This article originally appeared in Utah and the civil war (1800).
by Margaret M. Fisher
The history of Utah’s participation in the American Civil War would be incomplete without a chapter devoted to the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic: To the Wives and Daughters of the brave patriots, enlisted from Utah in 1862.
In the summer of 1909 the Utah Civil War man had not been received into the ranks of the Grand Army (of the Republic). Although many had applied for membership, only two, Charles Crismon, Jr., and Dr. Harvey C. Hullinger, had been allowed admittance into the Utah G. A. R. Posts, which were comprised of men who had enlisted in other states but had later taken up residence in Utah.
Standing out prominently among the descendants of the Utah Volunteers as one anxiously awaiting the time when the Utah Volunteers would be admitted into the rank and file of the Grand Army Posts of Utah, was Mrs. Nellie L. Lyon, daughter of Moroni Woodruff Alexander. An ardent and Patriotic worker in the Ladies’ organization of the Grand Army of the Republic, Mrs. Lyon was born, Nov. 29, 1874 at Washington City, Washington County, Utah. Some twenty years later (March 16, 1893) she married Dr. Frank James Lyon in Provo, Utah. She was living with her husband and children in Salt Lake City at the time the Grand Army of the Republic held their National encampment at Salt Lake City.
The brave defenders of our union were welcomed into our midst, shown every courtesy while here, and departed well-pleased with the reception they had received. The Ladies of the Grand Army, the wives and daughters of the comrades, from many parts of the union came to Salt Lake City with the old soldiers. Mrs. Della R. Henry, a delegate to the National Encampment from Missouri, arrived at Salt Lake City in due time to participate in the activities of the Ladies’ Organization. She made the statement that during her sojourn in Salt Lake City with that encampment, she received the greatest honor that could be bestowed upon an American woman. She became the National president of the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic.
Before leaving Salt Lake City, her attention and sympathy were drawn toward a little band of hardy pioneers, Civil War veterans, who fought under Lincoln. The Lot Smith Company, Utah Volunteers, who although eligible to become members of the Grand Army of the Republic, had been denied that privilege because of religious differences. Mrs. Henry, the National President, met Mrs. Lyon and was pleased with her. Mrs. Henry appointed Mrs. Lyon on her National Staff. Mrs. Lyon became National Organizer. There were two circles of the Ladies of the G. A. R. in Utah at that time: Reynolds Circle of Salt Lake City, and Lincoln Circle of Ogden. Five circles were necessary to form a Department.
Mrs. Nellie L. Lyon displayed the rare ability she possessed as an organizer when, within two days after receiving the appointment of National Organizer, she presented a new circle to the National President for installation. The James C. Rice Circle No. 3 and later the Gordon Circle No. 4 of Utah.
In 1910 under orders of the National President, Della R. Henry, Mrs. Lyon organized the Lot Smith Circle No. 5, Ladies of the Utah Volunteers. Immediately a great furore arose in the state between those who favored the new organization of the wives and daughters of the Utah volunteers, and those who were opposed to giving the “Mormons” recognition.
All this brought on some very trying times for the National President, and the National Organizer, and to all members of the Grand Army in Utah who wished to see justice done to the Utah Volunteers.
The following June, National President Mrs. Della R. Henry returned to Utah to the G. A. R. State Encampment. She came with the intention of organizing a Department of the Ladies of the Grand Army in the state of Utah, and bringing in the Ladies of the Utah Volunteers and trying to restore peace. With her she brought papers from the Dept, of War, Washington, D. C., which proved the eligibility of the Lot Smith men and justified her intention.
While in Utah, Della R. Henry organized the U. S. Grant Circle No. 6. This made six circles in the State of Utah, four in Salt Lake City and two in Ogden. Five circles were necessary in order to organize a Department.
“Three Circles and a Department” to Mrs. Della R. Henry’s credit since the National Encampment nine months before at Salt Lake City. Surely Utah was exerting herself to the utmost, in return for the honor bestowed upon her; the coming of the brave soldiers to Utah, Civil War heroes.
The Ladies of the Grand Army Department of Utah was formed, five circles were admitted. The opposing faction requested of Mrs. Henry time in which to think over the admission of the Lot Smith Circle into the Department of Utah, asking that they be not admitted until after the National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic to be held in September, 1910, at Atlantic City, New Jersey. Della R. Henry granted their request. The Lot Smith Circle was not admitted at that time into the Department of Utah.
The Department of Utah Grand Army of the Republic held a “Court of Inquiry” to determine whether or not the Lot Smith Company was eligible for membership. The findings of the Court of Inquiry were in favor of the Utah Volunteers. At the National Encampment in September, held at Atlantic City, the Ladies of Utah presented the National President, Della R. Henry, with a silver loving cup for the good work she had done for the Department of Utah, Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic.
On one face of the cup was in “Old Glory” enameled in the tri-colors with the inscription, “The Flag without a Stain”. On the other face of the cup, a cluster of Sego Lilies in “bass-relief” with an inscription to Mrs. Henry. The lilies were designed by Mrs. Margaret M. Fisher, President of the Lot Smith Circle. Mrs. Nellie L. Lyon, Delegate at Large, from Utah, was present to see the cup presented and needless to say tears were shed by the National President and Nellie L. Lyon. Mrs. Lyon said,
“I have worked so hard for the Ladies of the Grand Army in Utah, the Lot Smith Company in particular, because of the love which I hold for my noble father; I have done all this for him, and I dedicate it to his memory. He was with the first volunteers to enlist from Utah into the service of the United States. These are the only Civil War Veterans Utah can claim. The citizens of Utah should unite in honoring their memory and showing appreciation to those of that company who yet remain, and to all veterans of the Civil War wherever they may be.”
Department President, Ellenor B. Burns, in whose hands now lay the power to bestow the Charter to the Lot Smith Circle, in November, 1910, changed the name of the circle to the General George Washington Circle No. 6, Department of Utah, Ladies of the G. A. R. and chartered them.
The department of Utah G. A. R. and Ladies of the G. A. R. objected to the name of ‘‘Lot Smith” because of the claim through some misunderstanding that Lot Smith had taken up arms against the Government. A brief explanation of this incident follows;
Lot Smith was active in what is known as the ‘‘Mormon War.” His connection with this affair is sometimes referred to by the uninformed as proof that he was disloyal to the United States Government. To meet this unjust criticism it is proper to give the true facts relating to Smith’s participation in that difficulty. In 1856, W. W. Drummond succeeded Justice Shaver in the Supreme Court of Utah. Drummond, before coming west, abandoned his wife and children in Illinois. He brought with him to Utah a common courtesan. Upon his arrival in the territory, he introduced her as his wife. It happened that a friend of Drummond’s, who knew him and his family in the East, was residing in Utah. When he was introduced to the alleged Mrs. Drummond, he discovered that something was wrong. He made known to the people what he knew about the judge’s family in the East.
People of the entire territory, both members of the Church and non-members, became indignant. Their indignation was intensified by the brazenness of Justice Drummond in taking this woman of the street with him to all parts of the territory. He even had her sit with him on the bench while he lectured the Mormons on being ignorant and unvirtuous. The sentiment against Drummond became so intense, that he decided to abandon his office and return to the East. He left clandestinely for San Francisco, where he took boat around Cape Horn. Upon his arrival at New Orleans, March 30, 1857, he wrote U.S. Attorney-General Jeremiah Black announcing his resignation as Justice of the Supreme Court of Utah, and made grossly false charges against the leaders of the Mormon people. In his lengthy statement he charged that Brigham Young was the only recognized authority in the territory; that the Church was an oath-bound organization which disregarded the rights of all non-members; and that at the instance of Brigham Young the records of the Supreme Court had been destroyed. In conclusion he suggested that a new set of territorial officials be sent to Utah with a sufficient military guard.
Curtis E. Bolton, Clerk of the Supreme Court of Utah, and a non-Mormon, was apprised of the false report which Justice Drummond had made. On June 26, 1857, he made affidavit, denying the charges made by Justice Drummond, especially the charge that the records of the Court had been destroyed. This affidavit was transmitted to Attorney-General Black, but unfortunately before it reached Washington an army had started its march to Utah.
The news of the coming army reached Salt Lake City July 24, 1857, while Pres. Brigham Young and a large company of saints, were celebrating Pioneer Day at Brighton. Brigham Young at that time was governor of the territory. He and the rest of the leaders of the Church knew of the false reports which had been circulated by carpet bag politicians. These politicians had forsaken their offices of the territory, and were responsible for the coming of the army. He determined that the army should not enter Salt Lake City. Under the circumstances, this was the most humane course that could have been adopted. For if the troops had been permitted to enter the city, bloodshed would have been inevitable.
General Daniel H. Wells, under the direction of Governor Young, enlisted all the able bodied men in the territory for military service. They marched to Echo Canyon, where headquarters were established for the purpose of defense. Captain Lot Smith received strict orders from Governor Young to keep back the on-coming army of ten thousand men, and not shed one drop of blood. Upon receiving the order, Lot Smith exclaimed: “How can I do it?’’ President Young replied, “I do not care how you do it; just so it is done.’’ The active officers of the militia were directed to send out scouting parties from headquarters at Echo Canyon to harass the army by burning the grass before and behind them; stampede their cattle and horses, and destroy their food trains, and thereby prevent their march to Utah. Captain Lot Smith had charge of one of these scouting parties, numbering twenty-six. Under his direction one train was surrounded early on the morning of the 5th of November. After dismissing the men with a heavily loaded wagon of provisions for their sustenance, and turning them back in the direction of the approaching army, the train was fired and all wagons and contents destroyed on Big Sandy. The same treatment was accorded train No. 2, in the evening of that day on Little Sandy. Later Capt. Smith turned his attention to the third and largest train consisting of thirty-six wagons, which he fired at Ash-hollow. He did all this without the firing of a gun, or the loss of a single life.
This may well be considered as one of the ablest movements of the army of defense instituted by the “Mormon” people. Captain Lot Smith will ever stand out prominent as the one man who did more to check the army and prevent its advance into Salt Lake valley in 1857, than any other man save it be Brigham Young, under whose orders he was acting.
He and his company of scouts within ten days captured and burned three of the largest food trains. When the news of the destruction of these trains reached Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding officer of the army, he called a council of his officers, and advised that they go into Winter Quarters on Ham’s Fork on the Green River.
The bold and daring stroke of Captain Smith and his little company prevented a clash between the misguided army and the Mormons. It must be remembered that an army of that day was not the scrupulous and mannerly army of today, and much evil might easily have been expected of them.
In March, 1 858, a commission arrived from Washington, consisting of Van Fleet and Colonel Morris of Texas. Later Colonel Thomas L. Kane, a warm friend of the Mormons, arrived. He brought a message of peace to the Mormon people from President Buchanan, with a promise that the army would not molest them. The whole thing resulted in a peace and a pardon Proclamation by Pres. James Buchanan. A treaty arrangement was entered into between Colonel Thomas L. Kane, representing President Buchanan and President Brigham Young, representing the Mormon people, under the terms of which the army was permitted to march peacefully through Salt Lake valley, without making any encampment until they reached a designated point in Cedar valley, some forty-five miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Thus was ended what is known to informed historians as “Buchanan’s Blunder.”
Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston, with the greater part of his flowery army that marched to Utah, upon their return to the East joined with the Confederacy. Colonel Johnston was killed in action at the battle of Shilo, fighting against the Union. On the other hand Captain Lot Smith enlisted under Government Service with the results as they have been recorded.
“There was something of grim humor in the make up of Brigham Young. Inflexible as he was in his determination not to let a hostile army set foot upon the soil of Salt Lake valley, even though that army was ordered here unconstitutionally by the President of the United States, he knew what the final verdict of his country would be. It was not a small matter to defy the forces of the Federal Government, but there was a worse horror, and he had witnessed it in the murders, the assassinations and pillagings of Missouri and Illinois. But his far seeing eye must have caught the contagion of ridicule that would follow Buchanan’s fiasco, if he could stave off hostilities long enough to permit the American people to see the stupendousness of the folly. The ripple of derision that spread across the continent at the acts of the president when the people did finally awake, attests the wisdom of the “Mormon” leader.—Charles R. Mabey, Governor of Utah, 1921-25.
It can plainly be seen that good results quickly followed in the wake of the National Encampment.. That soul-stirring Patriotic organization: The Grand Army of the Republic, did well to visit the city of Salt Lake and wonderful results were produced.
Distinctive among these are the following happenings:
- The Organization of a Grand Army Post.
- Organization of Circles of the Ladies of the Grand Army.
- Organization of a Department Ladies of the Grand Army.
- The publication of this book of historical record.