Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Pvt. Button


On Veterans Day we remember those who have served in our country's military.  One man I want to especially honor risked his life for his family and country though he never saw the enemy.  My ancestor, Montgomery Button, served as private in the Mormon Battalion during the Mexican-American War.  The Mormon Battalion was the only officially religious unit in the history of the US military.  It was formed by Mormons who wished to prove their loyalty to their country while pioneering on the Western frontier.  From the website of the Mormon Battalion Association:
In July 1846 under the authority of U.S. Army Captain James Allen,  and with the encouragement of Mormon leader Brigham Young, the Mormon Battalion was mustered in at Council Bluffs, Iowa Territory.  Allen was to take command of the unit as Lt. Colonel and appoint his staff. By the 16th of that month, over 500 men had enlisted in the Mormon Battalion.  The Mormon Battalion left Council Bluffs to begin the first leg of its historic journey to the traditional marching tune of American soldiers, "The Girl I left Behind Me."
Their orders were outlined in the following Letter of Instructions dated June 3, 1846 from William Learned Marcy (Below), Secretary of War to Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny, commanding the United States forces at Fort Leavenworth:
“... It has been decided by the President to be of the greatest importance, in the pending war with Mexico, to take early possession of Upper California. An expedition, with that view, is hereby ordered, and you are designated to command it." .... "It is known that a large body of Mormon emigrants are enroute to California, for the purpose of settling in that country. You are desired to use all proper means to have a good understanding with them, to the end that the United States may have their cooperation in taking possession of and holding that country. It has been suggested here, that many of these Mormons would willingly enter into the service of the United States, and aid us in our expedition against California. You are hereby authorized to muster into service such as can be induced to volunteer, not, however to a number exceeding one-third of your entire force. Should they enter the service, they will be paid as other volunteers, and you can allow them to designate, as far as it can properly be done, the persons to act as their officers. It is understood that a considerable number of American citizens are now settled on the Sacramento River, near Sutter's establishment, called Nueva Helvetica .....”
Church and military leadership recruited for days to gather the necessary enlisted personnel.  Each individual, like so many before and after them, had to make a conscious decision to enter service for a war they likely misunderstood.  These individuals prayed for insight and strength in their decision to serve a government, which until now, had shunned and mistreated them.
The makeup of the command was unlike any other body of volunteers ever to serve into the U.S. Army.  Age requirements of 18 to 45, first specified by Lieutenant Colonel Allen, were shattered by a number of the volunteers.  The oldest soldier was 67 year old Samuel Gould.  The youngest recruit was Alfred Higgins, barely 14.  Also accompanying the battalion were approximately thirty-three women, twenty of whom served as laundresses, and fifty-one children.  In all, about six hundred individuals started the journey to Fort Leavenworth.
The battalion marched from Council Bluffs on July 20, 1846, arriving on August 1, 1846 at Fort Leavenworth, where they were outfitted for their trek to Santa Fe. Battalion members drew their arms and equipment, including a clothing allowance of forty-two dollars each.  Battalion members took cash in lieu of uniforms, using the money to support their families and their church's move west. Consequently, they did not wear uniforms.
The march from Fort Leavenworth was delayed by the sudden illness of Lt. Colonel Allen; Capt. Jefferson Hunt (right) was instructed to begin the march to Santa Fe and received word en route that Colonel Allen was dead. Allen's death caused confusion regarding who should lead the battalion to Santa Fe. Lieutenant Andrew Jackson Smith was chosen the commanding officer by the vote of the regular army battalion officers. The volunteer officers and enlisted men were not consulted and this caused some confusion during the leadership transition.
Smith  and his accompanying surgeon, Dr. George B. Sanderson, have been described in Battalion member's journals as the "heaviest burdens" of the Battalion. Smith had a dictatorial leadership style and Dr. Sanderson's remedy for every ailment was a large dose of calomel or arsenic. The men soon learned that the supposed cure was invariably worse than the disease. The men often spewed out the medication when out of the doctor's sight.  Excessive heat, lack of food, and forced long-distance marches were additional plagues the unit suffered on its way to Santa Fe.
The Battalion arrived in the captured Mexican territory of New Mexico in October of 1846, and established camp in Santa Fe.  The Mormons then came under the command of Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke, who would later become a noted cavalry tactician and the father in law of J.E.B. Stuart.  While there, the Mormons met the Western adventurer, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, whose mother Sacagawea had brought him on the Lewis and Clark expedition when he was a baby.  Jean Baptiste joined the Mormon Battalion as a scout and would guide it to California.

Cooke wished to bring only fighting men on the march to California, so he created Company D, a "sick detachment" that would consist of soldiers who were ill or had brought their families with them.  Company D was ordered to march into Colorado and make camp at Pueblo.  Private Montgomery Button left Santa Fe with Company D with his wife Mary and his children James, Louisa, Samuel, and Jutson.  Jutson Button is my great-great-great-great-grandfather.  Company D traveled to Pueblo where they established a camp and braved the Rocky Mountain winter.  In May 1847, the Mormons in Pueblo left to join Brigham Young in Salt Lake where they were discharged from the army. (I learned about Company D from this site and this one)

Montgomery Button never encountered Mexican troops, but like many pioneers, he and his family endured the great hardships of the Western trails, and Montgomery did so while bearing arms in the service of his country.  As it happens, my ancestor is not the only Pvt. Button to serve in Colorado.  Ft. Carson sits less than an hour north of the old Mormon camp at Pueblo, where it serves as a base for the 4th Infantry Division.  My younger brother Nathaniel, who joined the army last summer, serves in the 4th Infantry.  Like his ancestor Montgomery, my brother defends flag and family.  I honor them both this Veterans Day.

1 comment:

  1. Great story. Love the Iowa connection, naturally. & can see this as the makings of a mini-series if not a movie.

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