The Mormon Battalion Memorial Visitors Center near Old Town San Diego is an historic site commemorating the long journey of the Mormon Battalion and their contribution to the growth of the west.
The Mormon Battalion was the only religious unit in American military history, serving from July 1846 to July 1847 during the Mexican-American War.
The battalion was suggested by Brigham Young and made up of a volunteer unit of about 500 Latter-day Saint men led by Mormon company officers. The battalion eventually made a grueling 2,000 mile trek from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego, California – one of the longest military marches in history.
The battalion of 543 men, approximately 33 women who primarily served as laundresses and 51 children set off from Iowa on July 20, 1846. The march was long and brutal, and the men suffered severe heat, lack of food, poor medical treatment and the exhaustion of a forced march.
The Mormon soldiers arrived in San Diego in January of 1847 and were met by Colonel Cook who issued a statement saying, “history may be searched in vain for an equal march of infinity. Half of it has been through a wilderness where nothing but savages and wild beasts are found, or deserts where, for lack of water, there is no creature living.” In San Diego, the battalion supported the American military garrison in the city of Pueblo during the Mexican War.
The battalion’s march and service was instrumental in helping secure new lands in several Western states, especially the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 of much of southern Arizona. The march also opened a southern wagon route to California. Veterans of the battalion played significant roles in America’s westward expansion in California, Utah, Arizona and other parts of the West.
After their enlistment was up, many members migrated to Utah, but others stayed in California and left a significant imprint on the state. Some where among the first to discover gold at Sutter’s Mill. Others were responsible for opening the first wagon road over the southern route from California to Utah.
The San Diego Mormon Battalion Memorial Visitor’s Center honor the memory of those soldiers and the sacrificed they endured to fight for the United States of America.