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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