Pay, Accouterments and Gear
After the Battalion was enlisted into the U.S. Army at Council Bluffs, Iowa, Lt. Col. James Allen led his new command about 8 miles south to Peter Sarpy’s trading post on the Missouri River in order to obtain some essential gear for the enlistees. The cost of the goods was deducted from their pay. Sarpy’s was an authorized government supply post consisting of 20 whitewashed log buildings. The men were able to obtain wool blankets and cooking utensils, such as a spoon, fork, plate and metal drinking cup, and unspecified personal items. The soldiers were also issued coffee and sugar. The main military gear (accouterments) were issued to the Battalion 200 miles further downstream at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Headquarters of the U.S. Army 1st Dragoons. Each soldier received a uniform allowance of $3.50/month x 12 months =$42. Instead of paying to have a uniform made, the Battalion members wore their own clothes. In addition to the uniform allowance, monthly army pay scale increased with rank:
Captain $50 + 20 cents/day rations
1st Lieutenant $30 + 20 cents/day rations
2nd Lieutenant $25 + 20 cents/day rations
1st Sergeant $16
2nd Sergeant $13
At Fort Leavenworth, the soldiers were issued the following military equipment for an infantry unit:
- Black leather cartridge box with an oval brass U.S. plate.
- White buff leather cartridge box shoulder belt.
- White leather shoulder belt with a black leather bayonet scabbard and circular brass Eagle plate (baldric).
- White leather waist belt with an oval brass U.S. buckle.
- 3-pint wood or metal canteen with linen shoulder strap.
- Canvas haversack.
Zadok Knapp Judd provided a very descriptive account of the accouterments received:
“In due time we arrived at Fort Leavenworth. Here we were armed with flint lock musket. It was said to carry an ounce ball one mile. Its weight was twelve or fifteen pounds. Its accouterments were a large cartridge box with heavy leather belt two and one fourth incles wide to carry over the left shoulder, a similar belt with bayonet and scabbard attached to carry over the right shoulder and then a waist belt correspondingly wide and heavy all white leather, and we were required to keep them clean. Our muskets had to be cleaned often. Also a knap-sack in which to carry our clothing and any other little necessities. It was so arranged that a strap came in front of each shoulder and under the arm with a long strap to reach around our bedding. With all these straps in front and the filled knap-sack behind, we were nearly covered from neck to waist. We were required to carry all these fixtures, our clothing and bedding and a few rounds of ammunition and then a canteen in which would hold three pints of water, and then a small cotton sack called a hover-sack, in which to carry our dinner and sometimes a day or two rations. These also were made to swing over our shoulders. But to ease up on us a little the officer allowed each company to club together and buy a four mule team and wagon, in which to haul our knapsacks and bedding, each man to bear an equal share of the expense. This was a great relief for a while, but when hard times came on, wagons broke down or teams gave out, we had to shoulder our knap-sacks and bedding. Here at Fort Leavenworth we were given cooking utensils, a camp kettle, frying-pan and coffee pot.”
Regarding the statement that the Battalion had to keep their white belts clean, a common material used on white buff leather was a form of chalk called Paris Whitening or pipe clay, which was basically diatomaceous earth with some sand to create a mild abrasive to aid in the cleansing process.
The cartridge box was probably the 1839 model. It had either a wood insert with holes for up to 36 paper cartridges or two tin containers that each held 10 loose cartridges in an upper compartment and an underneath compartment holding 10 additional cartridges in a paper bundle (total capacity 40 rounds). This difference might help explain the apparent discrepancy in journal entries that the soldiers were issued either 36 or 20 rounds of ammunition. There was also an auxiliary pouch for storing musket tools: vent pick, flash pan brush, flint knapper, screwdriver, wiper, spring vise, extra flints. The buff leather shoulder belt was a rough leather that was very durable and strong made from buffalo or deer rather than cow leather. The 2.25- inch wide belt went over the left shoulder so the box was available on the right side as most individuals were right-handed.
The 2.35- inch wide baldric went over the right shoulder so that the bayonet scabbard (probably 1839 model with brass tip) was positioned on the left side. The baldric and the cartridge box shoulder belt combined to form the characteristic white “X” across the soldier’s chest.
Both shoulder belts were secured by the 1.9- inch wide waist belt secured with the brass buckle. The purpose of the waist belt was to hold the cartridge box and baldric close to the body and prevent them from flopping outward during marching. They did not hold up the soldier’s trousers.
The knapsack issued during the Mexican War was most probably a soft knapsack type rather than the hard box knapsack or double bag (3 straps) of the Civil War. The soft knapsack was made out of tar-treated canvas and had a single inside cloth bag that was closed with 3 buttons. Two leather straps secured the large flap to the pack. The soft knapsack had a leather strap in front to connect the two shoulder straps across the chest. The wool blanket could be carried inside the flap instead of outside. However, two strap hardbox designs where the blanket was secured atop the knapsack were also available at this time and might have been issued as available. Uniformity of gear issued was not a priority. The knapsack allowed the soldier to carry extra personal items such as, toothbrush, extra socks, candles, soap, razor, comb, mirror, writing implements, books.
The haversack is a canvas or heavy twill bag used to carry food, either daily rations or foraged items. The Mexican War style haversack had a 3 scalloped flap that was closed by 3 pewter buttons. The haversack was slung over the shoulder.
The wood canteen was made of short slats and large side plates. The slats were secured by two copper straps. The cork stopper was secured to the canteen via a short lanyard. The inside was coated with melted bee’s wax. Wood canteens were painted blue and had a U.S. logo painted on the side panels. The canteen was usually the last item loaded because of the need for ready access to fill it at water holes without removing the knapsack. Tin canteens were also available at this time. Tin was more durable and reliable than the wood versions, but the water heated up when the metal was exposed to the sun. As the Battalion marched into New Mexico and Arizona, men acquired the native canteens made from dried gourds as being more practical. The canteen was usually the last item worn so that it was readily available for use and refilling without having to remove the knapsack.
Standard U.S. Army wool blankets were issued to each soldier, once at Sarpy’s Sutlery after the enlistment and secondly at Fort Leavenworth, thus some soldiers may have had two blankets. The specifications for Army wool blankets were free of shoddy, re-worked cotton or impure materials and were natural white with a 3 to 4-inch black stripe 6 inches from the ends, 64”wide x 80” length, weighing not less than 5 pounds.
Standard infantry issue was an off-white canvas A-frame or wedge tent, designed for six occupants. The tent was supported by a cross beam (ridge pole) and two main poles. The edges of the tent were staked down with metal pegs. The heavy tents and poles were transported in cargo wagons. At the time the 3rd Sick Detachment was sent back to Santa Fe, Col. Cooke assigned the tent poles and extra tents into a wagon to go back to Santa Fe in order to lighten the remaining wagons. The men were taught how to erect their tents using two muskets in place of the poles and insert a gore to increase the tent dimensions to accommodate 9 soldiers. The tents had no floor, so the men slept rolled up in their issued wool blankets. The value of wool is that it can keep a person warm even when wet. Individual tarred ground cloths may have been issued and carried in the knapsack.
At Fort Leavenworth, the men were organized into cooking and sleeping groups of six men (mess). Group cooking equipment included an iron kettle, skillet, a small oven, and coffee mill. The mill was used to grind coffee beans into grounds for brewing and dried grains, such as wheat, corn and mesquite seeds, into meal (course flour) for baking. Col. Cooke ordered the ovens and skillets left behind at Santa Fe because of their excessive weight, each mess taking a kettle for cooking.
Val John Halford estimated the average weight of the accouterments that the Mormon Battalion soldier might have had to carry on his person as being almost 47 lbs.
|M1816 Musket with Sling||9 lb.||11 oz.|
|Pattern 1839 Cartridge Box, Shoulder belt and 40 cartridges||6 lb.||1 oz.|
|Pattern 1939 Baldric|
|Pattern 1839 Waist Belt and Buckle|
|Haversack, canvas, 5 lbs. rations||5 lb.||14 oz.|
|Canteen with 3 pints of water||2 lb.||14 oz.|
|Knapsack and Blanket with 15 lbs. of personal gear||19 lb.||12 oz.|
|Total||46 lb.||10 oz.|
- Fleek, Sherman, History May Be Searched in Vain – A Military History of the Mormon Battalion, 2006.
- Ricketts, Norma, The Mormon Battalion – U.S. Army of the West 1846-1848, 1996.
- Halford, Val John, Mormon Battalion – Military Arms, Equipment and Training, 2004.