Donna Olsen, my cousin, discovered William Ashton's military record which indicated that he enlisted in the military in 1856 for five years at Fort Laramie, leaving the Martin Handcart Company, and his three daughters. He completed his military duty, and discharged from Benicia Barracks, California in 1861. Curtis R. Allen wrote a history of William Ashton's military career which is marked, "not final draft," but appears to not be copyrighted so I am going to include it in full:
Five Years a Foot Soldier-William Ashton's Military Life
by: Curtis R. Allen
William Ashton from Stockport, Cheshire, England, a member of the Martin handcart company of 1856, enlisted in the 6th infantry in 1856.
He had lost his wife, Sarah Ann Barlow, August 28, 1856 on the Nebraska prairie. A daughter, also named Sarah Ann, and another daughter, Betsey, died on the plains.
At Fort Laramie, Kansas Territory (now Wyoming), William enlisted in the 6th Infantry, U.S. Army on October 9, 1856 for a five year term of service. From incomplete records, we have surmised he received early pay and allowances for enlisting and used these to purchase food and clothing for his three children. He probably turned the children over to his wife's relatives in the handcart company. Betsey, the youngest,[oldest] died somewhere on the plains while the other daughters, Sarah Ellen (age 7) and Mary (age 6) survived the trip and lived to marry. Sarah married Thomas Wesley Beckstead of South Jordan, Utah, 30 Jan 1864. Mary married Isaac John Wardle in 1868 and died in childbirth in 1869. Thomas and Sarah moved to Whitney, Idaho after 1883, where she raised her six children (four had died in infancy at South Jordan).
Williams's regiment ramained at Fort Laramie through the winter, and then marched to Kansas to be part of the Cheyenne Expedition in that territory in June and July of 1857. During this expedition, the infantry not only great fatigue but deprivation of food and shelter, as the Expedition commander, Colonel Edwin V. Sumner followed the Indians with his cavalry, requiring forced marches by the foot soldiers to attempt to keep up. Many soldiers deserted, William stayed the course.
August and September, 1857, Company G was in the field in Nebraska and by September was in the Fort Leavenworth area where the winter was spent on garrison duty.
May, 1858, the 6th Infantry was ordered to Utah Territory to reinforce the army force sent the previous fall to put down the "Mormon Rebellion". The regiment was to become part of General Albert Sidney Johnston's Army of Utah.
July 31, 1858, the regiment, including William's Company G. arrived at Black's Fork, near Fort Bridger, Utah Territory. William was in the unique position of being the only Mormon to be a soldier in what is known as "Johnston's Army", which was to march into the Salt Lake Valley to ensure Brigham Young and the Mormons comply with federal law.
July, 1858, General Johnston is ordered by Headquarters, U.S. Army, to select one of the 1858 regiments to add to the force already at Camp Floyd (Utah County), the other to be sent to the Department of the West, headquartered at Benicia, California. Johnston selected the 7th Infantry, and ordered the 6th to California, instructing its commander, Lt Colonel George L. Andrews to travel by the northern route, via Fort Hall and to the headwaters of the Humbolt River and to report on the condition of the trail. Had Johnston chosen to keep the 6th and send the 7th Infantry to California, William would have been stationed at Camp Floyd in Cedar Valley, 40 miles south of Salt Lake City, and twenty miles from his two daughters, assuming they were at South Jordan at that time.
August 31, 1858, William's regiment left the Fort Bridger area. By October 1858 they were encamped in California, moving then to Benecia Barracks in the Oakland area. The regiment was then divided and sent to various posts in the Northern California area.
November 16, 1858, Company G was sent to New San Diego, California. Company G traveled to San Diego by steamboat, and arrived December 8.
February 1859, Company G embarked on steamer Uncle Sam to garrison Fort Gaston in the extreme northwest corner of Northern California.
April, 1859, Company G returned to San Diego by way of Fort Yuma, arriving May 23rd.
June 1859 to January, 1860 Company G was at San Diego.
June 1860, Company G was sent to Alcatraz Island from June 25th to August 7th, and then transferred to Benicia Barracks.
August 1860 to October, 1861, Company G was at Benicia Barracks.
October 9, 1861, Private William Ashton was honorable discharged, having served his five year term of enlistment.
We now lose track of William. His regiment had been called east to fight in the Civil War. But he was now a civilian and perhaps was able to pay to travel with them or he made his way to the east coast by other means. There is family tradition he worked in New York and earned passage to England, thinking all in the Martin Company had perished, including his three daughters. He shows up in the English census records in 1881. He apparently learned mor of the handcart company and wondered about his three daughters. He placed a notice in the Millennial Star, a newspaper of the English Mission, asking anyone knowing anything about them to contact him. The notice made its was to Whitney and SArah and her husband sent money to bring him to Whitney. He made the trip and lived with his daughter and her family until his death in 1891. He has a large posterity in Idaho and in many areas of the country.
The family has always wondered about William's motivations in leaving his three children. Some say he was "discouraged', as he certainly was after losing his wife and two children. But it is also quite possible he saved his two daughters' lives by enlisting in the army and providing them with the food and clothing that could e purchased form his enlistment as well as their having one less mouth to feed. His staying with the army the full five years while hundreds were deserting indicates he was a man of honor.
Several of the notes are also insightful, and then I want to clarify a couple of things. The enlistment record includes a description of William, he had grey eyes, fair hair and complexion and was five feet five and a half inches tall.
The regimental return for November 1858 reports the regiment marched 1017 miles from Fort Bridger to Benicia. The total march from Fort Leavenworth to Benicia was approximately 2,147 miles, covered between May and November. Adding William's trek from Iowa City to Fort Laramie and his experience chasing Cheyenne Indians with "Bull Sumter", he may have set a record for "footin' it."
(If you add the travel by ship from England to Boston 3000 miles and 5 weeks, and from Boston to Iowa City 8 days and 1700 miles William Ashton was a well traveled man.
The civil War had begun in the Eastern U.S. and orders were issued for the 6th Infantry to move to the scene of action. Company G. boarded the steamer Orizaba for the trip to Panama where they would travel by rail across the isthmus to board the steamer for Washington, D.C. William was no longer in the army and would not have been included in the transfer, unless some special provisions were made.