Civil War Encounters Touring the West: Part One – Utah’s Civil War Monument

Part of a Series

I recently took a trip across Utah, Nevada, California, and Oregon so my wife Brittany and I could knock out visiting our 50th state. The road trip started in Salt Lake City. We then drove to southeast Utah to see Arches and Bryce Canyon National Parks. From there we drove US Highway 50, the loneliest road in the United States, westward across Utah and Nevada, winding up at Lake Tahoe. We continued into California for a stop at San Francisco before turning north to see the Redwoods. Once in Oregon, we hit Crater Lake National Park before flying out of Eugene back to Texas. With all those beautiful national parks, and it being the far western part of the country, you would be remiss if you did not think there would also be some Civil War sites to see. Some we encountered were planned and some were impromptu, but regardless, the western states have their own share of Civil War related sites to see.

As I said, the trip began in Salt Lake City, Utah, and before starting everything my wife was kind enough to tell me there was a Civil War monument at the state capitol honoring the soldiers from Utah Territory that served in the United States military in the war. We ventured out to see it.

Utah’s Civil War monument (left) is on the grounds of the state’s capitol building.

Wait! Utah in the Civil War? It may seem a bit odd, but yes. Utah indeed has a much deeper Civil War history than many realize. Utah actually passed a slave code in 1852, though the number of enslaved persons remained low (26 enslaved persons listed on Utah’s 1850 census). The territory also allowed Anglo settlers to adopt Indigenous children to use as laborers. The concept of possibly expanding enslavement to Utah was not to grow cotton, but instead to see if using enslaved labor was feasible for extensive mining occurring west.

During the secession crisis, many in the new Confederacy believed Utah Territory might likewise secede. The territory was, and remains, dominated by the Mormon religion, with church leader Brigham Young serving as the territorial governor in the 1850’s. Based on the U.S. military occupation of Utah in the 1850’s (led by U.S. Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston), many Confederates believed Young would be most sympathetic to their ear. “Join our Southern Confederacy and we will admit you as a state, Confederate leaders wrote in a letter to territorial delegate and enslaver William H. Hooper.[1]

Soldiers fighting in the far west agreed that Utah might hang in the balance as the war continued. A soldier in Sibley’s famed New Mexico campaign speculated that “Mormons and even Indians could be solicited for attacks against Union strongholds in the Pacific Northwest,” while a Colorado soldier thought Utah Mormons “would heartily join the enemies of the Northern states” because they “had been embittered against the United States Government by reason of their long-continued embroilments with it, and were ready for any change in which immunity from interference in their church-and-domestic affairs was conceded to them.”[2] Secessionists drifted through Utah on their way east from California. One 1862 stagecoach rider encountered six Californians in Utah that had recently fought Native Americans on their way east. One in the party barked out “he would much rather kill a Union man than an Indian.”[3]

Brigham Young (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute)

Everyone was wrong. When the transcontinental telegraph reached Salt Lake City in October 1861, the first thing Brigham Young sent was a note to President Lincoln: “Utah has not seceded but is firm for the Constitution and the laws of our once happy Country.”[4] Young even helped organize volunteers to defend Utah, guard overland mail routes, protect mines, and defend the telegraph line. The territory produced two small military formations. The first was just a stopgap 24-man militia company led by Colonel Robert T. Burton. They mustered only long enough for more volunteers to organize. A second force, a 106-man company of cavalry led by Captain Lot Smith, mustered for ninety days service in early 1862. After their term expired however, no new Utah units mustered.

When Abraham Lincoln asked for more Utah volunteers, Brigham Young was adamant that no Utah soldiers leave the territory to fight east. “If the question arises whether we will furnish troops beyond our borders for the war, … tell them no.”[5] Despite this, one Utah man Henry Wells Jackson, ended up serving in the First Washington D.C. Volunteer Cavalry. He was killed in battle on May 8, 1864.

After the Utah volunteers disbanded, Colonel Patrick E. Connor led California soldiers into Utah to guard the transportation and communication networks, as well as the mines. Tensions remained somewhat elevated during the war years between Utah residents and United States officials, with Lincoln appointing three different territorial governors during his presidency. Connor also required Mormons take loyalty oaths to the United States. Those who refused were incarcerated. In one instance, a wagon train was stopped and searched, with each man “required to take the oath of allegiance.”[6] Despite the tensons and troop deployments, no Confederate threat appeared to challenge Utah’s position as a United States territory.

The Utah Civil War Monument

We reached Utah’s capitol on a bright clear day and immediately went looking for the Civil War monument on its grounds. After a few minutes of searching, we found it, with the capitol building overlooking the site. Not very large, there are no obelisks or statues in the state’s only Civil War monument which was erected in 1961. It instead takes the form of five placards highlighting the people who volunteered to defend Utah and fight on behalf of the United States. One placard explains how Utah soldiers came to volunteer during the war, and three others list the names of all volunteers from both Burton’s militia and Smith’s company. Finally, there is a recent addition. A newer placard was added in 2015 to honor Henry Wells Jackson, the Utah man who died fighting in Virginia.

Close up of the different plates on the Utah Civil War Monument

The Utah Civil War Monument is not the largest memorial, nor does it honor the state or territory with the largest contribution the U.S. war effort. Nonetheless, it is probably the only Civil War monument that lists all volunteers from one state or territory. That alone makes it distinct.


If you want to learn more about Utah’s role in the Civil War, be sure to check out my upcoming book Treasure and Empire in the Civil War: The Panamá Route, the West and the Campaigns to Control America’s Mineral Wealth, set for release in late 2023.


Stay tuned for the next Civil War stop in my travels through Utah, Nevada, California, and Oregon. Next stop: Virginia City, Nevada!



[1]Davis to Hooper, January 13 1861, William H. Hooper Letterpress Copybooks, 1859-63, MSS 1227, Latter Day Saints Church History Library, Salt Lake City, UT.

[2] Michael L. Tate, “A Johnny Reb in Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign: Reminiscences of Pvt. Henry C. Wright, 1861-1862, Part I”, East Texas Historical Journal, Vol 25 No 2, Oct. 1987, 20; William C. Whitford, Colorado Volunteers in the Civil War: The New Mexico Campaign In 1862, (Denver CO: The State Historical and Natural History Society, 1906), 10-11.

[3]Elijah R. Kennedy, The Contest for California in 1861: How Colonel E.D. Baker Saved the Pacific States to the Union, (Boston MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1912, 342.

[4] Tom Generous, “Over the River Jordan: California Volunteers in Utah During the Civil War”, California History, Vol. 63, No. 3, Summer 1984, 206.

[5]Young to Bernhisel, December 30, 1861. Brigham Young Letterpress Copybook, Volume 6, Brigham Young Office Files, 1832-1878, CR 1234 1, Latter Day Saints Church History Library, Salt Lake City, UT.

[6] Mary Elizabeth Lightner Diary, August 18, 1863, Kenneth L. Holmes, ed., Covered Wagon Women: Diaries & Letters from the Western Trails, 1840-1890, (Glendale, CA: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1989), Vol. 8 1862-1865, 106.

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