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Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher and is the first in a series featuring real life Monuments Men.
The forthcoming movie, The Monuments Men, has focused great attention on the Monuments Men (and women) and their work during and after World War II. Of course the movie cannot tell the story of the over 300 individuals involved in Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFA&A) work, so it focuses on three: George Stout, James Rorimer, and Rose Valland, played by George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Cate Blanchett, respectively. Over the course of the next two months, I thought it would be illustrative to discuss some of the lesser known individuals. I thought I would start with British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley, in part, because on my bookshelf is a book by Woolley that I often referenced when pursuing my interest in clay tablet archives. I was aware of Woolley long before I was aware of the Monuments Men, and was quite surprised when I learned the role he had played during World War II in preserving cultural property with the Monuments Men.
Charles Leonard Woolley, born April 17, 1880, graduated from Oxford, and then traveled to the Continent, where he improved his knowledge of French and German. He started archaeological work in Great Britain in 1907. Before World War I he spent three years with T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) doing archaeological work in the Middle East. The two entered military service in the fall of 1914, and Woolley was commissioned and placed in the Intelligence Service in Egypt, where the French awarded him the Croix de Guerre for his work. A ship on which he was sailing in the summer of 1916 hit a mine and Woolley was rescued by a Turkish vessel, at which time he became a prisoner of war. In the autumn of 1918 he was released from captivity. Captain Woolley in 1919 was ordered back to Syria as a Political Officer with the temporary rank of Major with the joint Anglo-French occupation. Once there he started his archaeological work, time permitting from his military duties. By the end of 1919 he was released from military duty and began his full-time archaeological work. In 1929 he published a preliminary version of what was to become the most widely read book ever on an archaeological subject: Ur of the Chaeldees. Agatha Christie, famous for her detective novels and mystery writings, arrived in Mesopotamia in the late autumn of 1928, where she met Woolley. She would marry his assistant in 1930 and in 1936 she published one of her “Poirot” stories, Murder in Mesopotamia, based on her impressions of Mesopotamia and her first experience of an archaeological dig. The conclusion of the Ur excavations in 1934 resulted in Woolley publishing Volume II of Ur Excavations which brought forth more public excitement and knighthood for him in 1935. He then returned to the Middle East for three years before going to India in the fall of 1938, and then back to the Middle East in February 1939.
On September 4, 1939, under emergency regulations, Woolley was re-commissioned with the acting rank of captain and posted to the Intelligence Division at the War Office. There he handled intelligence regarding the Middle East. Woolley was pleased in 1940 when his friend Anthony Blunt (who had published a book on Poussin’s drawings just before the war), returned from France where he had served with British counterintelligence and settled in at The Security Service (MI5). They had frequent discussions regarding art and the danger of artistic treasures falling into the hands of Nazi leaders or being destroyed by bombing. Blunt’s contact in the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Kim Philby, was also known to Woolley, who knew his famous father, Harry St. John Philby, who had served in Mesopotamia before going off to Transjordan and Saudi Arabia between the wars. In 1942 Woolley befriended film producer Roy Boulting who sought him out for information about the Middle East as he suspected that an important battle might be about to start. Out of his assistance and guidance came Desert Victory, winner of a 1943 special Academy Award.
Soon after his encounter with Boulting, Woolley was transferred to a new directorate, Public Relations, and was again given the temporary rank of Major. The work was not demanding, and Woolley used his free time to work on a project he had begun in 1941, organizing a card-index of British monuments and fine arts, so that in the event of loss or war damage, the records could be easily traced for restoration purposes. Prime Minister Winston Churchill began to take a personal interest in Woolley’s work. A year later he was transferred to the Civil Affairs Directorate, where he provided liaison with the Military Intelligence Directorate regarding keeping watch on Nazi looting of cultural treasures. Three times during 1943 Churchill called Woolley to Downing Street and Chequers to hear about his work.
In 1943, with the help of the intelligence agencies, and various individuals, Woolley built up a record of the world’s most important treasures, together with files on those paintings and sculptures known to have been concealed by friendly governments and agents, or stolen or damaged by occupying forces.
In June 1943, a group of museum directors in Britain was so concerned about cultural treasures in Italy that it put out an urgent call for the protection of monuments there. The War Ministry responded by setting up an Archaeological Advisory Branch of the Army Staff within Civil Affairs, with “minimum strength.” It consisted of Woolley, his secretary Lady Woolley, and a clerk. During the summer and fall Woolley was at first informally and later more officially asked to give advice as questions arose, but the entire responsibility for action rested with the Civil Affairs Officers who, he would later write, had plenty of other things to occupy their minds and possessed no technical knowledge. Thus, he was pleased when his appointment was officially published in October, at which time he was named Archaeological Adviser to the Directorate of Civil Affairs and given the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. This meant, he wrote in March 1944, that “Monuments and Fine Arts” was directly represented on the Staff.
Woolley visited Algiers, Sicily, and Italy during November and December to observe first hand Monuments, Fine Archives, and Archives (MFA&A) operations. While on this visit he advised certain modifications to the program, which, he later wrote, were on the whole, had been approved and put into force. As a result of his report following his visit to Italy, and for other reasons, on December 29, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his capacity as Commander in Chief, issued AFHQ [Allied Forces Headquarters] General Order No. 68, regarding measures to be taken to preserve historical and cultural treasures. It noted that “The prevention of looting, wanton damage and sacrilege of buildings is a command responsibility. The seriousness of such an offense will be explained to all Allied personnel.” On that same day he also addressed a letter to his army commanders instructing them regarding cultural property:
Today we are fighting in a country which has contributed a great deal to our cultural inheritance, a country rich in monuments which by their creation helped and now in their old age illustrate the growth of the civilization which is ours. We are bound to respect those monuments so far as war allows. If we have to choose between destroying a famous building and sacrificing our own men, then our men’s lives count infinitely more and the buildings must go. But the choice is not always so clear cut as that. In many cases the monuments can be spared without any detriment to operational needs. Nothing can stand against the argument of military necessity. That is an accepted principle. But the phrase “military necessity” is sometimes used where it would be more truthful to speak of military convenience or even of personal convenience. I do not want it to cloak slackness or indifference. It is a responsibility of higher commander to determine through AMG [Allied Military Government] Officers the locations of historical monuments whether they be immediately ahead of our front lines or in areas occupied by us. This information passed to lower echelons through normal channels places the responsibility on all Commanders of complying with the spirit of this letter.
These two documents would serve as the basis for the statement of further policies of MFA&A operations.
In January 1944, Woolley successfully recommended the appointment of Geoffrey Webb, Slade Professor of Fine Arts at Cambridge, as adviser to Chief of Staff to Supreme Allied Commander (COSSAC) on all matters relative to Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives. Webb built up the Monuments Men organization increasingly during the spring of 1944 in preparation for the cross-channel invasion of the continent. Woolley, meanwhile, would continue his work at the War Office, providing advice and helping establish policies and procedures that would guide the Monuments Men in their work on the continent in 1944 and 1945.
For more information on Woolley’s MFA&A activities see the Security Classified General Correspondence, 1943-July 1949, General Records, Civil Affairs Division, Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, RG 165 and the Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives Section, Operations Branch, G-5 Division, General Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331. Also useful, particularly regarding his work in Italy, see his Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Branch of Civil Affairs, War Office: A record of the work done by the military authorities for the protection of the treasures of art & history in war areas (His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1947).
TAGS Allied Forces
, Allied Military Government
, Anthony Blunt
, Cate Blanchett
, Dwight D. Eisenhower
, Geoffrey Webb
, George Clooney
, George Stout
, Greg Bradsher
, James Rorimer
, looted art
, Matt Damon
, Monuments Men
, RG 165
, RG 331
, Rose Valland
, Sir Charles Leonard Woolley
, T. E. Lawrence
, Winston Churchill
, World War II
Recently, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), a federal agency charged with planning for the Washington, DC area, released a draft study regarding the height of buildings inside the District of Columbia. The city of Washington, DC does not have skyscrapers like New York or Chicago, because of a law limiting tall buildings. This height limitation seemingly once was extended to Arlington, Virginia, a city-county which prior to the Civil War, was part of the District of Columbia.
Roughly thirty years ago the NCPC, with the National Park Service (NPS) and the Commission of Fine Arts, represented the government in Civil Case No. 78-872-A, United States of America v The Board of Supervisors of Arlington County, et al. In the series Rosslyn Skyline Files, 1952-2001 (Record Group 66 Records of the Commission of Fine Arts, entry P9, National Archives Identifier 7479878), are legal papers regarding this court case about then proposed changes to the northern Arlington skyline. Within the depositions, transcripts, exhibits and copies of court filed papers, the Commissions provided arguments for maintaining a height limit, and expressed concerns about what would be lost. Several of the exhibits are images of old Rosslyn with square boxes, representing the proposed buildings, superimposed upon them.
The relationship the District of Columbia has with the United States government is very different from other municipalities. Because of the District’s unique situation, the ability for various agencies to limit the city’s building height is more obvious than its ability to influence neighboring jurisdictions in Virginia. The defendants, the Board of Supervisors of Arlington County, in the series’ court documents, challenged the notion of the NCPC, the NPS, and the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) having any jurisdiction in the area of Virginia development. The CFA presented evidence of how changes to the skyline would impact the visuals regarding the Iwo Jima monument which fell under their jurisdiction.
This series may be of interest to local historians, urban planners, and academics interested in changing city landscapes. The United States government was unsuccessful in the court case and developers did go on to build at least two distinctive towers in the 1980s. Researchers who investigate this series may determine if the federal government’s concerns were valid and apply this knowledge to the proposed changes to height limit within the District of Columbia.
Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher.
During the past several weeks there has been international interest in the revelations about some 1,400 works of art, some allegedly acquired from looted Jewish collections, found in a Munich, Germany apartment. Most, if not all, of the works found in Cornelius Gurlitt’s apartment had previously been in the possession of his father, Hildebrand, and some of them had been in possession of the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point before being returned to Hildebrand Gurllit.
Many of the relevant records held by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) relating to Holocaust-Era Assets, including those relating to Hildebrand Gurlitt and to relevant art works in the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, are accessible at www.fold3.com.
As time permitted during the past several weeks I have searched in various series that had not been digitized looking for additional records relating to Gurlitt. I was unsuccessful. However, on Friday, November 22, after talking to a reporter and then going back and looking at the Restitution Research Records of the Munich Central Collecting Point on www.fold3.com, I realized that a file had been created by the War Crimes Office of the Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Third Army, with the designation 3JA187, that might contain relevant records. My colleague, Sylvia Naylor, was eager to go on one of my Friday afternoon adventures looking for something new. We could not find the file. Later in the afternoon, however, I found in the SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces, Record Group 331) Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives records in file AMG 295, a semi-monthly report on MFA&A activities of the U.S. Third Army for the period ending April 30, 1945, in which Captain Robert K. Posey reported that Karl Haberstock and Hildebrand Gurlitt had been located and would be questioned.
On Monday morning, November 25, I thought we should take a look at two boxes of the staff of the Chief of Counsel for the Prosecution of Axis Criminality (within the National Archives Collection of World War II War Crimes Records, Record Group 238) that might contain information on Gurlitt and/or file 3JA187.
I had walked by these two boxes, then simply labeled “Art Treasures,” for years and would periodically take a look in them and would always come away with the opinion that there were unique documents, including photographs, relating to World War II-era art looting, of whose existence researchers were generally unaware. So this past summer, after Dr. Naylor had described the record series from which the two boxes came, we thought about digitizing the records, with the intention of getting the scanned documents linked to “Reference Documents Received from American and Foreign Sources, 1945 – 1947” (National Archives Identifier 6106845) and to the International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property that is hosted by NARA. But we never seemed to find the time to start that digitizing project.
As I opened one folder, labeled 3JA187, simultaneously Sylvia saw in another folder an index to a report that indicated information about Gurlitt was contained in Exhibit No. 17 to the report. We pulled the appropriate box and began the scanning process.
The report, captioned “Report of Information of Alleged War Crimes,” was prepared by the Office of the Commanding General of the U.S. Third Army and sent to the Deputy Theater Judge Advocate, War Crimes Branch, on September 4, 1945. The report begins:
The location of various art depots of the Germans in the Third Army territory prompted the investigation by this headquarters of the seizure of art treasures by the Germans during their occupation of France, Poland, Belgium and Holland, as a war crime in violation of Articles 46 and 56, Annex to Hague Convention No. IV of 18 October 1907.
The report includes sworn statements by Robert Scholz; Bruno Lohse; Gisela Limberger; Gusta Rochlitz; Karl Kress; Guenther Schiedlausky; Karl Haberstock; Ernst Buchner; Walter Fleischer; Adolf Weinmuller, Hermann Voss; and Hildebrand Gurlitt. Appendices to the report contain a collection of documents; summary of facts of evidence in the report; an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) report on the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) and five OSS interrogation reports; an ERR roster; an alphabetical list of names of persons in the ERR with summary of acts as to each; a list of agencies investigating art looting; a listing of art dealers and others involved in confiscated art; and other similar documentation. Appendix XIV to the report provides a listing of witnesses interrogated and their present locations and a list of reports on wanted individuals.
Sylvia and I did a page-by-page comparison of the report on Gurlitt that is available in the Restitution Research Records of the Munich Central Collecting Point. What we found was an English language version that matched up with what is online, with the minor exceptions of dates and locations next to signatures. There was also the original German language version, signed in ink by Gurlitt at the bottom of the pages. We were surprised to see in the original German language version of the section listing Gurlitt’s acquisitions some handwritten additions made by Gurlitt that were apparently not included in either of the English language versions of the report (that in the file and that online). There was no reason given for the omission. When we finished I reminded Sylvia that once again it always pays to look at an original version of a document, because one might be surprised by what is found. In this instance, what we found was new, and it will be up to researchers to determine the importance.
Below are the two pages from the report: Report of Information of Alleged War Crimes,” prepared by the Office of the Commanding General of the U.S. Third Army and sent to the Deputy Theater Judge Advocate, War Crimes Branch, on September 4, 1945, Reference Documents Received from American and Foreign Sources, 1945 – 1947, National Archives Collection of World War II War Crimes Records, Record Group 238. [Double-click on either image to enlarge.]
TAGS Adolf Weinmuller
, Bruno Lohse
, Captain Robert K. Posey
, Cornelius Gurlitt
, Einsatzstab Reich
, Ernst Buchner
, Gisela Limberger
, Guenther Schiedlausky
, Gusta Rochlitz
, Hermann Voss
, Hildebrand Gurlitt
, International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property
, Judge Advocate General
, Karl Haberstock
, Karl Kress
, looted art
, Munich Central Collecting Point
, Office of Strategic Services
, Office of the Chief of Counsel for the Prosecution of Axis Criminality
, Reference Documents Received from American and Foreign Sources
, Restitution Research Records
, RG 238
, RG 331
, Robert Scholz
, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces
, U.S. Third Army
, Walter Fleischer
, War Crimes Branch
, War Crimes Office
, Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point
, World War II War Crimes Records
The Know Your Records series aims to inform our readers of the types of records in our holdings, the information found in those record types, and the process by which researchers can request/get access to these records.
Know Your Records: U.S. Navy Muster Rolls/Personnel Diaries
U.S. Navy muster rolls and personnel diaries are among the most popular U.S. Navy records in our holdings, along with U.S. Navy deck logs. Archivists here at Archives II frequently consult these records to answer researcher requests. We discussed deck logs in a previous post. Today let’s take a look at U.S. Navy Muster Rolls and Personnel Diaries!
U.S. Navy Muster Rolls/Personnel Diaries – What they are:
Information found on muster rolls and in the personnel diaries may be helpful in identifying the ship, station or activity to which an officer or enlisted man was attached, as well as significant status changes that may have occurred during their service.
Muster Rolls are lists of naval personnel formerly attached to a ship, station or other activity. These reports are generated quarterly. Information usually available on muster rolls includes:
- Name of enlistee
- Rating (occupation/specialty)
- Service number
- Date reported for particular duty or on board
- Date of enlistment
- Name of ship, station, or activity
- Ship number or other numeric designation
- Date of muster roll
Personnel diaries are the U.S. Navy equivalent of the morning rosters found in U.S. Army records. These personnel diaries were compiled monthly. They record significant status changes, including reporting to or transferring from the activity; being promoted or demoted; departing for or returning from periods of leave, and temporary attached duty. Information usually available on personnel diaries includes:
- Name of enlistee
- Date of the change
- Explanation of the change
Nuances of Muster Rolls
- For the period of 1939-1956, muster rolls list the names of enlisted personnel only. Some of the rolls do include the original place of enlistment.
- For rosters of officers serving aboard commissioned U.S. Navy ships during the period 1939-1956, researchers must consult the deck logs of the ship; however, the National Archives does not have custody of officer rosters of Navy units and shore establishments.
- From March 1957 onwards, the muster rolls include lists of officers AND lists of enlisted personnel.
Muster rolls/Personnel Diaries from 1971 onward utilize social security numbers as service numbers and therefore are subject to privacy restrictions (see below).
What they are not:
Muster rolls do not provide daily lists of naval personnel formerly attached to a ship, station, or other activity. They will not tell you the daily whereabouts of a sailor during their service.
Muster rolls/personnel diaries do not contain current addresses of former naval personnel or their survivors.
Requesting Muster Rolls/Personnel Diaries from 1939-1970:
If you are interested in requesting information from or copies of U.S. Navy Muster Rolls/personnel diaries for the period 1939-1970, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reproductions of muster rolls/personnel diaries from 1939 through 1970 can be reproduced only on DVD. Paper copies are not available. A number of images may be illegible due to the poor quality of the original which was transferred to us by the Department of the Navy. The original paper records were destroyed by the Navy after filming.
Requesting pre-1939 Muster Rolls/Personnel Diaries:
Muster rolls/Personnel diaries prior to 1939 are maintained by NARA’s Archives I Reference Section (RDTR1), National Archives Main Building, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20408-0001. To request muster rolls/personnel diaries prior to 1939, please contact email@example.com.
Requesting Muster Rolls/Personnel Diaries from 1971-1982:
As mentioned above, muster rolls/personnel diaries from 1971-1982 use Social Security numbers as service numbers, and are therefore subject to privacy restrictions. This means that requests for these records must be submitted under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Submitting a FOIA request for Muster Rolls/Personnel Diaries
- Begin your request with the following: “Under the Freedom of Information Act (5 USC 552) I hereby request access to U.S. Navy Muster Rolls.” Failure to do so will delay the processing of your request.
- Provide the following information:
- Activity code (if known)
- Ship/Base or Unit designation(s)
- Beginning and End date of interest
- Type of information sought (more than one may be indicated)
- Both Officer and Enlisted
- Quarterly Roster entries
- Personnel Diary entries
- Both Quarterly Rosters and Quarterly Diaries
- The name(s) of specific person(s) (if applicable)
- Your contact information
- Be as specific as possible. A narrow timeframe/specific information will expedite the processing of your request.
If you are requesting muster rolls/personnel diaries for a claim, it is also beneficial to fill out and submit a Certification of Identity form with your request. Doing so will allow the release of private information to you that would otherwise be withheld if requested by a third party.
Please send your request to Martha Wagner Murphy, Chief, Special Access/FOIA Staff, National Archives at College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road, Room 5500, College Park, MD 20740-6001. You may also submit your request via email to specialaccess_FOIA@nara.gov.
Requesting Muster Rolls/Personnel Diaries Post-1982
Post-1982 muster rolls and personnel diaries are still in the custody of the U.S. Navy. To request access to this material, please contact the Navy Personnel Command (PERS-00J6), 5720 Integrity Drive, Millington, TN 38055.
Muster Rolls/Personnel Diaries online
Muster rolls for the World War II era are available online via www.ancestry.com. Search their catalog for the collection “U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949.” There is a fee for this service. An institution in your area may provide free access to ancestry.com. Or you may view these records online at one NARA’s facilities for free. For the nearest NARA location, please consult our web page at http://www.archives.gov/locations/
, enlisted men rosters
, Freedom of Information Act
, Know Your Records
, Muster Rolls
, naval personnel
, officer roster
, online access
, Personnel Diaries
, privacy restrictions
, record types
, records online
, Report of Changes
, U.S. Navy
, United States Navy
, World War II Navy Muster Rolls
Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher.
In 1935 the State Department asked the United States Embassy in Moscow for copies of documents from the Russian archives relating to the American purchase of Alaska in 1867. The Embassy responded in 1936 by sending along copies, and in some cases translations, of 45 documents which were examined in the archives. One of the documents, interestingly enough, relates to the possibility of the Mormons, in the midst of the Utah War of 1857-1858 (also called the Mormon War, the Contractor’s War, and Buchanan’s Blunder), emigrating en masse to Russian-owned Alaska. This document was a November 1857 memo from the Russian minister to the United States to the Russian foreign minister, discussing a possible Mormon incursion into Alaska and what that meant to Russia.
The story begins during the summer of 1857. President James Buchanan, believing the Mormons in Utah were in rebellion against the United States Government, and without investigating the matter, sent two regiments of infantry, two batteries of artillery, and six companies of dragoons, under Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston, from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Territory to Utah Territory with a three-fold mission. First was to escort and protect the newly appointed territorial governor and other federal officials. Second was to assist the civilian officials in ensuring the laws of the United States were obeyed. And third, to protect the emigration routes that passed through Utah to California and Oregon.
In mid-September the former governor and head of the Mormon Church, Brigham Young, issued a proclamation barring the army from entering Utah and declared martial law. Later that month the territorial militia (the Nauvoo Legion) began limited military actions against the army, stampeding their animals and burning the grass upon which the animals grazed. On September 29, Young addressed at letter “To the Officer Commanding the Forces now Invading Utah Territory,” in which he stated:
I am still the Governor and Superintendent of Indian Affairs for this Territory, no successor having been appointed and qualified, as provided by law, nor have I been removed by the President of the United States. By virtue of the authority thus vested in me, I have issued, and forwarded you a copy of my proclamation forbidding the entrance of armed forces into this Territory. This you have disregarded. I now further direct that you retire forthwith from the Territory, by the same route you entered. Should you deem this impracticable, and prefer to remain until spring in the vicinity of your present encampment — Black’s Fork on Green River — you can do so in peace and unmolested, on condition that you deposit your arms and ammunition with Lewis Robinson, Quartermaster General of the Territory, and leave in the spring, as soon as the condition of the roads will permit you to march; and, should you fall short of provisions, they can be furnished you, upon making the proper applications therefor.
The Army did not turn back and during the first week of October the Nauvoo Legion near Green River struck three unescorted wagons trains, burning over 70 wagons containing government provisions for the winter.
News of the later action did not reach the eastern press until November. The New York Times reported on November 3 that if the latest news from Utah, including the burning of the wagon trains, were true it proved that the anticipations of those who expected the worst from “the folly and fury of Brigham Young and his people are likely to be more than realized.” It also opined that “the possibility of a war between Utah and the union is rapidly ripening into a probability.”
On November 16 the New York Times carried a piece from the St. Louis Democrat which stated that an express from the Army on Ham’s Fork of the Green River had reached Fort Laramie, indicating that the Mormons had destroyed three Government wagon trains and that Brigham Young had informed Colonel Alexander (the ranking officer until Colonel Johnston arrived) that he must not advance further into the Territory. With all the Utah news, Buchanan’s Cabinet met on November 17 to consider Mormon affairs and a reporter opined in the New York Times on November 18, 1857, that the President would suggest to Congress extraordinary measures to suppress the Mormon rebellion.
A reporter for Associated Press wrote from Washington that the War Department that day had received some highly interesting official dispatches, including a proclamation of Brigham Young declaring martial law in Utah, and that he had expressly forbidden the United States troops entering the Territory without his authority. “The language of the proclamation is emphatically in hostility to the authority of the United States, and is regarded here as a declaration of war” (New York Times, November 18, 1857). Another New York Times reporter on November 18 observed that based on recent dispatches which had been received by the War Department, “Brigham Young has assumed the powers of an independent sovereign, and formally declared war against the United States.” He added “This outrageous conduct on the part of the Mormon leader puts him in the position of a rebel to the Government, and must bring his career to a speedy termination.”
The New York Times noted on November 20 that it could not be doubted that vigorous measures to crush out the “theocratic rebellion” would be taken that winter. Brigham Young’s Proclamation advising Mormon resistance to the United States forces and his demand that the latter should withdraw from the Territory, the newspaper believed “are so clearly treasonable, that Congress will not hesitate to place at the command of the Executive the extraordinary means which he asks to enable him to maintain the Federal supremacy.” Also on November 20 the Daily National Intelligencer in Washington, D. C., under the headline “Mormon Treason” reprinted Brigham Young’s September 29, 1857 addressed “To the Officer Commanding the Forces now Invading Utah Territory.” On November 20 Buchanan and his cabinet met to discuss the Utah issue.
The public and the Buchanan Administration generally believed that Brigham Young planned to stall through the winter, keeping the snow-bound Army blocked at Fort Bridger, and then depart for a new land, probably the British and Russian possessions in the Northwest, in the spring before the Army was reinforced. A New York Times correspondent in Washington, on November 19 reported that there was reason to believe that Brigham Young had fully made up his mind that he must leave Utah in the Spring, “which will account for the suicidal policy he is now pursuing.” It seemed, he reported, that part of the Mormon mission to England by Elders Orson Pratt and Ezra T. Benson was to seek from the British Government permission to settle in the British possessions. The application, he wrote, was refused. The reporter noted that it had been suggested that the Mormons, upon abandoning Salt Lake, would go to the Russian possessions [i.e., Alaska], where they would be very likely to starve to death. He observed they had no idea, however, of doing anything of the sort. On the contrary, the reporter believed, the Mormons intended to pass to the southward into the Mexican Province of Sonora (New York Times, November 20, 1857).
Earlier that fall there were other stories about the Mormons going to Alaska. On September 26, 1857, the Sacramento Daily Union reported that the Mormons were preparing to leave Utah for the Russian possessions (Alaska), where they had “already driven stakes for a new Zion.” In early November the New York Times, reporting on news from California, stated it was “the intention of the Mormons, if matters get too serious, to seek a refugee in the Russian Possessions, where they have already gone”(New York Times, November 3, 1857).
The stories of the possibility of the Mormons going to Alaska was of some concern to Edward A. de Stoeckel, Russian minister to Washington. On November 20, or sometime during the few days before, he went to see President Buchanan about the matter. On November 20 he wrote Prince Alexsandr M. Gorchakov, Russian foreign minister, about his recent conservation with President Buchanan:
Meanwhile, Brigham Young, by a seditious proclamation and by the destruction of a Federal wagon train, has defied the Government. It is claimed, however that the Mormons, although animated with the most warlike resolution, foresee the eventuality of a new emigration and are resigned thereto in advance. It is added that in this case they will turn to the north to establish themselves on the territory of Hudson’s Bay [Company, i.e., now British Columbia] or in our American possessions [i.e., Alaska].
Recently the President in conversation with me smilingly alluded to that eventuality. I asked him whether the Mormons would resort to us as conquerors or as peaceful colonists. ‘It is for you,’ he said to me, ‘to settle that question; as for us, we shall be very happy to be rid of them.’ This rumor circulated at San Francisco and our Vice Consul who is also agent of the Russian American Company, asked me what there was to it.
I do need to add that this is a rumor which at present seems still premature, but which, if it should be realized, would place before us the alternative of providing an armed resistance or of giving up part of our territory.
De Stoeckl’s letter made quite an impression on Tsar Alexander II and on the margin of it the Tsar wrote “This comes in support of the idea of resolving the question now [of] our American possessions.” Already, in December before the receipt of de Stoeckl’s letter, Grand Duke Constantine, the Tsar’s brother, wrote Gorchakov impressing upon him more strongly than he had before the necessity of getting rid of Alaska. By the end of December, Gorchakov instructed de Stoeckl to signal to the United States Government that Russia was amendable to opening discussions about sale of Alaska. Of course a possible Mormon incursion into Alaska was not the reason for the eventual sale in 1867, but one could consider it one of many factors that prompted the Russians to consider selling Alaska.
Embassy of the United States of America, Moscow to Department of State, December 2, 1936, Despatch No. 2115, Enclosure No. 2, Annex 5, File Number 861.412/25, Central Decimal File 1930-1939, General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59, National Archives. Available on roll 29 of Microfilm Publication T-1249, Records of the Department of State Relating to Internal Affairs of the Soviet Union, 1930-1939).
, Albert Sidney Johnston
, Black's Fork on Green River
, Brigham Young
, Buchanan's Blunder
, Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston
, Daily National Intelligencer
, Edward A. de Stoeckel
, Fort Laramie
, Fort Leavenworth
, Grand Duke Constantine
, James Buchanan
, Kansas Territory
, Lewis Robinson
, martial law
, Mormon Church
, Mormon Rebellion
, Mormon Treason
, Nauvoo Legion
, New York Times
, President Buchanan
, President James Buchanan
, Prince Alexsandr M. Gorchakov
, Russian Foreign Minister
, Russian Minister
, State Department
, the Contractor's War
, the Mormon War
, Tsar Alexander II
, U.S. Embassy in Moscow
, U.S. State Department
, Utah Territory
, War Department