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    "Brigham Young has run away from his harum [sic], it is said, but it is not known where he has gone"

    John W. Phelps Utah War Diaries (Two) with entries dated between June 18, 1858, and October 7, 1858, narrating the military service of John Phelps during the Utah War, beginning with his journey along the Mormon Trail and ending with his encampment outside Salt Lake City at Camp Floyd.

    In late 1857, Phelps was sent with a large U.S. Army detachment of over 2,000 soldiers to the Utah Territory by President Buchanan to control unrest among the Mormon population. The military force wintered at Fort Bridger, Wyoming. After their journey was renewed, a nonviolent resolution was achieved and the soldiers peacefully entered Salt Lake City in June 1858.

    The first diary is bound in soft paper covers (3.5" x 7.5") and begins on the sunny morning of June 18, 1858, at a "Camp on Bear River" along the Mormon Trail in northern Utah Territory. It ends less than a month later on July 9 at a camp outside of Salt Lake City. Phelps fills half of the lined pages of this diary with observations from the journey, including those of Bear River, Echo Canyon, snowcaps of the Uinta Mountains, the Weber River, and Mormon fortifications. He also records encounters with various Mormons, such as one on June 24 when the detachment "met several Mormon families to-day going to the States. I asked them why they did not stay with their property in Salt Lake Valley, the government would protect them if they wished it. They said that they had had enough of Salt Lake, and that they could not come out of it now, if it were not for our presence."

    The next day, he registered the good news that a peaceful resolution between the U.S. government and the Mormon leadership had been attained. "A proclamation from the Governor [Alfred Cumming] reaches us here, and is read to the troops, recapitulating the fact that through the pardon of James Buchanan president of the United States, and the acceptance of its conditions by the Mormons, peace exists in the Territory of Utah: and while he promises to maintain the laws, both Federal and territorial . . . he advises all who have left or are about to leave their homes to return to them."

    Later, Phelps recorded his views of Mormonism. "Mormonism is, in fact, the growth of a waste region of the United States, and all attempts by Brigham or others to transplant it to other soils will prove abortive. Many of the Mormons, it is said, have personal defects, such as lameness . . . humpbacks etc - to think of such men reveling in women! Why should not a system be popular that can thus compensate for the blemishes of nature?"

    The journey along the Mormon Trail was slow and tedious. Phelps writes, "As each command is followed by its own train, and as several of the trains contain upwards of one hundred wagons, requiring nearly an hour to pass any given point, our progress is often interrupted by stoppages and rendered slow and tedious. The aggregate of our force is 2380 men."

    On June 26, Phelps and the other soldiers entered Salt Lake City. "On entering the streets we noticed that they were very wide, at least [blank] feet; bordered on each side with small runs of water which were brought down from the streams in the mountains. . . . The house[s], generally built of adobes, are situated a little back of the ditches. . . . The streets were nearly desolate; some few men were seen here and there, but not one single woman made her appearance. Persons could be occasionally seen peering stealthily from the windows, but almost all of the inhabitants have gone to Provost. . . . Our route led by Brigham's house which is a large white edifice decorated with a beehive on its top and the figure of a lion on its front facing the street. A little below this house and on the same side of the street we noticed the American flag flying. It was at the residence of our governor (Cummings) who occupies (in part at least) the house of Elder [William] Staines, a saint rejoicing in three wives." They camped a mile west of the city.

    The second diary is bound in soft leather covers (4" x 8") and begins on July 14, 1858, at Camp Floyd, Cedar Valley. In this diary, which ends on October 7, 1858, Phelps records further observations about the Mormons. "These Mormons are estimated to be about one half from Great Britain chiefly from England and Wales; one sixth from Denmark, a few from other countries, and the rest Americans from the United States. There are not many Germans among them. One of them is married to his one half-sister; and it is the Bishop's business to see that the girls under his jurisdiction are married off as soon as they are twelve years old. There are not five unmarried females in Salt Lake City, it is said, over the age of sixteen. The United States' laws have not gone in operation yet inasmuch as the Chief Justice only of the Judiciary of the Territory is present; the other judges not having yet arrived." On July 31 he notes, "Brigham Young has run away from his harum [sic], it is said, but it is not known where he has gone."

    Both diaries include diagrams of the army's camping arrangements, detailed charts of daily weather conditions, and various other drawings. John Phelps, who had a scientific bent, was thorough when making observations of his environment, often recording the temperature thrice a day, the type of clouds, the wind direction, meteor sightings, and star positions. Every page of both diaries is full of Phelps' legible writing and is worthy of much more careful attention. It is important to note that Phelps' writing style is coarser in these two diaries than in his earlier Mexican War journals, which he later polished and rewrote in seven bound volumes [link coming soon]. The entries in these two journals are similar to seven pages from his Civil War journals [link coming soon]. There, and in the Mexican War journals, Phelps writes less about scientific matters and more about his observations of events and people.


    More Information:

    John Wolcott Phelps (1813-1885) was born and died in Guilford, Vermont. In the seventy-two years between those events, he not only witnessed change, he also worked and sacrificed to create it. Following his 1836 graduation from the U.S. Military Academy, Lieutenant Phelps was given command of an artillery regiment and ordered to Florida Territory to take part in the Seminole War. He later served throughout the Mexican War under Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. In the late 1850s, Phelps was a member of the Utah Expedition. That expedition, the largest U.S. military exercise between the Mexican and Civil Wars, was sent to Utah to suppress a possible revolt from the state's large Mormon population.

     

    At the outbreak of the Civil War, Phelps, an abolitionist, was quickly promoted to brigadier general and, while serving under General Benjamin Butler in early 1862, was instrumental in the capture of New Orleans and its environs. He was soon stationed seven miles outside the Southern city at Camp Parapet, which quickly became a refuge for fugitive slaves. After large numbers of slaves had arrived, Phelps organized the men into three regiments, drilled them, and asked General Butler to supply them with 3,000 muskets, 225 swords. Butler refused and ordered Phelps to enlist the fugitives in manual work, but Phelps refused and remained adamant in pressing the U.S. military into using former slaves as soldiers, not as unskilled labor. After Butler failed to act, Phelps resigned in disgust on August 21, 1862, the same day the Confederate government declared him an outlaw for his actions.

     

    But thanks to Phelps' efforts and the course of the war, changes came quickly. Over the remaining months of 1862, President Lincoln's thinking -- propelled forward by men like Phelps -- changed so much that in his January 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, he not only freed Southern slaves, but he also made known intentions to enlist those freedmen in the U.S. military. Two years later in the spring of 1865, 179,000 black men were serving in the U.S. military.

     

    Following his resignation, John Phelps retired to his Vermont home. In the 1880 presidential election, the American Party nominated the sixty-seven-year-old veteran, whose platform included justice for Indians.





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    September, 2011
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