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This Week in Illinois History provides a 90-second snapshot of an event significant to Illinois history. Join Host Clint Cargile as he covers big events while also exposing little-known pieces of Illinois history.

This Week In Illinois History: The Battle Of Nauvoo (September 10, 1846)

Battle of Nauvoo
“The Battle of Nauvoo” by C.C.A. Christensen (1831-1912), c.1878, Brigham Young University Museum of Art

On September 10, 1846, a militia of 1,000 men attacked Nauvoo, Illinois. They had guns, cannons, and a singular purpose: drive the Mormons from the state.

Tensions between Mormons and western Illinois’s white settlers had risen since Mormons founded Nauvoo along the Mississippi River in 1838. The Mormons had fled Missouri after years of conflict, culminating with the Missouri governor’s Executive Order 44, also known as the Mormon Extermination Order, which stated: “the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace...”

Now in Illinois, the Mormons faced more opposition. Their new city grew to nearly 12,000 people, making it one of the largest in the state and rivaling Chicago. Mormons remained fiercely loyal to one another and often united against outside authority.

Area residents feared and distrusted the members of this new religion, so they banded together to harass and attack them. The Mormons, no strangers to such treatment, fought back. Violence escalated during the early 1840s, and in 1844, the church’s founder, Joseph R. Smith, and his brother were assassinated by an anti-Mormon mob in Carthage.

Soon after, Illinois repealed Nauvoo’s charter. In early 1846, the new Mormon leader, Brigham Young, moved thousands of followers out of Illinois and headed west. The path they followed is now known as the Mormon Trail. They eventually settled Salt Lake City in Utah.

A few hundred Mormons remained in Nauvoo. On September 10, 1846, an anti-Mormon militia made one last push to drive them out. Fearing such an attack, the Mormons had fortified the city and built breastworks along major roads. They armed 150 men to fight a mob of 1,000. As the militia approached the city, both sides exchanged artillery fire before battling with small arms. Inside the besieged city, a lookout watched from the Mormon Temple belltower and reported on the battle to the women and children huddled below.

At least three Mormons were killed and several were injured. Casualties on the anti-Mormon side are unclear, but several were injured. The Mormons eventually beat back the militia. Each day, the militia regrouped and returned, each time being repelled. The Mormon’s also resorted to guerilla tactics, ambushing militia members from the surrounding woods.

But the Mormons knew they could not withstand the siege for long. On September 16, they surrendered. They were given five days to pack their belongings and head west.

On April 1, 2004, the Illinois House of Representatives passed House Resolution 793, which expressed regret for the state-sanctioned condemnation that caused the Mormons to be expelled from Illinois in 1846.

Today, Nauvoo is a religiously significant site to the Mormon Church and thousands of members visit each year. A Mormon Temple modeled after the original (burned in 1848) sits on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.

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