Civil War: The Lot Smith Expedition

Civil War: The Lot Smith Expedition

by Margaret M. Fisher, Utah and the (1800)

, the majestic figure of the Civil War, had his share of trouble at every stage of the struggle to maintain the Union. There were many very dark days. It is idle to venture an opinion as to which were the darkest. Among the very trying times, however, were the early days and months of the year 1862, when he was so worried over the attitude of England, and the probability that she might be induced to openly and actively come to |the aid of the Southern states. This circumstance caused him great anxiety. He was in the first year of his administration and the first year of the war, and to fail at this time would have been disastrous both to himself and the nation. A grave situation confronted him and important problems had to be solved. The solution of these problems demanded the exercise of supreme wisdom and courage.

In the fall of the year 1861 the Confederacy appointed James M. Mason and John Slidell as ambassadors to the court of St. James, London. These envoys had some trouble in (getting away but managed to escape from Charleston harbor and went thence to Havana, Cuba. Here they embarked on the British steamer “Trent” for their destination. Immediately the U. S. frigate, “San Jacinto”, commanded by Captain Wilkes of the U. S. Navy, was dispatched to overtake them and return them as prisoners of war. The “Trent” was soon hailed and boarded and the two ambassadors and their secretaries were seized, taken aboard the “San Jacinto”, and carried back to Boston and there imprisoned. This action on the part of Captain Wilkes was loudly applauded by the people of the North. The administration felt disposed to defend the bold act of Wilkes. But President Lincoln soon saw that a grave mistake had been made. The act proved to be a serious offense to Great Britain. Word was sent from the Court of St. James that open reprisals would be made against the Union unless immediate reparation was made by the Government of the United States. Lincoln therefore instructed Secretary of State William H. Seward to transmit a suitable apology together with an assurance that the two ambassadors should be released. The two men and their secretaries were then placed on a British vessel and sent on their way. If this wise course had not been adopted war with Great Britain would have been inevitable. Of course, war with a foreign country at that time would have been very disastrous to the Union, and the triumph of the cause of secession would then have been assured.

However, the wise handling of this delicate situation did not relieve Lincoln of his anxiety and worry. He felt that with Mason and Slidell in London asking for help from England in the establishment of the Southern Confederacy, that this might still mean a favorable response from the overseas country for ‘the Southern cause. Apparently, it would not have taken much effort to bring about this aid, for England was already sending out her warships to prey upon American commerce and thus aid the cause of secession.

Fully realizing the gravity of the whole situation, Lincoln sensed the absolute necessity of keeping open the mail and telegraph lines between the Missouri river and the Pacific coast, for with communication crippled between the eastern and the western seaboard, very serious consequences might result. The London newspapers were arguing that the Federal government was already brought to the verge of ruin and that it was no longer able to function as a government. The London Star considered the cause of the Union hopeless, and the Herald said it would do well to consider a compromise with the South.

Such was the condition and the outlook confronting Lincoln in the early months of 1862. To add to the gravity of the situation, the telegraph lines were down in the West and the mail stations were being burned by the Indians, who robbed the mails and murdered the white people along the mail route. Because of this depredation by the Indians the mail routes were closed.

It was at this very critical time that President Lincoln ordered Adjutant-General L. Thomas to telegraph Brigham Young at Salt Lake City, requesting him to raise, equip and muster into service a company of cavalry to march to the protection of the mail routes and telegraph lines. Adjutant-General Thomas’ telegram was sent on the 28th of April, 1862. It contained the following request:

“You are requested to muster into the service of the United States a company of Utah volunteer cavalry, to arm and equip them immediately and send them East for the protection of the mail and telegraph lines extending from North Platte river below Independence Rock on the old Mormon pioneer trail to Fort Bridger.”

His telegram was duly received by Brigham Young. When it is remembered that President Young had sent a telegram along the same wire to President Lincoln, announcing that “Utah is for the Union, and does not believe in secession,” it will not be surprising that the Mormon leaders responded with alacrity to the request made by the great war President.

Two days before receiving this message, William H. Hooper, member of Congress, set out for Washington accompanied by the Honorable Chauncey W. West and a mounted escort of cavalry under command of Colonel Robert T. Burton, to see what could be done to aid the Union in keeping open the mail routes. On the 1st of May, Brigham Young sent the following telegram to Adjutant-General L. Thomas:

Brigham Young

“Great Salt Lake City, Utah, May 1, 1862. “Adjutant-General L. Thomas, U. S. A., Washington. D. C.

“Upon receipt of your telegram of April 27th, I requested General Daniel H. Wells, of the Utah Militia to proceed at once to raise a company of cavalry and equip and muster them into the service of the United States army for ninety days, as per your telegram. General Wells forthwith issued the necessary orders and on the 29th of April, the commissioned officers and non-commissioned officers and privates, including teamsters, were mustered in by Chief Justice John F. Kinney, and the company went into camp adjacent to the city the same day.

“Signed, Brigham Young.”

The men furnished their own horses, bridles, saddles, and all equipment necessary for the service, at their own expense, something otherwise unknown in the history of the Civil War. Many were the hardships endured an that memorable campaign, about which much might be written. For eight days they were without bread or other rations, and many fatalities occurred in their ranks, soon after their return home, as a result of the hardships endured while in the service of their country. Captain Smith was complimented from Washington, D. C., for the alacrity with which his men responded to their country’s call, and for their splendid performance of duty. The Civil War Department records state, “that as a company or as individuals their conduct was above reproach”.

Lot Smith served with “Troops for the Defense of the Overland Mail, which troops were commanded by Brigadier-General James Craig, United States Volunteers.

“This Command was subordinate to the Department of Kansas, which was commanded by Brigadier-General James G. Blunt, United States volunteers.”

On Wednesday April 30, the enlisted officers and men gathered on the Temple Square at Salt Lake City. They were met by prominent citizens and friends, who came to bid them goodbye. Two companies were organized, and the men were sworn in. On Thursday, May 1, at 1:00 p. m., orders were given to hitch up the teams and make ready ,to march. They marched to the front of Brigham Young’s residence and halted. Here they received additional supplies. At 4:30 p. m. orders were given to move from the city. They marched ,to the mouth of Parley’s Canyon and camped for the night. Before retiring, all were called together for the evening prayer. This beautiful custom was followed every evening while the men were in the service. The roads of Parley’s Canyon were impassable because of high water, so the following day they marched northward to the mouth of Emigration Canyon. Here they were met at noon by President Brigham Young and General Daniel H. Wells, who took dinner with the enlisted men. Both of the visitors preached to the cavalry, and gave them some excellent advice and counsel. The speakers also stressed the importance of the undertaking in which the men had enlisted. President Young declared that loyalty to country was the first requirement of the men, and that they must defend the Union at all hazards, even to the sacrificing of their lives. He also admonished them not to partake of strong drink or associate with evil men or lewd women. In closing, he gave the men the promise that if they would live their religion, not one of them should fall by the hand of the enemy. The following is a portion of the actual words of Brigham Young:

“I desire of the officers and privates of this company, that in this service they will conduct themselves as gentlemen, remembering their allegiance and loyalty to our government, and also not forgetting that they are members of the organization to which they belong, never indulging in intoxicants of any kind, and never associating with bad men or lewd women, always seeking to make peace with the Indians. Aim never to take the life of an Indian or white man, unless compelled to do so in the discharge of duty, or in defense of your own lives, or that of your comrades.

“Whenever and wherever you can hold councils with their sachems, or peace chiefs, do not fail to embrace the opportunity, and thus win their friendship and prevent the shedding of blood if possible. Another thing I would have you remember is that, although you are United.States soldiers you are still members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and while you have sworn allegiance to the constitution and government of our country, and we have vowed to preserve the Union, the best way to accomplish this high purpose is to shun all evil associations, and remember your prayers, and try to establish peace with the Indians, and always give ready obedience to the orders of your commanding officers. If you will do this I promise you, as a servant of the Lord, that not one of you shall fall by the hand of an enemy.”

The company marched at once to the scene of Indian lawlessness. The salutary effect upon the lawless Indians of the entrance of these volunteers to the military service of their country was almost instantaneous. Shortly after the company had reached the scene of hostilities, Ben Holliday, pioneer mail contractor and owner of mail stations and horses and vehicles for carrying the mail, sent the following telegram to President Brigham Young:

”Thanks to your prompt response to President Lincoln’s request to furnish Utah volunteers for the protection of overland mail and telegraph lines. Just as soon as these Utah volunteers are located along the line, I will proceed to replace my coaches, horses, drivers, and rebuild and man the destroyed stations from the North Platte river and Independence Rock to Fort Bridger.”

The expedition was no pleasure trip. The men encountered rough roads and rougher weather. They were called upon to endure almost unbearable hardships and bitter privations. Upon one occasion early in the march, they encountered ten feet of newly fallen snow. In many places the roads were almost impassable and had to be rebuilt. A number of bridges were washed out and had to be reconstructed. Wash-outs, floods, and storms impeded their progress and added to their distress and discomfort. But they did not complain. With cheerful hearts and brave souls they slowly but steadily marched to their destination. They reached Independence Rock from the North Platte twenty days after they left their homes. Here they joined Colonel Collins, acting divisional commander of the upper Missouri and Platte river districts of the Federal forces, and became a part of the regular army of the United States of America. Captain and his company were assigned to duty on the pioneer crossing of the North Platte river along the mail and telegraph lines by way of Fort Bridger and westward to the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The latter part of the month of May saw the volunteers of Utah moving swiftly from point to point, extending their march along the line of travel giving ample protection not only to the Mail and Telegraph lines, but the emigrants as well, who were journeying to Oregon and the mining regions of Idaho and Montana; and so thoroughly was the work done that early in the month of July, 1862, Ben Holliday, the Mail contractor, as he had declared rebuilt his mail stations, replaced his coaches, teams, drivers and station men, as soon as the Utah volunteers had established themselves along these lines of communication. So the mail coaches were running without interruption on the route, the telegraph lines were re-established by the Utah volunteers and these lines of communication were never again interrupted or broken during all the four years of the Civil War. Along this stretch of wild country infested with savages they did valiant service for their country.

Colonel Collins’ command afforded ample protection from Council Bluffs to the North Platte, a distance of 500 miles. On the West Division was Captain Lot Smith’s Company of Utah volunteers whose assignment of service was from the North Platte, via Fort Bridger, to Salt Lake, 600 miles in extent. Captain Lot Smith and his valiant company returned to Salt Lake City, August 14th, 1862.

On the 20th day of October, 1862, General Patrick E. Conner, with his command of California and Nevada volunteers from the West, established camp Douglas, about 3 miles east of Salt Lake City at the mouth of Red Butte canyon. He was the first military protector of the great migratory trail from Utah to California.

PERSONNEL OF THE CAPTAIN LOT SMITH COMPANY as it appears on the United States Civil War records. Courtesy of Senator Reed Smoot and Carl A. Badger.

The Captain Lot Smith Company was called into the service of the United States Government by President Abraham Lincoln on the 30th day of April, 1862. It was made up of the two companies, A and B of First Cavalry, Utah Militia. They were under the command of Colonel Collins and served with “Troops for the defense of the Overland Mail, which troops were commanded by Brigadier General James Creig, and was Subordinate to the department of Kansas which was commanded by Brigadier General James G. Blunt, United States volunteer.”

There were in all 106 men—23 officers, 72 privates, 11 teamsters. The teamsters in this company were called upon to do the regular work of privates. They stood guard and were really entitled to recognition as United States Soldiers.

Captain Lot Smith was not in any sense a literary man. He was distinctively a frontiersman. He, however, kept a brief journal, a portion of which follows:

May 1.  Company left Salt Lake City, proceeded to mouth of Parley’s canyon, finding that road impassable for water, the whole road being washed away. Camped.

May 2.  Crossed over to Emigration Canyon, received address and instructions from President Brigham Young, also from General Daniel H. Wells. One mile up the canyon delayed mending road. Camped for noon at Big Springs; road very bad; at crossings of the streams had to dismount all the men and put on drag ropes. Arrived at the other side of the little mountain and camped. Had to make a new dugway for 100 yards, 5 miles up the canyon.

May 3.  Took Lamb’s canyons. Bad. Camped there.

May 4.  Passed over the summit. Snow very deep. Had to put on drag ropes to the wagons. On the other side had to dismount the cavalry and pack the baggage.

May 5. Started packing baggage. Took Silver Creek roads, so bad the whole canyon was impassable, for water. Went along the sides of the mountains, put on about twenty men to each wagon with ropes to prevent upsetting; traveled in this way for about 6 miles; camped for night at the head of the canyon; good feed.

May 6. Crossed the Weber; repaired the bridge; made a new bridge at Chalk Creek; camped there.

May 7. Took the mountain side. Arrived at the Telegraph Station mouth of Echo; water too high to ford; built a new bridge; one horse belonging to Brother Sell drowned; followed up the canyon, built another new bridge and camped.

May 8. Could not go up the canyon farther; took the side of the mountain, camped a little beyond Cache Cave.

May 9. Arrived at Yellow Creek; the whole bottom flooded; built a foot bridge; unloaded the wagons; carried over the baggage, men working in the water four hours; drew over the empty wagons, reloaded; one horse got mired and broke his leg striving to extract himself. It belonged to Bishop Smith.

May 10. Pleasant journey. Camped on the Muddy.

May 11. Made Fort Bridger. Camped 1 mile beyond the fort. On our arrival within one-fourth of a mile of the fort we were met by one of the mail company, Mr. Hugh O’Neill, who informed us we were just in time, that the Indians had attacked a mail carriage four miles below Bridger. The men saw an Indian squaw, fired at her, turned their horses round and fled back to the fort.

May 12. Left Bridger. Nothing extra. Camped at Black’s Fork same night.

May 13. Passed over to Ham’s Fork, borrowed 1000 pounds of flour from Mr. Granger at the station to be repaid by the supply trains on their arrival; camped at a bad crossing; took out the baggage, packed it over.

May 14. Arrived at Green River Ferry at Lewis Robinson’s; crossed over; traveled six miles. Camped.

(In the archives of the War Department is a report attested by Captain Lot Smith wherein appears the item, “For ferrying over Green River detachment of Captain Lot Smith Cavalry Co., ordered to guard Green River stations, Lewis Robinson, $26.00.”) From a letter written by Lewis Robinson to General Daniel H. Wells, is taken the following, to show what the volunteers had to endure at times: “We have been two days on this creek,swimming at every crossing of the stream. The traveling is awful, snow deep; waters high; there is no bottom to the mud. You can form no idea of the traveling.”)

May 15. Did not travel. Sent back 6 men for 600 pounds bacon and 800 pounds flour at Ham’s Fork, belonging to Mr. Robinson.

May 16. Snow on the ground. Wagon came up with provisions from Ham’s Fork. Traveled on; camped on Big Sandy. Very cold.

May 17. Cold and stormy. Snow on the ground. Camped for noon on Dry Sandy; took 9 sacks barley, two of oats from mail station to be reported to the company the first opportunity. Camped for night in sight of Pacific Springs.

May 18. Mail Station at Pacific Springs deserted; passed through a deep snow bank, 6 or 7 feet; took the Seminole cutoff; very cold.

May 19. Met a company of immigrants 40 or 45 in number, from Denver, enroute to Salmon River. Camped on Sweet Water.

May 20. Came to the Mail station at Three Crossings; mail matter burst open and strewed around. Split Rock station not burned, but deserted; camped on Sweet Water. Three immigrants from Denver with a hand cart camped about one mile from us. W. S. Godbe arrived in camp 11 p. m.

R. H. Atwood, Secy. Lot Smith, Captain.


“I hereby certify that on the 30th day of April, A. D. 1862, in obedience to orders of April 28th, 1862, from Lieutenant-General Daniel H. Wells, commanding the militia of Utah Territory, I mustered into the service of the United States by enlistment and administering the necessary oath to each of the following named persons to serve as privates in a company of cavalry raised by Hon-Brigham Young, under express direction of the-President of the United States, for the protection of the property of the Overland Telegraph and Mail companies, for the term of ninety days, unless sooner disbanded, to wit; (Here follows the names of the 72 privates and the eleven teamsters).

Following is the mustering in oath of Judge John F. Kinney:

I, John F. Kinney, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States for the Territory of Utah, do hereby certify, that in pursuance of the following order from the War Department, I mustered into the service of the United States for the period of 90 days, unless sooner discharged, the officers whose names appear to this certificate, by administering the usual oath, and the oath provided by the act of congress of August 6, 1861.

Washington, April 28th, 1862. Mr. Brigham Young, Great Salt Lake City.

By express direction of the President of the U. S. you are hereby authorized to raise, arm and equip one company of cavalry for ninety (90) days’ service.

This company will be organized as follows: one Captain; one first Lieutenant; one second Lieutenant; one first Sergeant; one quartermaster Sergeant; four (4) Sergeants; and eight (8) Corporals; two (2) musicians; two (2) Farriers; one Saddler; one Wagoner; and from fifty-six (56) to seventy-two (72) privates. The company will be employed to protect the property of the Telegraph and Overland Mail companies in or about Independence Rock, where depredations have been committed, and will be continued in service only until the U. S. troops can reach the point where they are so much needed. It may, therefore, be disbanded previous to the expiration of the ninety (90) days.

It will not be employed for any offensive operations other than may grow out of the duty hereinafter assigned to it. The officers of the company will be mustered into the U. S. service by any civil officer of the U. S. at Salt Lake City, competent to administer an oath. The men will then be enlisted by the company officers. The men employed in the service above named will be entitled to receive no other than the allowance authorized by law to soldiers in the service of the U. S. Until the proper staff officers for subsisting these men arrive you will please furnish subsistence for them yourself keeping an accurate account thereof for further settlement with the U. S. government.

By order of the Secretary of War, L. Thomas, Adjutant-General.

The following telegram, dated from South Platte, was sent to President Brigham Young, from Captain Lot Smith, on June 24th, 1862:

“Camp, Independence Rock.

I had an interview with Brigadier-General Craig, who has just arrived by stage at this point. He expressed himself much pleased with our promptness in responding to the call of the General Government, with the exertions we had made in over-coming speedily the obstacles on the road to reach this point and spoke well of our people generally. He also stated that he had telegraphed President Lincoln to that effect and intended writing him at greater length ,by mail, and I received later word that he had placed the whole of Nebraska territory under Martial law. He also remarked that the Utah cavalry were the most efficient troops he had in the service, and he proposed to recommend that our service be extended an additional 90 days.”


Lot Smith, Commander Utah Volunteers.”

From Writings of Joseph A. Fisher, Private

In the Spring of 1862, City Creek, at the point where it empties into the Jordan River, was at least two miles wide. All streams were swollen in proportion.

The entire country along the bed of Bear River was flooded with water for a quarter of a mile beyond the river proper. We swam our horses through the depths in crossing. As we crossed the plains going East we passed many mail stations—one every ten miles. All we encountered along the way, lay in heaps of blackened ashes, until we arrived at Independence Rock. Many of the Mail stations were still smouldering when we came upon them. Wagon-loads of United States mail were scattered and destroyed by the Indians. In one place the remains of a stage coach was still standing. Its occupants had evidently alighted when attacked. The wheels on one side had been removed, allowing the axles to rest on the ground; thus using the wagon as a protecting barrier, while sacks of mail were piled up as breast-work. The intrepid mail carriers had employed this hopeless means of defense against the fierce onslaught of the savage Indian. But burning the stations was not enough to satisfy their savage instincts, they must needs take human life, destroy Government mail and scatter it to the four winds. When we arrived at the Sweet Water we constructed a bridge, crossed over and came to the first mail station unburned. The company remained here until we were relieved by a company of militia from the East. We broke camp and marched towards the West, protecting and repairing the lines as we went.

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