One of the unique aspects of the Mormon Battalion is that it is on the only US military unit that was also a religious unit. According to Norma Ricketts, only a handful of non-Mormons were included in the Mormon Battalion. Most of the officers were Mormons, and at the unanimous request of the enlistees, were nominated by Brigham Young and the Council of the Twelve. This committed the men to be obedient to their officers for religious reasons, in addition to military jurisdiction.
On July 16, about 450 men gathered in the square at Council Bluffs, and under an American flag, the enrollment commenced. The men stayed in Council Bluffs for a few more days as the army sought to list additional volunteers. On Saturday, July 18, Brigham Young and the Council met with the officers while the enlisted men cleared an area for the double cotillion that was held that evening. On Sunday, the enlisted men went with the Saints to church and the first four companies (A, B, C, D) started their march. Levi Savage was in Company D.
The Battalion was made up of 500 men, ranging in age from 14 years to 68 years. They enlisted at the urging of their church leaders, and thus saw this a mission for their church. They had no knowledge of army regulations, so the first few weeks must have been very difficult for them as they adjusted to military life. Due to height requirements, some men stood on stumps or on the tips of their toes to meet the qualification.
Their first assignment was to march to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, about a 10 day march. They arrived August 1, 1846 and received their equipment and other supplies. They chose to wear their own clothing and sent the clothing allowance of $42 back to the church and their families.
There aren’t a lot of diary entries or other sources that directly discuss what the men were feeling as they enlisted. Despite the hardships of leaving their family, did enlisting under an American flag inspire thoughts of patriotism? Was there a sense of adventure to see new lands and people? Was there an overwhelming sense of despair at leaving their families behind? While we don’t know, if we think about other wars in which men enlisted and left families behind, such as the Civil War and World Wars I and II, it’s quite possible that the men were feeling all these emotions and more.
For more information about some of the specifics mentioned here, see Norma Rickett’s “The Mormon Battalion: U.S. Army of the West, 1846-1848, pages 6-17.