Colonel Benteen's 'How History is Manufactured' letter to the Army and Navy Journal, Jan. 20, 1877, with my annotations in brackets:
To the Editor of the Army and Navy Journal.
SIR: In the issue of your paper of Dec. 23 I see that you review the complete life of General G.A. Custer, by Brevet Capt. Frederick Whittaker, 6th N.Y. Cavalry.
I desire to thank you for the sensible remarks therein contained. "1st. Had Reno fought as Custer fought, and Benteen obeyed Custer's orders, the battle of the Little Bighorn might have proved Custer's last and greatest victory." I put right here, without fear of contradiction: yes, and his first Indian victory, too! "The Battle of the Washita" is comprised in this grand total. (I do not mean to include Custer's war record in this assertion.) I have been with General Custer since the organization of the 7th Cavalry, and claim to know whereof I speak; nor do I desire to get into a controversy about his merits -- or otherwise -- as seen from my standpoint, as now I cannot, or would not, say what I would, and did, when Gen. Custer was alive. I say here, that Col. Reno and I thought during the siege of June 25th and 26th at the Little Big Horn, that he, Reno, was the abandoned party, and spoke of it as another "Major Elliott affair," thinking that Gen. Custer had retreated to the mouth of the river, where the steamboat was supposed to be and that Reno's command was left to its fate. I am accused of disobeying Custer's orders. Nothing is further from the truth in point of fact, and I do not think the matter of sufficient importance to attempt to vindicate myself, but can rest contentedly under the ban when I have the consoling belief that the contrary is so well known to all my military superiors and comrades.
You spoke justly when you denominated Whittaker as a "rash writer," for, in a letter to me, he acknowledged his information had been obtained from what I can demonstrate to be most questionable authority. I have not attempted to defend myself on such insinuations, because the game is not worth the candle. I have one child -- a ten year old boy; if he learns from his father's daily life, what his character is, as he must, will it make much difference to him, in after years, in stumbling across Whittaker's book, to see his father quoted as having neglected the first duty of a soldier? No, sir; as I hope to demonstrate to him by daily life, that the assertion was altogether without foundation, and I have no idea that any pain will be ever caused him, should he in after life not find the contrary confirmed by weightier evidence than Whittaker's book.
There was a slight undercurrent in the 7th Cavalry which you, as a public organ, might know, and which knowledge may throw some light on matters which Mr. O'Kelly, the Herald reporter, wrote, and from which Whittaker obtained his cue, viz: Col. Reno's official report of the battle of Little Big Horn brought not with it the need of satisfaction which I believe the writer wished, but his mentioning me specially was an invidiousness of which he thought not. Most certainly Col. Reno asked me not for counsel in preparing his report. However, the report when received by the regiment drew from one officer the exclamation in public, "But he doesn't mention me!" (calling out his own name.) From that moment can be said, the Society for Mutual Admiration was organized in the regiment and and assiduously did they work -- Col. Reno being the chief objective point, I the second, from being unfortunate enough to have been specially mentioned by Colonel R.[eno] in his official report. The meetings of the society have been held in secret; no first class men were contributing members; none of them can bear the test of light and truth; but still they don't want their light hidden under a bushel, and they have succeeded in getting vile slanders into public print, through the greatest organ this country has, and yet they are not happy! Now, through Whittaker, the story goes into history(?)
I can say with Othello:
"And little of this great world can I speak, More than pertains to feats of broil and battle; And therefore little shall we I grace my cause In speaking of myself; yet, by your gracious patience, I will a portion of a "round unvarnish'd tale deliver Of my whole career" -- And you sir, can do with it what you will. Very truly, etc.,
Benteen's letter to Captain Edward Field, from Fort Kinney, Wyoming, dated Feb. 6, 1886, regarding the action on the southern end of Reno Hill, with my grammatical corrections and annotations in brackets:
Dear Captain Field,
... The facts of obtaining the water on the 2d [day] of [the] fight are these: the portion of the line held by my Troop was very long, and, for prudential reasons the left flank of the [H Co.] line was drawn in after dark on the 1st day; that portion of the line that was drawn in [had] protected us [during the evening of the 1st day] from getting a raking fire from the left front, but if it had been undertaken to retain possession of it during the night, those men so holding [the position] would have been cut off from succor on the next day should the Indians remain, or they could have been easily captured during the night without possibility of preventing it. As supposed, the indians had possession of these points before daylight of the second day, and kept up such a murderous fire therefrom, that I determine to undertake to drive them from those positions; therefore, without saying anything to Reno of my intentions, I gathered up all the skulkers who were hiding away among the pack mules (some 16 or 18 [troopers]), [and] compelled them to carry pack-saddles, sacks of bacon, boxes of hardbread, &c. to the left flank of my Troop, and with the miscellaneous collection of "Stuff," built a small breastwork; I then turned the men I had so gathered [from the pack train] over to my First Lieutenant [Gibson], telling [him] that I intended to take the Troop and drive those indians out of the ravine, [and] that he must hold that position no matter what became of my party, and to shoot the first man that showed the slightest disposition to "flunk;" then the men were notified what I expected of them, and away we started.
Well, as you know there was [ a hunt] duck or no dinner case; why of course, we busted them out [of the ravine] and you saw indians turn Somersaults -- and scramble. That was the time of having seen what I was forced to give up (as I said before, for prudential reasons) the 1st night, and holding the key to the water, I sent word to Reno to have all the camp kettles, pots, pans, anything that would hold water gotten together, and that the men could get all the water that was needed; that is about all of the story; as a matter of course, it was no picnic to get the water, as [at] the creek [ie. the Little Big Horn River] there was a flat of perhaps thirty feet in width, with [the] creek running two feet below it, which first had to be crossed, then drop on yr. belly, dip down the kettle, jump up and run [back] to [the] ravine, all under [the] volley firing from the indians from Reno's front and left flanks, but we got it -- as you know -- my dear old comrade, and I think, [we] rather impressed the indians that we were there to stay.
"The more I see of movement here (Little Big Horn Battlefield), the more I have admiration for Custer, and I am satisfied his like will not be found very soon again.”
~ Gen. Nelson Miles, Commanding General of the Army ------
"With our cherished ones deliverance within our grasp we waited breathless for the order that never came."
Captain Thomas B. Weir, Jul. 1876.
General of the Army (Medicine Man/Chief))