Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Killed, none; wounded, none; fooled, everybody"

A New York Herald reporter issued the above summary shortly after peace was made in the Mormon War.  The "war," known as the Utah War, Mormon War, Utah Expedition, or Mormon Rebellion, lasted from May 1857 to April 1858.  The campaign reestablished Federal control over the Utah Territory and had an impact on the Civil War.

John B. Floyd
There were many causes of the conflict with blame falling equally on the Church of Latter Day Saints theocracy and the incompetence of the Federal government.  An intriguing explanation of the Mormon War  centered upon John B. Floyd and concerned the growing rift between the North and the South.

According to this interpretation, Floyd and his Southern sympathizers in Washington, traitors first and last, saw in an involvement of the United States with the Mormons an opportunity to advance their treasonable purposes. Fearing a Republican victory in the 1860 election, they were determined, it is postulated, to bankrupt the treasury by a costly expedition to Utah. This expenditure would leave the North financially incapable of opposing secession. Other investigators accused Secretary Floyd of scattering the nation's military forces, with the objective of leaving the North powerless to preserve the Union if pro-Union forces gained control of the Government.  A Mormon publication accused Floyd of using the expedition to distract attention from his various nefarious schemes.


Winfield Scott
Instead of disappearing after 1858, the charges of fraud continued to be advanced as the basic cause of the Mormon War.  This belief was advocated by historians of the Latter-day Saints. They were encouraged in this explanation by Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott, the commander in chief, who later wrote: "The expedition set on foot by Mr. Secretary Floyd, in 1857, against the Mormons and the Indians about Salt Lake was, beyond a doubt, to give occasion for large contracts and expenditures, that is, to open a wide field for fraud and peculation." Further evidence of the goals of government contractors comes from noting that "army contracts, made during recent Indian difficulties in Florida, were running out and the contractors wanted to switch their profits to Utah."

The reluctance to put down the rebellion with force and the peaceful settlement of the war might have energized the secessionist forces and encouraged them to pursue their initiative.  At the least, the response of the Buchanan Administration to the Mormon Rebellion provided a preview of how the government would respond to the events in 1860 and 1861 including the seizure of Fort Sumter.


In March 1857, Floyd became Secretary of War in the cabinet of President James Buchanan, where his lack of administrative ability was soon apparent, including the poor execution of the Utah Expedition. In December 1860, on ascertaining that Floyd had honored heavy drafts made by government contractors in anticipation of their earnings, the president requested his resignation. Several days later Floyd was indicted for malversation (corruption) in office, although the indictment was overruled in 1861 on technical grounds. There is no proof that he profited by these irregular transactions; in fact, he went out of the office financially embarrassed.


Although he had openly opposed secession before the election of Abraham Lincoln, his conduct after the election, especially after his breach with Buchanan, fell under suspicion, and he was accused in the press of having sent large stores of government arms to Federal arsenals in the South in the anticipation of the Civil War.


After his resignation, a congressional commission in the summer and fall of 1861 investigated Floyd's actions as Secretary of War. All of his records of orders and shipments of arms from 1859 to 1860 were examined. It is recorded that in response to John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry he bolstered the Federal arsenals in some Southern states by over 115,000 muskets and rifles in late 1859. He also ordered heavy ordnance to be shipped to the Federal forts in Galveston Harbor, Texas, and the new fort on Ship Island off the coast of Mississippi.

In the last days of his term, he apparently had an intention to send these heavy guns, but his orders were revoked by the president. During the year 1860, the Southern states actually received less than their full quota of arms and the heavy guns were a normal shipment required to complete the construction of Federal forts.

James Buchanan
His resignation as Secretary of War, on December 29, 1860, was precipitated by the refusal of Buchanan to order Major Robert Anderson to abandon Fort Sumter, which eventually led to the start of the war. On January 27, 1861, he was indicted by the District of Columbia grand jury for conspiracy and fraud. Floyd appeared in criminal court in Washington, D.C., on March 7, 1861, to answer the charges against him. According to Harper's Weekly, the indictments were thrown out.


[Sources: Norman F. Furnis, The Mormon Conflict 1850-1859 and John B. Floyd, Wikipedia]

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