Utah and the American Civil War: The Written Record

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There are two schools of thought about Utah’s participation in the Civil War: it was de minimis, unworthy of comparison to the blood-soaked contributions of nearly all other American states and territories; or, it was larger than the size of its troop commitment to the Union Army and has a record more complex than is often understood. With this book, Utah and the American Civil War, Kenneth L. Alford is squarely in the latter camp, arguing that “the common belief that Utah Territory ‘sat out’ the Civil War is incorrect. Although the territory was removed from the war’s devastation and provided only one active-duty military unit . . . , the war deeply affected Utah and its inhabitants—from pioneers and Union soldiers stationed in Utah to the Native Americans they clashed with throughout the war” (15). What follows to support this assertion is a mammoth, 864-page collection of military documents, ancillary material, and analysis. Because of its clarity and orderliness, Alford’s study is unquestionably valuable to professional historians needing the details of what happened in Utah Territory during 1861–65, but the book also has merit for serious nonacademic readers. A wide range of students will find in these documents a useful, objective account of Utah’s role in the Civil War. Alford’s sense of balance is a good one to have alongside other recent narrative accounts by other historians who view Brigham Young’s leadership during both the Utah War and the national fratricide that soon followed in terms of conspiracy theories and unpatriotic motives.