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1857-58: Utah War

In short:

illustration

Albert Sidney Johnston, the commander who led U.S. troops into Utah in 1858.

The Utah War was one in which the opposing sides never fired a single shot at each other! Like a lot of wars, bad communication and false assumptions triggered conflict. This “war” could have been very bad for both the federal government and the Utah Territory if the conflict had actually turned violent.

More of the story: Brigham Young out; Alfred Cumming in.

Right after his inauguration, President Buchanan decided that to replace Brigham Young as governor of the Utah Territory. He didn’t like the power Young had, and he didn’t like the polygamy that Mormons openly practiced. 

President Buchanan was afraid that the Mormon settlers would resist the removal of their prophet from his post as territorial governor, so he sent 2,500 soldiers along with Alfred Cumming, the new governor, to stop any trouble the settlers might cause.

Are we under attack?

News that an army was on the way stirred up fears in Utah Territory. The government hadn’t even notified the settlers about the change of governors, let alone the troops marching toward Utah. So the settlers assumed the worst. Young called out the militia, who began a campaign of harassing the troops.

Clever tactics.

engraving of troops in snowstorm

Johnston's Army, marching toward Utah in a snowstorm. From an illustration in Harper's Weekly, April 14, 1858.

After the militia burned supply wagons and stole hundreds of cattle from the Army, things quickly escalated. The U.S. government sent more troops, and Young called for more militia members. 

Even as Young prepared for the worst—and looked for another place for the Mormons to live if they had to leave Utah—he also tried to find a peaceful solution. Thomas Kane, a friend of the Mormons from Pennsylvania, got permission from President Buchanan to come to Utah to negotiate peace.

The big MOVE.

rocks piled into breastwork

The Mormons built lots of fortifications like these along the route into Salt Lake Valley. They wanted to be prepared to defend against the army. This breastworks is on a hill above East Canyon Reservoir.

Unfortunately, for a while a peaceful end to this mess seemed impossible. So Young directed the settlers in northern Utah to move south, away from the Army. They also had to prepare their homes to be burned if necessary! About 30,000 people traveled to Provo and beyond.

In the end, it wasn’t really a war…

Thomas Kane and the new governor, Alfred Cumming, came to Salt Lake to speak with Young. He peacefully turned over the government to Cumming.

Eventually, the troops entered Salt Lake City.  They marched right through and went west, where they established Camp Floyd. There they stayed—at least until the country called them back to fight in the Civil War.

The Utah “War” was over.

soldiers and bugles

The Bugle Corps of Johnston's Army, while the army was stationed at Camp Floyd, west of Utah Lake.