Californians and the Military
Major General Patrick Edward Connor
by Captain Jim Balance
California Center for Military History, State Military Reserve
Patrick Edward Connor commanded the Stockton Blues of the California Militia at the outbreak of the Civil War. He quickly recruited the Blues to regimental strength and was appointed colonel, 4 September 1861. The regiment and two companies of the 2d California Cavalry were immediately ordered to Utah Territory to protect the Overland Stage and Pacific Telegraph rights of way, and to act as a force of observation in order to forestall any joint activity between Mormon recalcitrants and Southern sympathizers seeking to secure the Southwest for the Confederacy.
After a forced march across the blazing Nevada desert, Connor established Camp Ruby, about 70 miles southeast of Elko, and immediately set about discharging his mission, assigning troops to ride shotgun with the stages and patrolling the telegraph lines. Shortly, Connor complained that Ruby Valley was "a bleak inhospitable place no forage, nor lumber to build with, and, as far as the Indians are concerned, entirely unnecessary to keep troops there." The men were restive and disappointed in the assignment. Major General George McClellan was waging his Peninsula Campaign in Virginia, and there was real fighting as well as glory to be earned in the East. But soon the bellicose newspaper cry, "On to Richmond!" faded to a whisper.
McClellan was relieved as commander of the Army of the Potomac and Major General Henry W. Halleck was summoned to Washington to become general-in-chief of the Army. The Peninsula Campaign ended ingloriously in withdrawal. But, Connor's men volunteered to pay their own way to the battlefields of Virginia and Maryland. The Colonel knew Halleck well. He immediately wired the new General-in-Chief that his men had "enlisted to fight traitors,'' and were willing that the sum of $30, 000 be withheld from their pay to defray the expense of moving the regiment to the East. He added that he and his men badly needed where it was. He suggested that Connor reconnoiter Salt Lake and occupy Camp Floyd, 40 miles south of Salt Lake City. Connor scouted in mufti and decided to forget Camp Floyd and establish a base at Salt Lake City instead. He chose a rise commanding the city whence he planned to "entrench my position and say to the Saints of Utah, enough of your treason" The Mormons resorted to the courts, but the fiery Connor, a veteran of the Florida and Mexican Wars, prevailed. Thus was born Fort Douglas Utah in 1862, continuing as a U.S. Army post and reserve center to the current day.
Shortly, Connor commanded the punitive expedition which defeated the warring and incursive Indians at Bear River, Washington Territory. In March 1863 Connor was appointed Brigadier General, U.S. Volunteers, and appointed to command Utah Military District, with headquarters at Fort Douglas. He thereupon led the Powder River expedition to quell the Sioux and Comanche in 1865, an action which signalled commencement of the struggle for the Bozeman Trail which raged in the watershed of the Big Horry Mountains for the next 16 years between the frontier Army and the Indians, culminating in the shocking defeat of Custer on the Little Bighorn and, in turn, the ultimate suppression of the warring Sioux and their allies. Connor's expedition is called "on the whole a dismal failure," but it did establish a short-lived peace and it did prove that the Army could not successfully' contend with Indian warriors battling desperately on ground of their own choosing (to protect their last hunting grounds) with large, ungainly columns filled with troops anxious to get home now that the war was over. During late 1865 and in 1866 Connor ranged far and wide, from Colorado to the Dakotas, commanding regiments of Galvanized Yankees, or ex-Confederate soldiers recruited in prison camps to serve in the blue-clad army against the Indians in the West.
Upon being mustered out in 1866 Connor was brevetted Major General, U.S.Volunteers. He settled in Utah where he established the first daily newspaper and the first silver mine. He founded the town of Stockton. He also wrote Utah's mining laws and introduced navigation upon the Great Salt Lake. He died in 1891.
Patrick Edward Conner as an officer of the Stockton Blues
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