Appendix A is a glossary and list of abbreviations utilized throughout the records. The second appendix gives a chronological listing of all the documents found in chapters four and five, making it much simpler to see how the records in both chapters interact. A bibliography and thorough index put the finishing touches on Utah and the American Civil War.

Utah and the American Civil War is a necessary tool for anyone interested in this topic or time period. Researchers should be thankful to Alford and his assistants for saving them hundreds of hours of searching for these primary sources. One of the only regrets of the volume, not in any way the fault of the editor, is that the federal documents concerning Utah found in the War of the Rebellion records, with only a few exceptions, were created by men siding with the Union. Thus a lopsided view of the Territory is painted in several ways, since the Confederacy apparently had much less to say about the Mormon question, or perhaps what records they did make were not included in the official history.

This book is worth far more than its price considering how much effort was put into it. It assists the reader in comprehending the friction which developed between Latter-day Saint leadership and U.S. officials on questions dealing with race, slavery, authority to govern, the duties of citizenship, etc. While supporters of the Union in Utah felt moved to bring the Mormons under federal control, many members of the Church had already cast off any ideas of being subjected to the North’s expectations. Even though the Civil War had a significant impact on all the states and territories, LDS leaders seemed more concerned with establishing the Kingdom of God on earth than choosing sides, particularly when they entertained the notion that the United States was essentially doomed either way. The sources *Utah and the American Civil War* provides does a great deal towards placing this struggle in context. I highly recommend it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *