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Nauvoo Legion on Parade

April 6, [Tuesday] 1841 – At an early hour the several companies comprising the “Nauvoo Legion,” with two volunteer companies for Iowa Territory, making sixteen companies in all, assembled at their several places of rendezvous, and were conducted in due order to the ground assigned for general review.1

Joseph Smith Nauvoo Legion
Joseph Smith addressing the Nauvoo Legion

This was the first Nauvoo Legion review and parade.  It was held in conjunction with the 11th anniversary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It began at precisely 7:30am when artillery fire announced the arrival at the parade grounds of Brigadier Generals Wilson Law and Don Carlos Smith and their respective cohorts. At 8:00am cannon fire announced that Major General John C. Bennett and his staff were being escorted to their posts and taking command of the 650 assembled Legionnaires.  At 9:30am cannon blasts signaled the arrival of, or as the Times and Seasons reported “gave an appropriate salute” to, Lieutenant General Joseph Smith, commander-in-chief.2  A silk flag – “The 26-Star Flag”3 was presented to General Smith by a delegation of ladies.  The flag was respectfully received and the occasion hailed by more cannon fire.  After General Smith inspected the military formation, nodding his approval, he ordered the Legionnaires to advance to the temple grounds.

General Smith led the military procession.  Major General Bennett, Brigadiers Law and Smith, the aides-de-camp, and invited guests followed close behind.  Then came the 2nd cohort (foot troops).  In their wake marched military musicians under the apt baton of Captain Edward P. Duzette.  As the band played, flags topped with brass-colored eagles were held aloft.  The waving Legion flags,4 the state flag of Illinois, and the famed red, white, and blue of the United States produced the desired effect – patriotic pride.  None of the colorful banners garnered the surprise element as did the flag carried by the Legion Band.  Although its size, 5’x4′ was pretentious if not ostentatious, it was not size that caused the applauding crowd of eight thousand to pause.  It was the signal eye, symbolic of the all-seeing eye of God that led onlookers to wonder aloud about the direction and purpose of the militia on parade.  Only the entrance of the 1st cohort (horse troops) turned their gaze.

 By noon, the military entourage had reached the temple grounds in Nauvoo.  There Legion officers with their staffs formed an inner square while the infantry and cavalry formed an outer square.  Distinguished guests stood between the soldiers.  At this point, events of the day turned from military to religious.  General Smith announced that Sidney Rigdon, a member of the First Presidency of the Church, would speak to the assembled audience.  Rigdon spoke of the significance of laying cornerstones for a House of the Lord.  He recalled crimes perpetrated against Latter-day Saints in Missouri and assured all present that in enduring “those scenes of tribulation, his confidence, his courage and his joy had been increasing instead of diminishing.”  He cautioned exuberant Legionnaires “not to usurp authority, but to obey as they are commanded and directed; to honor, not the world, but Him that is alive and regins.”5

Then, on cue, architects laid a cornerstone of the temple in its proper place.  General Smith pronounced a benediction on the stone:  “This principal corner stone in representation of the First Presidency, is now duly laid in honor of the Great God.”  Rigdon added, “May the persons employed in the erection of this house be preserved from all harm while engaged in its construction.”6  The assembled were then invited to adjourn for an hour as Legion officers scurried to make ready the afternoon events.  Curious guests lingered near the temple grounds hoping that artillery fire, sword exercises, and a sham battle would follow.  To their surprise, the afternoon house were filled with the dedication of three more temple cornerstones.  The final amen marked the close of the day’s events.  Of these events, General Smith expressed, “[I have] never witnessed a more imposing spectacle than was presented on this occasion.”7

 Pleased with the outcome of the first parade, Legion officers planned another for July 3, 1841.  On that date, soldiers again gathered at an early hour at the parade grounds.  The difference in the gathering was the “spit and polished” look of the armaments they carried.  General Smith took special notice of the imposing display of spears, lances, and bayonets.  At this Independence Day celebration, Joseph Smith spoke of patriotism and revealed, “I would ask no greater boon, than to lay down my life for my country.”  After his speech, ranking officers adjourned to the temple site, where a sumptuous feast was served for their enjoyment.  Of that occasion, General Smith penned, “An elaborated dinner was got up in the grove, of which I partook, in company with the officers of the Legion.”8

Military Proficiency

Feeling confident in his military prowess and that of the legionnaires, General Smith invited state and local leaders to attend the May 7, 1842, parade.  Responses to his invitation were encouraging.  Among those who accepted was Judge Stephen A. Douglas and thousands of other visitors streamed in Nauvoo before sunup on May 7, in wagons, carriages, skiffs, riverboats, and steamers.  Upwards of eleven thousand visitors stood near the parade grounds waiting for the military events to begin.  They were not disappointed.

John C. Bennett
John C. Bennett

 At 10:00am Major General Bennett made a grand entrance to his brightly colored uniform with plumb atop a chapeau.  He took command of the soldiers and ordered them into formation.  It was not until 1:00pm that he dismissed the soldiers, advising them to make ready for a sham battle.  At 3:00pm Legionnaires took their positions on the battlefield.  The 1st cohort was under the command of General Wilson Law and the 2nd under the direction of General Charles C. Rich.  The sham battle that followed had the trappings of a great contest.  The one exception was Lieutenant General Smith, who declined to be an active participant in the battle. “General Bennett next requested me to take my station in the rear of the cavalry, without my staff, during the engagement; but this was counteracted by Captain A. P. Rockwood, commander of my life guards, who kept close to my side,” wrote Smith.  “And if General Bennett’s true feelings toward me are not made manifest to the world in a very short time, then it may be possible that … a short time will determine that point.”11  Believing that Bennett had tried to murder him, General Smith said, “Let John C Bennett answer at the day of judgment, ‘Why did you request me to command one of the cohorts, and also to take my position without my staff, during the sham battle, in the 7th day of May, 1842, where my life might have been the forfeit, and no man have known who did the deed?”’12

Whether Smith’s dark premonitions were correct is debatable.  But none question that the Nauvoo Legion had shown its applauding visitors that May day in Nauvoo that it had grown into a veritable army, ten times the size of the 9th Regiment of Hancock County. “We doubt whether the like was presented in any other city in the western country,” remarked General Smith.13

Other parades in 1842-1843 echoed the confidence of the May parade.  Whether on parade or the battlefield, soldiers of Nauvoo gave new meaning to a well-equipped and capable fighting militia.  Unfortunately, such meaning did not sit well with onlookers who wanted just pomp and ceremony, not military prowess.  To them, the Legion of Nauvoo had become a militia force to be feared.  Hoping to keep their fears at bay, General Smith ordered all pomp, ceremony, and sham battles replaced with small company drills, company inspections, and company parades.  As Legionnaires obeyed, conspicuously missing at their minor events was the commander-in-chief and his military staff.  Of a company parade held on September 10, 1842, General Smith wrote, “this was the day for the training of the companies of the Nauvoo Legion; and lest I should be observed … I kept very still.”14 Without Joseph Smith reviewing the troops in his splendid military regalia, small parades attracted little attention.  But of the, Smith penned, “Highly delighted.”15

The Final Parades

It was not until June 18, 1844, that General Smith moved from the sidelines to once again take command of a large parade and “with my staff rode in front of the Legion, marched up Main Street, and returned to our former parade ground.”  This was the last parade Joseph Smith would lead.  Nine days later, on June 27, he was murdered in Carthage, Illinois.  Although Legionnaires sorely grieved his death, they did not end their parading.  History records more parades, drills, and mustering’s held in the weeks following Smith’s death than in the preceding two years.  From June 27 to July 7, 1844, Legionnaires daily drilled, exercised, and paraded as if their very lives and that of their loved ones depended upon their military skills.  The History of the Church records, “The Legion paraded at the Masonic Hall field one day … then moved for drillings to ‘the ground near Spencer’s northeast of the Temple”‘ the next.16

When July mustering ended, many assumed that parading was over, but not so.  On September 27, 1844, a visitor to Nauvoo, Thomas Ford, governor of Illinois, was handed the following invitation: “Sir:  The review of the Nauvoo Legion will take place this day (September 28) at twelve p.m., at which time the commander-in-chief, with his staff, is respectfully solicited to accept an escort from the Legion and be present at the review.”17  The surprised governor accepted.

At the Legion parade, Brigham Young wore the uniform of the late Lieutenant General Joseph Smith.  From Smith’s ornate sword to his favorite horse, “Jo Duncan,”   Young mirrored his slain predecessor.  As he reviewed the soldiers, “the governor, General J. J. Hardin and staff” looked on.  Legionnaires made a credible and soldier-like appearance with but on notable flaw.  The soldiers did not carry weapons.18  Parading without arms was a deliberate attempt to put the governor on notice that his order to surrender three cannons and 220 small arms on June 24, 1844, had crippled them in fulfilling their role as a state-sanctioned militia.  Few Legionnaires at this, their last parade, walked with heads held high and even fewer recalled the boastful days when Hosea Stout’s poem of greatness applied:

They’ll find that Illinois firm in her place will stand,

And, faithfully, sustain us, in peace upon her land.

They’ll find that she doth sanction, all that we

want to do

And, especially she’ll strengthen the “Legion of




  1. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1980), 4:326-27.

  2. Times and Seasons, 1839-1846 [Nauvoo, Illinois] 2, no. 12, April 15, 1841.

  3. On July 4, 1837, "The 26-Star Flag" became the official flag of the United States. Four Presidents served under its banner - Martin Van Buren (1837-1841), William Henry Harrison (1841), John Tyler (1841-1845), and James Polk (1845-1849).

  4. An exact description of the Nauvoo Legion flag (1841-1845) is not available. The Legion flag of the 1850s had thirteen stars and stripes, symbolic of the United States flag.

  5. Smith, History of the Church, 4:328.

  6. Ibid., 4:329

  7. Ibid., 4:331

  8. Ibid., 4:382.

  9. Ibid, 4:502; Times and Seasons, February 15, 1842.

  10. Smith, History of the Church, 5:3.

  11. Ibid., 5:4

  12. Ibid.

  13. Ibid., 4:382.

  14. Ibid., 5:161

  15. Ibid., 6:34

  16. Bishop J. H. Hale, 88-91, as cited in Glen M. Leonard, Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, a People of Promise (Salt Lake City; Deseret Book Company, 2002), 118.

  17. Smith, History of the Church, 7:277.

  18. See Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 50, no. 4 (Winter 11957): 398.

  19. "Legion of Nauvoo, " Journal History of the Church