Utah Stories from the Beehive Archive

A Question of Loyalty: Utah & the American Civil War

fort douglas.jpg

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A Question of Loyalty: Utah & the American Civil War


Despite Utah’s lack of direct involvement in the Civil War, they played a key role in the interests of leaders in Washington over the struggle for control of the western territories.

One of the saddest episodes in American history was the Civil War, fought from 1861 to 1865 between northern Union forces and the southern Confederacy. No battles were waged in the Utah Territory, nor did Utah send troops for either side. But despite its lack of involvement in the Civil War, Utah’s loyalty in that conflict was of major interest to leaders in Washington as part of the larger struggle for control over the western territories.

Those who doubted Utah’s loyalty did so because Mormons remained openly bitter about being driven from the United States, and were alienated from mainstream America by polygamy. Mormons also believed in States’ Rights, as did the Confederacy. Moreover, Utah was surrounded by Arizona, New Mexico, and Southern California, all of which expressed secessionist leanings.

But Mormon leader Brigham Young was anxious to affirm Utah’s loyalty to the Union. Asked to send the first message from Salt Lake City on the newly-completed transcontinental telegraph in 1861, Young used the opportunity to send US President Abraham Lincoln a message that signaled Utah’s position on the Civil War. It read: "Utah has not seceded, but is firm for the Constitution and laws of our once happy country." The following year, Young attempted to secure Statehood for Utah, believing that the best show of allegiance was trying to get into the Union, while others were trying to get out.

Despite these reassurances, Union soldiers were ordered to Utah under the guise of protecting the Overland Mail route. Young provided the Utah Territorial Militia to protect the route, but when federal troops arrived in October 1862, they established Camp Douglas to watch over the Mormons for the rest of the War.

Although distrust remained, Utahns celebrated Abraham Lincoln’s second inauguration in March 1865 and the end of the War that April. They also mourned with the rest of the country only days later when President Lincoln was assassinated. 


Michelle Hill for Utah Humanities © 2012


Image: Camp Douglas and Wasatch Mountains. Union soldiers were stationed  at Camp Douglas to watch over the Mormons, despite Brigham Young's assurances that the Utah Territory was loyal to the Union. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

See G.O. Larson, “Utah and the Civil War,” Utah Historical Quarterly, Volume 33, Winter 1965, pp. 55-77; E.B. Long, The Saints and The Union: Utah Territory during the Civil War, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981, pp. 42, 62, 82, 260-262; Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, “The Civil War in Utah,Utah History Encyclopedia


The Beehive Archive is a production of Utah Humanities. Find sources and the whole collection of past episodes at www.utahhumanities.org