150 Years Ago This Week: The battle of Bear River, Utah

January/February 1863

As January closed, raids on settlers by the Shoshone Indians led by Chief Bear Hunter in the Utah Territory provoked retaliation by Federal troops. Col. Patrick Connor led his troops out in the deep snow from Fort Douglas and marched 120 miles to Bear Hunter’s camp near present-day Preston, Utah.

After an initial frontal attack at dawn across the Bear River that was easily repulsed by some 300 Shoshone warriors, Col. Connor Preston sent most of his remaining troops downstream to block the mouth of the ravine and prevent any escape, while the rest of his force attacked the Indian camp from high above both sides of the river. The battle ended by mid-morning, with almost all of the warriors and a considerable number of women, children and old men killed.

In Charleston Harbor, S.C., Confederate gunboats Chicora and Palmetto State moved out in morning haze and attacked the Union naval blockaders off the coast. USS Mercidita was so badly damaged by shelling and being rammed that her crew surrendered. Scalding steam from damaged boilers killed four sailors and wounded three others on Mercidita; 20 sailors were killed and 20 wounded on the Keystone State. The Confederate gunboats then withdrew to Charleston, claiming that the blockade had been broken and lifted. In reality, the blockade had suffered a temporary interruption.

February 1863 opened and throughout the Confederacy, wartime inflation had devalued the Confederate dollar to the point that its value was only 20 cents. Union naval forces made a second attack against Fort McAllister near Savannah and were again repulsed (the first attack occurred on Jan. 27). In the Vicksburg, Miss., area, the Union river ram Queen of the West ran the Confederate artillery batteries overlooking the Mississippi River in broad daylight.

The ram was struck by shells twelve times but did not sustain serious damage. Col. Charles Ellet, commander of the ram, had been ordered to pass the city on the Mississippi and attempt to destroy the Confederate vessel City of Vicksburg and disrupt Confederate shipping on the river as far south as the Red River. At Currituck Beach, N.C., Federal troops destroyed a Confederate salt works there.

In Virginia, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker ordered elements of his new command, the Army of the Potomac, to investigate the nearby Rappahannock River fords. The result was some skirmishing between his troops and Confederate troops near Rappahannock Station (now Remington) in Fauquier County.

On Feb. 3, Col. Ellett and the Queen of the West captured three Confederate vessels south of Vicksburg. Pork, hogs, salt, molasses, sugar, flour and cotton were destroyed, and a number of prisoners taken, including some ladies. The levee at Yazoo Pass, north of Vicksburg, was opened by Union troops in an attempt to reach the city via the Yazoo River.

In Washington, the French minister to the U.S., M. Mercier, offered French mediation of the war to Secretary of State William Seward; the offer was rejected. The next day, Maj. Gen. John Sedgewick assumed command of the Army of the Potomac’s Sixth Army Corps from Maj. Gen. William F. Smith, who was assigned command of the Ninth Army Corps. In Richmond, President Davis wrote to Gen. Robert E. Lee, expressing concern over the Federal threats to the South Carolina and Georgia coasts.

In London on Feb. 5, Queen Victoria addressed Parliament, saying that “Britain had abstained from attempting to induce a cessation of the conflict between the contending parties in the North American States because it had not yet seemed to Her Majesty that any such overtures would be attended with any probability of success.”

Gen. Hooker reorganized the Army of the Potomac, eliminating the three Grand Divisions established by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside in November, and set up eight army corps commands, as well as a separate cavalry organization. The next day, Seward informed the French government that Emperor Napoleon III’s offer of mediation in the war had been refused by the United States.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 193 Articles

A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.