Ray, Benteen's old man was apparently the Chief Engineer; the vessel was not a CSA vessel so the crew were civilians. Donovan, in Brazen Trumpet, citing Mills' book, states that the crew was released except for the elder Benteen. Benteen the son was supposedly friends of the JAG and Provost Marshal; so he arranged to have them lock up his old man for his own protection. Being a civilian he wouldn't be sent where rebel POWs were sent; or would he?
Strange, Benteen was no abolitionist. He reportedly told an Atlanta newspaper in 1897 that he'd never known an abolitionist while serving in the Union army. As I recall he termed black soldiers a "rascally set". I don't know of him being any activist for Indian rights either; at least not to the degree of a Crook. He was a soldier who fought whom he had to.
Private Peter Thompson, Co.C, 7th Cavalry, spoke highly of Capt. Benteen.
Early morning of June 26, 1876, Thompson wrote, “I slept so soundly that I heard and knew nothing until I felt someone kicking the soles of my boots. Jumping to my feet I saw Capt. Benteen standing by my side. When he saw that I was fully awake, he told me I would have to render some assistance at the head of the ravine up which the Indians were trying to sneak. He added, “If they succeed, it will be a sad day with us.””
Private Thompson then wrote, “The way that I had to go to my post was up a short hill towards the edge of the bluff and the head of the ravine. While packing my ammunition in order to carry it easily, I glanced up in the direction I had to go, and for the life of me, I could not see how I could possibly get there alive for the bullets of the Indians where ploughing up the sand and gravel in every direction; but it was my duty to obey. After getting everything in shape, I started on the run…I was not the only one to run for the head of the ravine. Capt. Benteen was busily hunting up all the men he could to go to the same point, in order to keep the Indians in check”
Private Thompson then wrote, “but as I was entering the mouth of the ravine, a volley was fired by the Indians who occupied it and over I tumbled shot though the right hand and arm. A short distance below I saw several cavalry men who were soon joined by others, eleven in all; a slim force indeed to clean out the ravine held by so many Indians, but they were resolute men. Capt. Benteen soon joined them and made a short speech. He said, ”This is our only weak and unprotected point and should the Indians succeed in passing this in any force they would soon end the matter as far as we are concerned.” And now, he asked, “Are you ready?” They answered, “Yes.” “Then,” said he, “Charge down there and drive them out.” And with a cheer, away they dashed, their revolvers in one hand and their carbines in the other. Benteen turned around and walked away to the extreme left, seemingly tireless and unconscious of the hail of lead that was flying around.”
Private Thompson wrote, “A short distance from me lay a wounded man, groaning and struggling in the agony of death. Just as I was thinking of getting up, I heard and order given by a Sioux chief. A heavy volley of bullets was the result. My wounded neighbor gave a scream of agony and then was still.” This was Private Thomas Meador, Co.H
Private Thompson received treatment for his wounds by Dr. Porter down in the swale where the horses and mules and wounded were. Private Thompson then said, “I saw Capt. Benteen dash into the midst of our horses and drive out several men who were hiding and skulking among them. “Get out of here,” he cried, ”And do your duty!”…”Capt. Benteen seemed to be aware of the impending danger, and was forming all the men he possibly could into line at the point where it was expected that the Indians would attack us.”
Private Thompson soon began his trips down to the Little Big Horn River to retrieve water for the wounded. Upon returning from one of the water trips, Thompson said, “When I reached the top of the bluff again, I saw Captain Benteen hard at work placing a few men here and a few there. He was as cool and collected as ever. I noticed that blood was making its way though the leg of his trousers and I concluded that he had received a flesh wound, but with the exception of a slight limp he gave no sings of pain. His presence was cheering and encouraging to the men. Wherever he went, their faces lighted up with hope.”
Last Edit: Sept 30, 2018 23:18:19 GMT -5 by moderator
"Now, Custer, don't be greedy, but wait for us." General Gibbon "No, I will not." Custer, noon, June 22, 1876 passing in review.
Post by thehighwayman on Apr 9, 2010 12:39:19 GMT -5
The ‘bitter’ Benteen is a picture drawn almost entirely from his correspondence with the self-serving Theodore Goldin, and very late in his life to boot. Goldin was a liar, manipulative conman and small-time political figure with aspirations to higher office, and wanted only to use Benteen as a means of resume padding. If Goldin’s half of the correspondence (letters) exists somewhere, I haven’t found any of it. So, we really have no context of the correspondence as a whole. In any case, it would appear that Benteen merely stated opinions and vented his anger - perhaps frustration - and Benteen never expected those letters to be more than communications between himself and one other person. A supposed old ‘comrade in arms.’
The ‘Washita Letter’ was actually written by Benteen to a friend. That friend was the one who chose to go running to the newspaper, offering it for publication. On the other hand, Benteen was fully aware of that friend’s connections in publishing and may have slyly planted it in just the right hands. Custer had penned a series of magazine articles, later gathered into book form titled, ‘My Life on the Plains.’ Benteen took exception with several of Custer’s statements and claims in those articles, and hence, the infamous ‘Washita Letter’ was born. Benteen called the book ‘My Lie on the Plains.’
Beyond that, Benteen left no memoirs, diaries or wrote any book ‘trashing‘ Custer. He never went on a speaking tour as so many others had done, or sat for tell-all interviews with reporters, other than those surrounding the RCOI in Chicago. Beyond (perhaps) the Washita Letter, do any such public criticisms of Custer, by Benteen, exist? Are there any on record?
I suspect that Benteen did the best he could manage with the lousy cards he was dealt at the Little Big Horn. My personal belief is that he was the best and most capable officer in the Seventh Cavalry. (There is some evidence that Custer himself felt so as well. Specifically, a letter Custer wrote to Libbie about Benteen.) That is not to say I think the matter rested easy on him for the rest of his life. As a good officer, Benteen probably went over it all in his head, again and again, second guessing himself and his decisions made at that time. NOT that he felt guilt for some sort of conspiracy against Custer, but rather that he was unable to conclude there was any more that anyone could have effectively accomplished.
Major Reno was nailed very securely on a cross, in punishment for the Army’s failure at the Little Big Horn. He hangs there to this day. His performance that day was, until the break from the timber, completed with courage and with honor. Reno’s unsteady footing, immediately after reaching the hill top position, opened a vacuum of sorts, in the steadiness of the entire command. Benteen stepped up and filled that vacuum, as would any competent officer or NCO in that predicament. Yet, Benteen saw first hand what Reno’s fate was after that, and at the hands of many who were (as they say out west) all hat and no cattle.
IF World War I taught us anything, it is that every man has a breaking point. Officers included. It has always been the case, but in the 19th Century it was still the common wisdom, and misconception, that breaking under pressure in combat was a sign of cowardice and a failing of character. In a majority of cases, the man can come back from such failure. It likely is a temporary condition and not necessarily a terminal flaw. Reno had reached his breaking point and Benteen knew it. That kind of thing can rapidly spread and ‘break’ an entire command unit.
I could go on and on about this but will say only that Benteen probably understood Reno’s back needed (temporary?) bracing when he reached the hill top. Remember - Benteen had served throughout the entire Civil War and through a couple of close scrapes against the Indians. It is highly doubtful that Reno’s mental state was something new in Benteen’s experiences. Benteen was intelligent, well educated, a widely read man with interests covering a broad spectrum of topics. He had the experience and intelligence to develop some insight that men can break and can recover and then even redeem themselves - IF - they are given a chance to do so.
Benteen didn’t like Reno, yet he backed him, and supported him in the best manner he could, during and in the aftermath of the Little Big Horn. He didn’t like Custer and, I think, supported him as best as he thought he could as well. Benteen was a moral man and an honorable soldier. Years of the poisoned pen of Libbie had perhaps turned a dislike for General Custer into his expressed hatred. At the time of the Little Big Horn he had never expressed ‘hatred’ toward Custer, saying only that he ‘despised’ him. Benteen was not the kind of man and officer who would allow two-hundred men to be killed simply to sneer at Custer.
Benteen didn’t ‘hate’ everybody as has been so popular a characterization which later day writers have chosen to make. He was said to be ‘kindly’ by men serving under him and ‘immensely likeable’ by officers serving with him. I think Benteen looked at every man as a blank slate to start and then let that man write his own story, good and bad. He took every man for what he proved himself to be. Warmth and affection is the general picture drawn of Benteen by those who campaigned with him. A hateful Benteen would have told a mere ex-enlisted man like Goldin to take a hike; but instead, Benteen is welcoming and even somewhat charming in his letters, and ‘talks’ with Goldin as an equal.
The Goldin letters are picked over, and only excerpts have been offered (and are known to most people) in order to support an image of the man which suits the agenda of the presenters. An image which doesn’t jive with recollections of his infrequent binges with the bottle, telling of fellow officers carrying him away as discretely as possible, and thereby shielding him from public display and embarrassment. A man loathing of everyone around him would likely have been left lying in his own vomit out in the street by those he so loathed.
In short, I cannot tally the ‘despicable’ image of Benteen, as presented by so many, with what his contemporaries' accounts, and his record, tell me of the man. Neither do I see Benteen as a shrinking violet in the face of grave danger, much less a conspirator against his superior officer in so vile a manner as others want to view him. Had I known him, and whether or not he would have viewed me as a despised or hated creature, a coffee-cooler and one not measuring up to snuff, and had I liked or disliked him, he would have definitely had my respect. And does.
The Washita letter had nothing to do with Custer's articles or book. According to Graham the letter first appeared in the St Louis "Democrat," and was printed in the NY "Times" on 14 Feb 69, while the 7th Cav was still in the field.
While I may dispise Benteen, and while some scholars may think that he could have moved faster, in general the world takes Benteen at his own assessment of himself, the "good guy" to Custer's "bad guy."
Benteen was well thought of by a number of people, and Hugh Scott as a young lieutenant saw him as the ultimate role model. Reno had a perfectly good, if not exciting, record prior to LBH, but he wasn't a very likable personality, and seems to have gone downhill in a bucket after his wife died. He certainly wasn't as tough or aggressive as Benteen, and it's a shame their roles weren't reversed at LBH. I think it was Edgerly who commented in a letter home that Custer had assigned all the officers strictly according to seniority. Too bad he didn't assign them strictly according to ability.
Edgerly's letter was supplementing a prior letter to his wife that has not shown up yet. He was writting about Keogh's assignment on 25 Jun. Earlier Keogh had been in charge of the rear guard and the pack train. Normally that task would have continued for the whole day. I think he is referring to the fact that Custer switched Keogh away from the rear guard and replaced him with McDougall.
This was similiar to the Custer's acceptance, before the Washita, of the exchange between Hamilton and Mathey.
Changing Keogh's assignment is also a confirmation that Custer had not planned to attack on the 25th when he decided to cross the divide late on the night of the 24th. If he had planned to attack on the 25th, Keogh might not have gotten the rear guard assignment.
There are abou 8 vols. on POWs the "Official Records" and a lot about civilians, but this a little too much to wade through.
About a month before the "Fair Play" capture, the "Dix - Hill Cartel" was negotiated. This established the procedures for the exchange of prisoners. I don't know when, if ever, it was promulgated to the forces of both sides. It may not have been in effect in MO. It appears however that local commanders engaged in exchanges before the cartel, and I suspect that the cartel embodied many practices already in effect.
One of the provisions of the cartel, dealt with the exchange of "captured sutlers, teamsters and all civilians in the actual service of either party . . . ."
Also if the local provost marshall had any control over Benteen's father it would tend to indicate that the military was in control f his fate.
According to Asay's "Gray Beard and Long Hair," Benteen's father wound up in Dry Tortuga, which would be Ft Jefferson, but I don't know what the source is for that.
Post by thehighwayman on Apr 14, 2010 10:36:30 GMT -5
Thank you rch, for clearifying my error. I confused General Hazen's article contesting certain points of fact contained in 'My Life on the Plains' with the Washita Letter.
The Benteen letter about the Washita was in anonimous responce to the various newspaper articles' portrayal of the fight as the story flashed across the country.
Sheridan had, I believe, one newspaper man as a guest at Camp Supply, and it was from his dispatches that the story was told. The newspaper reporter wasn't present at the Washita attack, and built his report purely from Custer's and Sheridan's versions of what happened and why.
Post by custersluck13 on Apr 17, 2010 14:44:39 GMT -5
This is a topic I have given much thought, and I still cannot form a definite opinion. I try to view that day and Benteen's reactions through the scope of battle and the "living in the moment" prism that subjects ones sense to. Benteen, I don't believe, had any other intentions than obeying Custers last command and was indeed coming to him. Now I get a sense he was dragging his feet. I do believe he felt he was being put out and he seems to be the type of officer to magnify self perceived injustices against himself . I think he believed Custer sent him on a "wild goose chase". So he was less then aggressive in returning. When he ran into Reno, I am not shy in stating I believe Reno was useless in his capacity that day. His situation was one he created. Was he too inebriated? Seems so. Did he freeze with panic and fear? Yes. I believe it was cowardice. His "charge" to the bluffs indicates so, as does his first dismount orders do. But all that was done when Benteen found his command. My personal military instincts tell me to obey the COs orders. They are given to you for reasons you may not yet understand. If you deviate, as Benteen did, you better have a dang good reason. I don't discredit Benteen the soldier. Good officer with as many human faults as anyone. I blame Reno. Had Reno carried out his duties, stayed of sober mind and bearing, the unravelling of the plan Custer had made, which was sound, would not have forced Benteen into the position of becoming the savior of the Reno Battalion. He became just that but to the expense of his commanding officer and his men. That was a decision we can debate all day. I believe Benteen did what he felt he had to do and it was just another case of when things go wrong, they snowball, and the 7th paid the price. Hard command decisions that day. Hard indeed.
Last Edit: Jan 5, 2014 1:33:57 GMT -5 by moderator
Post by benteeneast on Apr 21, 2010 8:33:41 GMT -5
I don't see how you can be a good officer and make poor decisions. Personal life should be separate from the attributes of a good officer. If the personal life interferes then it can be handled by court martial.
I would think that Army officer's are taught to know when to deviate from a plan or orders.
I believe Benteen demonstrated that quality of a good officer.
Yeah...I think the important thing to realize is that even a man you judge to be a "good officer" and have many positive attributes, you can still admit could have made better decisions in specific situations.