The story of the Mormon Battalion is as miracle as great as any other. The miracles and blessings brought forth as a result of obedience to a prophet’s voice and the march through an untamed wilderness, would be felt and recognized by the migrating Pioneers they left behind.
The story of the Mormon Battalion is not well know. Perhaps it is not talked about much because the march which the Battalion took from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego, CA was completely uneventful. They did not engage in battle. They did not report miraculous survival stories as other pioneer groups would. They simply did the job Brigham Young asked them to do by enlisting in the Army of the United States of America.
The United States called upon the Mormons to send 500 volunteers to serve in the Army during the war with Mexico. When the Mormon’s were called upon by their country to serve in the war, the men were hesitant and even against joining the army. Many were bitter at the audacity the country had in asking for help from the Mormons, when this very same country had refused so many times before to defend them from their enemies. The Mormons had been driven, with guns at their backs, from their homes and lands in Missouri and Illinois. Countless times had the leaders of the Church sought help and protection from the government which was established on the ground of religious freedom and protection from unjust prosecution and persecution. Now, the United States was seeking the same help from those they refused to help. These pioneer men and women would be justified in their hesitation to volunteer for such an assignment. Such an assignment would bring great sacrifices, perhaps death, and require women and children to cross an unknown continent without the help of their husbands and fathers. These families were simply trying to move peacefully West, away from persecution. A refusal to join the Army was the feeling among the men…until the Lord’s prophet, Brigham Young asked the brethren to go. Out of pure obedience, 541 men, 35 women, and 42 children joined the Army and started their march to the West.
Prior to leaving, President Young promised this group of volunteers that their sacrifice would be a great blessing to them, their families, and to the church as a whole. The men did not know, or at least could not fully comprehend, the blessing which would come because of their service. They joined the Army because a prophet of God asked them to. They were strictly obedient to the direction given to them from their leader. Their testimonies were greater then their apprehension to serve!
William Hyde was a member of the Mormon Battalion. Just before leaving his wife and two small children, he records “When we were to meet with them again, God only knew Nevertheless, we did not feel to murmur.” Drusilla Hendricks had a son who served in the Battalion. She was so heartsick at his leaving, that she went to milk the cow instead of seeing him off. While performing her chore she prayed for her son’s safety and quick return. She wrote, “The the voice answered me saying, It shall be done unto you as it was unto Abraham when he offered Isaac on the altar. I don’t know whether I milked or not for I felt the Lord had spoken to me.”
Just as the men, women, and children were leaving, President Young made two prophesies. He told them to keep neat and clean, to teach chastity, to not swear, to not insult each other, and that they should avoid contentions with the Missourians. He told them to take their Bibles and the Books of Mormon but to not impose their belief on others. They were told to avoid card playing and to burn any cards they had. He prophesied that if they would follow these simple instructions, they would not be called on to shed the blood of their fellow men, and that they would be discharged within 800 miles of the proposed settlement of the Saints in the Great Basin where the next temple would be built in a stronghold free from mobs.
One miracle as a result of their obedience, and because of Brigham Young’s prophecy, the Mormon Battalion did not engage in any conflict of the war. The only “fighting” they were involved in was defending themselves one afternoon from a herd of wild bulls!
Another miracle as prophesied by Brigham Young, the Mormon Battalion was discharged in San Diego on January 29, 1847, exactly 749 miles from Salt Lake, which was early enough for many of them to journey to Salt Lake in time for the arrival of the families.
In addition to these great personal blessings, the members of the Mormon Battalion did bless the church. Perhaps the greatest miracle of all was that the United States government provided money to purchase optional Army uniforms. The members of the Battalion chose not to purchase the optional uniforms but to donate the money directly to the Church. This money was used to fund the westward exodus of the pioneers! Without the Mormon Battalion, the Saints could not have financially moved West.