Did Joseph Smith Order the Nauvoo Legion to March on Carthage Jail?

Posted: June 9, 2019 in Fred Anson, Joseph Smith, Mormon Studies

Lt. General Joseph Smith, Command in Chief of the Nauvoo Legion

compiled by Fred W. Anson
Controversy still swirls around if Joseph Smith sent an order to Nauvoo Legion acting General Jonathan Dunham to march on Carthage Jail and free him from what would ultimately be his assassination by an Anti-Mormon mob. FAIRMormon weighs with a resounding negative in this rather lengthy article: “Question: Did Joseph order Jonathan Dunham, head of the Nauvoo Legion, to rescue him?” (please click on link to read and consider this article) 

However, that hardly settles the matter. Below is evidence that counters FAIRMormon’s claims. It’s mentioned in their article but they discount and attempt to explain it away. So I will leave it to you, dear reader, to consider both sides and make up your own mind.

Allen J. Stout 
(December 5, 1815, December 18, 1889. A former Danite and member of the Nauvoo Legion, Joseph Smith’s private militia)
Now, there began to be excitement in the regions round about, so that the [Nauvoo] Legion was called out, which occupied my time as I had command of one company of footmen. The mob was determined to have the Prophet and we were determined they should not, so we kept under arms day and night for many weeks, but finally Joseph and Hyrum gave themselves up to be tried by the persuasion of false brethren and were taken out to Carthage.

And while they were in jail, Brother Joseph wrote an official order to Jonathan Dunham to bring the Legion and reserve him from being killed, but Dunham did not let a single man or mortal know that he had received such orders, and we were kept in the city under arms, not knowing but all was well, until the mob came and forced the prison and slew Joseph and Hyrum Smith and wounded John Taylor severely.
(Allen J. Stout, “Manuscript Journal, 1815-89”, p. 13)

T.B.H. Stenhouse
(21 February 1825 – 7 March 1882. Early Mormon convert, pioneer, and Missionary)
As the shadows on the prison walls, announced the receding day, the approach of death was sensibly felt by the Prophet and his friends. Dr. Richards, one of the apostles, proposed to Joseph that if his life might be accepted in the Prophet’s stead, he would freely give it. The apostle Taylor asked only permission, and “in five hours he would take him from his prison.” These were no idle offers. Life and deliverance were his for half a word; but at this critical moment Joseph seemed to forget all thoughts of life and of the world. It is claimed by the believing Saints that he had premonitions of his approaching end, and that on some occasions previous to the Expositor difficulty, he had spoken of the termination of his mission. So long had his bow been strung to its utmost tension, that this feeling of indifference can readily be appreciated without either miracle or divine manifestation; but to him and his, impressions had special interpretations. Add to this the galling humiliation of being chided by some brethren as a “coward” when he attempted to escape on the presentation of the sheriff’s writ, and then the weariness of earthly things is easy to comprehend. Life at last had lost its charm; the charge of cowardice had stung him, and he was ready to die. It was neither want of friends nor want of ability to secure his escape. He was weary, and with his fertile faith it was easy to listen to the suggestion of those ever-ready words – “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Besides, a “prophet” never dies. The portals of another world hail him as the advancing conqueror, and the field of his labours becomes more extended. Joseph was ready for the change.* It is stated that on leaving Nauvoo for Carthage he said: “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am calm as a summer morning. I have a conscience void of offence towards God and towards all men. I shall die innocent, and it shall yet be said of me He was murdered in cold blood.”’**

*Notwithstanding this apparent readiness to meet death, and the deep and clear divine impressions claimed to have been imparted to the Prophet of his forthcoming end, it is understood that he managed to send from prison a communication to the Mormon officer in military command at Nauvoo, to bring with all possible dispatch a portion of the Legion to protect him from treachery, and from that assassination which he had then so much cause to apprehend. This military commander put the Prophet’s communication into his pocket and gave no heed to the call for help. No one was acquainted with the contents of the paper, and the officer was, therefore, he presumed, safe in disregarding it.

After the Prophet’s death, by some accident or other, this communication was lost and was picked up on the street and read. The intelligence that Joseph had called for aid and none had been rendered him was soon bruited among the Saints, and excited their deepest indignation, as they were not only ready to march at a moment’s notice, but were eager for the opportunity.

Some time afterwards, when all was quiet, this coward and traitor as some of the Mormons called him, or “fool and idiot” as others said, was sent on a mission to the Western frontiers, accompanied by a faithful elder. While travelling alone with his companion, he fell ill and died, it is said of dysentery. His companion buried him.

**“Doctrine and Covenants,” p. 335.
(Thoma B.H. Stenhouse, “The Rocky Mountain Saints [1887]: A Full & Complete History of the Mormons from First Vision of Joseph Smith to the Last Courtship of Brigham Young & Development of the Great Mineral Wealth of Utah”, Kindle Locations 2698-2725. D. Appleton and Company. Kindle Edition)

Fawn Brodie
(September 15, 1915-January 10, 1981. Mormon Historian, infamous Biographer of Joseph Smith, and niece of 9th LdS President, David O. McKay)
Dull and heavy-spirited, the prisoners finally sent for some wine, and all except Hyrum sipped a little.* When Richards handed the bottle to the guard, he started down the stairs. At that moment there was a noise at the outer door, followed by shouts to surrender and the sound of shots.

It was not the Nauvoo Legion galloping up for a dramatic rescue. For some reason never divulged, Jonathan Dunham had pocketed the order and neglected to act upon it**, and no other man in Nauvoo knew of his prophet’s peril. It was the men of the Warsaw militia, who had marched out of the town as a token to the Governor, waited until he was well on his way to Nauvoo, and then come roaring back to join the Carthage Greys.

* According to John Taylor’s account. History of the Church, Vol. VII, p.101.

** This story is told by Allen J. Stout in his manuscript journal, 1815-89, a transcript of which may be seen in the Utah State Historical Society Library. See p. 13. It is confirmed by T. B. H. Stenhouse in his Rocky Mountain Saints (New York, 1873), p. 164.
(Fawn M. Brodie, “No Man Knows My History (Illustrated): The Life of Joseph Smith”, Kindle Locations 8842-8854. Barvas Books. Kindle Edition)

General Joseph Smith reviewing the Nauvoo Legion – which at the time was larger than the Illinois State Militia.

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