A Civil War Biography
Benjamin L.E. Bonneville
Bonneville was born 14 April 1796 in Paris, France. He emigrated to
the United States in 1803. He graduated from West Point in 1815 and
was assigned, as an engineer, constructing military roads in the
Southwest. In 1821 he was assigned to Fort Smith in the Arkansas
Territory. In 1825 he became a captain in the 7th US Infantry.
In 1832 Bonneville took a leave of absence from the army and led a
110 man expedition, partially funded by John Jacob Aster supposedly
to trap and trade, into the Wyoming Territory. The expedition was a
failure as far as fur trapping was concerned but the knowledge
obtained of as yet unexplored territories proved valuable. The
expedition to the Rocky Mountains proceeded up the Platte River
through parts of what are now Colorado and Wyoming into the Great
Salt Lake basin and on to California. There were two trips to the
Columbia River in the Oregon Territory.
Although he had been stricken from the army's active rolls, when
Bonneville returned in 1836 he was returned to active duty. His
accounts of his explorations were edited and somewhat amplified by
Washington Irving. They were published under the title "The Rocky
Mountains: or Scenes, Incidents, and Adventures in the Far West;
from the Journal of Captain Benjamin L. E. Bonneville of the Army of
the United States (2 vols., 1837)". Subsequent editions would bear
the title "The Adventures of Captain Bonneville, U.S.A., in the
Rocky Mountains and the Far West". Bonneville became a major in
1845, and was brevetted lieutenant colonel for gallantry in the
battles of Contreras and Churubusco during the Mexican War. He was
promoted to colonel in 1855 and commanded the Gila river expedition
against the Apaches in 1857. He commanded the Department of New
Mexico from 1858 to 1861.
Although he retired in 1861, he served during the Civil War as
recruiting officer and commandant of the barracks at St Louis,
Missouri. Bonneville was brevetted brigadier general US Army on 13
March 1865. He died at Fort Smith, Arkansas on 12 June 1878.
Although his expeditions never took him there, the Bonneville Salt
Flats, the remnants of a glacial lake which once covered what is now
northwestern Utah, were named in his honor.
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