The Evacuation Of Nauvoo - The Last Mormon War

The winter of 1845-1846 in Hancock County passed without any

renewed outbreak, but the credit for this seems to have been due

to the firmness and good judgment of Major W. B. Warren, whom

General Hardin placed in command of the force which he left in

that county to preserve order, rather than to any improvement in

the relations between the two parties, even after the Mormons had

agreed to depart.

Major Warren's command, which at first consisted of one hundred

men, and was reduced during the winter to fifty and later to ten,

came from Quincy, and had as subordinate officers James D. Morgan

and B. M. Prentiss, whose names became famous as Union generals

in the war of the rebellion. Warren showed no favoritism in

enforcing his authority, and he was called on to exercise it

against both sides. The local newspapers of the day contain

accounts of occasional burnings during the winter, and of murders

committed here and there. On November 17, a meeting of citizens

of Warsaw, who styled. themselves "a portion of the anti-Mormon

party," was held to protest against such acts as burnings and the

murder of a Mormon, ten miles south of Warsaw, and to demand

adherence to the agreement entered into. On February 5, Major

Warren had to issue a warning to an organization of anti-Mormons

who had ordered a number of Mormon families to leave the county

by May 1, if they did not want to be burned out.

Governor Ford sent Mr. Brayman to Hancock County as legal counsel

for the military commander. In a report dated December 14, 1845,

Mr. Brayman said of the condition of affairs as he found them:--

"Judicial proceedings are but mockeries of the forms of law;

juries, magistrates and officers of every grade concerned in the

civil affairs of the county partake so deeply of the prevailing

excitement that no reliance, as a general thing, can be placed on

their action. Crime enjoys a disgraceful impunity, and each one

feels at liberty to commit any aggression, or to avenge his own

wrongs to any extent, without legal accountability . . . .

Whether the parties will become reconciled or quieted, so as to

live together in peace, is doubted . . . . Such a series of

outrages and bold violations of law as have marked the history of

Hancock County for several years past is a blot upon our

institutions; ought not to be endured by a civilized people." *

* Warsaw Signal, December 24, 1845.

Meanwhile, the Mormons went on with their preparations for their

westward march, selling their property as best they could, and

making every effort to trade real estate in and out of the city,

and such personal property as they could not take with them, for

cattle, oxen, mules, horses, sheep, and wagons. Early in February

the non-Mormons were surprised to learn that the Mormons at

Nauvoo had begun crossing the river as a beginning of their

departure for the far West. "We scarcely know what to make of

this movement," said the Warsaw Signal, the general belief being

that the Mormons would be slow in carrying out their agreement to

leave "so soon as grass would grow and water run." The date of

the first departure, it has since been learned, was hastened by

the fact that the grand jury in Springfield, Illinois, in

December, 1845, had found certain indictments for counterfeiting,

in regard to which the journal of that city, on December 25, gave

the following particulars:--

"During the last week twelve bills of indictment for

counterfeiting Mexican dollars and our half dollars and dimes

were found by the Grand Jury, and presented to the United States

Circuit Court in this city against different persons in and about

Nauvoo, embracing some of the 'Holy Twelve' and other prominent

Mormons, and persons in league with them. The manner in which the

money was put into circulation was stated. At one mill $1500 was

paid out for wheat in one week. Whenever a land sale was about to

take place, wagons were sent off with the coin into the land

district where such sale was to take place, and no difficulty

occurred in exchanging off the counterfeit coin for paper . . . .

So soon as the indictments were found, a request was made by the

marshal of the Governor of this state for a posse, or the

assistance of the military force stationed in Hancock County, to

enable him to arrest the alleged counterfeiters. Gov. Ford

refused to grant the request. An officer has since been sent to

Nauvoo to make the arrests, but we apprehend. there is no

probability of his success"

The report that a whole city was practically for sale had been

widely spread, and many persons--some from the Eastern

states--began visiting it to see what inducements were offered to

new settlers, and what bargains were to be had. Among these was

W. E. Matlack, who on April 10 issued, in Nauvoo, the first

number of a weekly newspaper called the Hancock Eagle. Matlack

seems to have been a fair-minded man, possessed of the courage of

his convictions, and his paper was a better one in, a literary

sense than the average weekly of the day. In his inaugural

editorial he said that he favored the removal of the Mormons as a

peace measure, but denounced mob rule and threats against the

Mormons who had not departed. The ultra-Antis took offence at

this at once, and, so far as the Eagle was supposed to represent

the views of the new-comers,--who were henceforth called New

Citizens,--counted them little better than the Mormons

themselves. Among these, however, was a class whom the county

should have welcomed, the boats, in one week in May, landing four

or five merchants, six physicians, three or four lawyers, two

dentists, and two or three hundred others, including laborers.

The people of Hancock and the surrounding counties still refused

to believe that the Mormons were sincere in their intention to

depart, and the county meetings of the year before were

reassembled to warn the Mormons that the citizens stood ready to

enforce their order. The vacillating course of Governor Ford did

not help the situation. He issued an order disbanding Major

Warren's force on May 1, and on the following day instructed him

to muster it into service again. Warren was very outspoken in his

determination to protect the departing Mormons, and in a

proclamation which he issued he told them to "leave the fighting

to be done by my detachment. If we are overpowered, then recross

the river and defend yourselves and your property."

The peace was preserved during May, and the Mormon exodus

continued, Young with the first company being already well

advanced in his march across Iowa. Major Warren sent a weekly

report on the movement to the Warsaw Signal. That dated May 14

said that the ferries at Nauvoo and at Fort Madison were each

taking across an average of 35 teams in twenty-four hours. For

the week ending May 22 he reported the departure of 539 teams and

1617 persons; and for the week ending May 29, the departure of

269 teams and 800 persons, and he said he had counted the day

before 617 wagons in Nauvoo ready to start.

But even this activity did not satisfy the ultra element among

the anti-Mormons, and at a meeting in Carthage, on Saturday, June

6, resolutions drawn by Editor Sharp of the Signal expressed the

belief that many of the Mormons intended to remain in the state,

charged that they continued to commit depredations, and declared

that the time had come for the citizens of the counties affected

to arm and equip themselves for action. The Signal headed its

editorial remarks on this meeting, "War declared in Hancock."

When the news of the gathering at Carthage reached Nauvoo it

created a panic. The Mormons, lessened in number by the many

departures, and with their goods mostly packed for moving, were

in no situation to repel an attack; and they began hurrying to

the ferry until the streets were blocked with teams. The New

Citizens, although the Carthage meeting had appointed a committee

to confer with them, were almost as much alarmed, and those who

could do so sent away their families, while several merchants

packed up their goods for safety. On Friday, June 12, the

committee of New Citizens met some 600 anti-Mormons who had

assembled near Carthage, and strenuously objected to their

marching into Nauvoo. As a sort of compromise, the force

consented to rendezvous at Golden Point, five miles south of

Nauvoo, and there they arrived the next day. This force,

according to the Signal's own account, was a mere mob,

three-fourths of whom went there against their own judgment, and

only to try to prevent extreme measures. A committee was at once

sent to Nauvoo to confer with the New Citizens, but it met with a

decided snubbing. The Nauvoo people then sent a committee to the

camp, with a proposition that thirty men of the Antis march into

the city, and leave three of their number there to report on the

progress of the Mormon exodus.

On Sunday morning, before any such agreement was reached, word

came from Nauvoo that Sheriff Backenstos had arrived there and

enrolled a posse of some 500 men, the New Citizens uniting with

the Mormons for the protection of the place. This led to an

examination of the war supplies of the Antis, and the discovery

that they had only five rounds of ammunition to a man, and one

day's provision. Thereupon they ingloriously broke camp and made

off to Carthage.

After this nothing more serious than a war of words occurred

until July 11, when an event happened which aroused the feeling

of both parties to the fighting pitch. Three Mormons from Nauvoo

had been harvesting a field of grain about eight miles from the

city.* In some way they angered a man living near by (according

to his wife's affidavit, by shooting around his fields, using his

stable for their horses, and feeding his oats), and he collected

some neighbors, who gave the offenders a whipping, more or less

severe, according to the account accepted. The men went at once

to Nauvoo, and exhibited their backs, and that night a Mormon

posse arrested seventeen Antis and conveyed them to Nauvoo. The

Antis in turn seized five Mormons whom they held as "hostages,"

and the northern part of Hancock County and a part of McDonough

were in a state of alarm.

* The Eagle stated that the farm where the Mormons were at work

had been bought by a New Citizen, who had sent out both Mormons

and New Citizens to cut the grain.

Civil chaos ensued. General Hardin and Major Warren had joined

the federal army that was to march against Mexico, and their cool

judgment was greatly missed. One Carlin, appointed as a special

constable, called on the citizens of Hancock County to assemble

as his posse to assist in executing warrants in Nauvoo, and the

Mormons of that city at once took steps to resist arrests by him.

Governor Ford sent Major Parker of Fulton County, who was a Whig,

to make an inquiry at Nauvoo and defend that city against

rioting, and Mr. Brayman remained there to report to him on the

course of affairs.

What was called at that time, in Illinois, "the last Mormon war"

opened with a fusillade of correspondence between Carlin and

Major Parker. Parker issued a proclamation, calling on all good

citizens to return to their homes, and Carlin declared that he

would obey no authority which tried to prevent him from doing his

duty, telling the major that it would "take something more than

words" to disperse his posse. While Parker was issuing a series

of proclamations, the so-called posse was, on August 25, placed

under the command of Colonel J. B. Chittenden of Adams County,

who was superseded three days later by Colonel Singleton. Colonel

Singleton was successful in arranging with Major Parker terms of

peace, which provided among other things that all the Mormons

should be out of the state in sixty days, except heads of

families who remained to close their business; but the colonel's

officers rejected this agreement, and the colonel thereupon left

the camp. Carlin at once appointed Colonel Brockman to the chief

command. He was a Campbellite preacher who, according to Ford,

had been a public defaulter and had been "silenced" by his

church. After rejecting another offer of compromise made by the

Mormons, Brockman, on September 11, with about seven hundred men

who called themselves a posse, advanced against Nauvoo, with some

small field pieces. Governor Ford had authorized Major Flood,

commanding the militia of Adams County, to raise a force to

preserve order in Hancock; but the major, knowing that such

action would only incense the force of the Antis, disregarded the

governor's request. At this juncture Major Parker was relieved of

the command at Nauvoo and succeeded by Major B. Clifford, Jr., of

the 33rd regiment of Illinois Volunteers.

On the morning of September 12, Brockman sent into Nauvoo a

demand for its surrender, with the pledge that there would be no

destruction of property or life "unless absolutely necessary in

self-defence." Major Clifford rejected this proposition, advised

Brockman to disperse his force, and named Mayor Wood of Quincy

and J. P. Eddy, a St. Louis merchant then in Nauvoo, as

recipients of any further propositions from the Antis.

The forces at this time were drawn up against one another, the

Mormons behind a breastwork which they had erected during the

night, and the Antis on a piece of high ground nearer the city

than their camp. Brayman says that an estimate which placed the

Mormon force at five hundred or six hundred was a great

exaggeration, and that the only artillery they had was six pieces

which they fashioned for themselves, by breaking some steamboat

shafts to the proper length and boring them out so that they

would receive a six-pound shot.

When Clifford's reply was received, the commander of the Antis

sent out the Warsaw riflemen as flankers on the right and left;

directed the Lima Guards, with one cannon, to take a position a

mile to the front of the camp and occupy the attention of the men

behind the Mormon breastwork, who had opened fire; and then

marched the main body through a cornfield and orchard to the city

itself. Both sides kept up an artillery fire while the advance

was taking place.

When the Antis reached the settled part of the city, the firing

became general, but was of an independent character. The Mormons

in most cases fired from their houses, while the Antis found such

shelter as they could in a cornfield and along a worm fence.

After about an hour of such fighting, Brockman, discovering that

all of the sixty-one cannon balls with which he had provided

himself had been shot away, decided that it was perilous "to risk

a further advance without these necessary instruments."

Accordingly, he ordered a retreat and his whole force returned to

its camp. In this engagement no Antis were killed, and the

surgeon's list named only eight wounded, one of whom died. Three

citizens of Nauvoo were killed. The Mormons had the better

protection in their houses, but the other side made rather

effective use of their artillery.

The Antis began at once intrenching their camp, and sent to

Quincy for ammunition. There were some exchanges of shots on

Sunday and Monday, and three Antis were wounded on the latter


Quincy responded promptly to the request for ammunition, but the

people of that town were by no means unanimously in favor of the

"war." On Sunday evening a meeting of the peaceably inclined

appointed a committee of one hundred to visit the scene of

hostilities and secure peace "on the basis of a removal of the

Mormons." The negotiations of this committee began on the

following Tuesday, and were continued, at times with apparent

hopelessness of success, until Wednesday evening, when terms of

peace were finally signed. It required the utmost effort of the

Quincy committee to induce the anti-Mormon force to delay an

assault on the city, which would have meant conflagration and

massacre. The terms of peace were as follows:

"1. The city of Nauvoo will surrender. The force of Col. Brockman

to enter and take possession of the city tomorrow, the 17th of

September, at 3 o'clock P.m.

"2. The arms to be delivered to the Quincy Committee, to be

returned on the crossing of the river.

"3. The Quincy Committee pledge themselves to use their influence

for the protection of persons and property from all violence; and

the officers of the camp and the men pledge themselves to protect

all persons and property from violence.

"4. The sick and helpless to be protected and treated with


"5. The Mormon population of the city to leave the State, or

disperse, as soon as they can cross the river.

"6. Five men, including the trustees of the church, and five

clerks, with their families (William Pickett not one of the

number), to be permitted to remain in the city for the

disposition of property, free from all molestation and personal


"7. Hostilities to cease immediately, and ten men of the Quincy

Committee to enter the city in the execution of their duty as

soon as they think proper."

The noticeable features of these terms are the omission of any

reference to the execution of Carlin's writs, and the engagement

that the Mormons should depart immediately. The latter was the

real object of the "posse's" campaign.

The Mormons had realized that they could not continue their

defence, as no reenforcements could reach them, while any

temporary check to their adversaries would only increase the

animosity of the latter. They acted, therefore, in good faith as

regards their agreement to depart. How they went is thus

described in Brayman's second report to Governor Ford: *

* For Brayman's reports, see Warsaw Signal, October 20, 1846.

"These terms were not definitely signed until the morning of

Thursday, the 17th, but, confident of their ratification, the

Mormon population had been busy through the night in removing. So

firmly had they been taught to believe that their lives, their

city, and Temple, would fall a sacrifice to the vengeance of

their enemies, if surrendered to them, that they fled in

consternation, determined to be beyond their reach at all

hazards. This scene of confusion, fright and distress was

continued throughout the forenoon. In every part of the city

scenes of destitution, misery and woe met the eye. Families were

hurrying away from their homes, without a shelter,--without means

of conveyance,--without tents, money, or a day's provision, with

as much of their household stuff as they could carry in their

hands. Sick men and women were carried upon their beds--weary

mothers, with helpless babes dying in the arms, hurried away--all

fleeing, they scarcely knew or cared whither, so it was from

their enemies, whom they feared more than the waves of the

Mississippi, or the heat, and hunger and lingering life and

dreaded death of the prairies on which they were about to be

cast. The ferry boats were crowded, and the river bank was lined

with anxious fugitives, sadly awaiting their turn to pass over

and take up their solitary march to the wilderness."

On the afternoon of the 17th, Brockman's force, with which the

members of the Quincy committee had been assigned a place,

marched into Nauvoo and through it, encamping near the river on

the southern boundary. Curiosity to see the Mormon city had

swelled the number who entered at the same time with the posse to

nearly two thousand men, but there was no disorder. The streets

were practically deserted, and the few Mormons who remained were

busy with their preparations to cross the river. Brockman, to

make his victory certain, ordered that all citizens of Nauvoo who

had sided with the Mormons should leave the state, thus including

many of the New Citizens. The order was enforced on September 18,

"with many circumstances of the utmost cruelty and injustice,"

according to Brayman's report. "Bands of armed men," he said,

"traversed the city, entering the houses of citizens, robbing

them of arms, throwing their household goods out of doors,

insulting them, and threatening their lives."

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