When you really, really think about it, there is no such thing as an accident. Everything that happens is the result of a decision or a string on decisions which have certain consequences - both good and bad.
If everyone followed all the rules in the driver's manual and heeded the road signs, to have a story, news helicopters would be circling the scene of somebody changing a tire.
You'll cut yourself faster with a dull knife than a sharp one.
Agreed and sometimes it is other driver or Indians that make it happen. Although equipment failure is close. Firestone tires anyone?
While I'm sure that Benteen and his 1st Sgt were busy spreading the rumor along the Reno defense lines that Custer had abandoned them, Benteen knew better. He had heard the firing from Custer's command. He thought that Custer might be holed up, or even better that he had been driven toward Terry, which, had it occured, would not have been the same thing as Benteen's Elliott fiction.
During the whole fight Benteen was probably going over in his mind the testimony he would give at Custer's court-matial. So powerful was his joy at the thought of Custer's disgrace that he wouldn't believe it when Terry told him Custer was dead. In that moment Terry must have recognized Benteen's meanness of soul, for Terry ordered Benteen to take his company to Custer's field and see for himself.
When he got to that field, (What a surprise!) Benteen found that Custer and his command had fled in panic and that they had been killed running, with Custer the lead runner.
Benteen didn't care about the death of Elliott and his detachment except as a means for hurting Custer.
Benteen may have been a good company commander and brave, but he was a carping, haiIsplitting, "do what I'm told and not one thing more than I'm told" coffee cooler. The reason Custer had to send the sergeant major and chief trumpeter to him was because Benteen was the type of officer who had to be told to do something three times.
His disgusting lie that his mission at the LBH was "valley hunting ad infinitum" was mendacity plain and simple. Does anyone believe that if Benteen had reached the Little Big Horn that he would not have recognized it for what it was. That lie was not designed to defend himself or Reno, but was spit on Custer's grave, and a poisonous clam it was.
If I get to Heaven and find Benteen there, I'll break out of Heaven and go to Hell. If I find him in Hell, Hell won't be able to hold me.
My take is that Benteen exaggerates to emphasize a point. Such as stating he now thinks there were 9,000 Indians against Custer. I think the valley hunting comment meant he was assigned something that kept him out of the battle when it mattered most during first contact.
I am not sure where you find the original source statements of what he was thinking and his thoughts on Elliott.
The Southern POWs were not necessarily treated with kindness either. After reports of mistreatment of Northern POWs the north cut back on food, medical care, and other "humane" treatment of Southern POWs.
Let's not forget . . . human nature is not based on race, culture, or whose side you're on.
Post by thehighwayman on Mar 2, 2009 10:01:38 GMT -5
Given the turn that events of the 25th had taken, you can bet the farm there wasn’t a single officer on Reno Hill who did not expect an investigation, court/s-martial and for some heads to roll in general after all the dust had settled. Never a better time to give thanks for being only a second lieutenant.
‘Lie’ is a word I wouldn’t attach to Benteen though. Not without some better examples. Sarcastic, he certainly was in describing events and people. Steve, is right that he exaggerated to make his points. Benteen could have said ‘eleventy blue million’ Indians, and it would have expressed the same thing as did his ‘9,000,’ that is: ‘More than we could deal with.’ ‘Ad infinitum’ expressed, in the same sarcastic way, his mission as having gone beyond any useful purpose. We now only have the written words and no clue as to the vocal infections those words carried at the time. We’ve all probably written something that was misunderstood by using words alone, whereas a face to face ‘round table’ discussion would have been better understood.
I am not so sure that Benteen and Ryan spent their time spreading anti-Custer propaganda through the lines as they heard firing in the distance, or even afterward. By the 26th however, that assessment was the conclusion of more than one of the surviving troopers. I haven’t heard any of them say or suggest that Benteen and Ryan thought so too and expressed such.
Once again talking as though I know anything about psychology, I suspect that Benteen suffered from survivor’s guilty after the Little Bighorn, and I think it grew over the years as well. The Benteen of the Benteen-Goldin letters years was not the Benteen of June 1876. By the time of those later years, he had grown more and more bitter, internally, from other and personal tragedies too. His contempt for Custer grew into an out and out hatred in his later life.
Benteen may have concluded that Custer’s fight was a rout because it was just that. It was not just his opinion. Some of the indians thought so as well.
It probably wasn’t for nothing that Benteen was known as the ‘toughest’ officer in the army, and so your last sentence is a good plan for all of us to keep in mind.
Post by thehighwayman on Mar 2, 2009 11:23:55 GMT -5
Major Reno is the man everyone loves to hate. Custer has an advantage in that he died on the 25th and left no post-Little Bighorn history to influence our assessments of him and his decisions and actions ON the 25th.
Many think that Reno’s drinking was a major factor in his performance at the Little Bighorn fight, but much of that opinion may come from his post-battle drinking problem. Almost a chicken and egg argument. Could his drinking to excess have been caused by the battle‘s outcome, rather than his battle performance having been caused by his drinking? The stories break in both directions, and pretty much cancel each other out as evidence either way.
It’s really the same with Benteen’s reputation. Not by way of drinking, but by way of his growing hatred of Custer and his later expressed thoughts revealing such. Add to that, a few of his cruder escapades, primarily - draining his willie on a tent flap within ear-shot of some female of tender Victorian sensibilities. Also, knowing of Reno and the Mrs. Bell affair, and his growingly bellicose nature when drinking, and pictures are drawn of somewhat different men than were at the Little Bighorn.
The newspapers had initially painted Major Reno as the hero of the Little Bighorn. The man who along with Captain Benteen had saved the 7th Cavalry from total extermination after Custer’s mis-adventurous attack on the large number of ‘…blood thirsty, savages…’ who '...showed no mercy...' So what happened? Why the change in attitude among the public and press?
Reno being driven from the timber position and run up a hillside wasn’t condemned at the time. Nobody had a problem with those decisions of his. The note Benteen was handed by Martini was reported on in the papers as well. No wave of condemnation over Benteen’s not riding to Custer’s aid. If Benteen could have reached Custer, then Custer could have reached Benteen. There were so many Indians trying to crowd onto the Custer battlefield that they reported (in their way) major traffic jams at all of the crossing points. In short, there were plenty of warriors on hand to stop Benteen’s 120 something men from linking up with Custer’s battalion. Prints from paintings of ‘Benteen’s Last Stand’ anyone?
I can see Reno’s drinking and belligerent nature intensifying afterward. Another case of survivor’s guilt maybe? Growing excessively touchy about his role at the Little Bighorn he got into fights, which won him no friends and maybe cooled allies and their willingness to stand by or up for him. The Mrs. Bell affair got him bounced from the army, from which he was granted forgiveness and re-instated, but caused the press and public to view him in a less acceptable light under their hypocritical Victorian heat lamps. By the time he requested an official hearing on his conduct at the Little Bighorn, his post battle reputation and troubles, combined with the biased and published writings of one man in particular had prepared the public to hear the worst about him. His credibility was suspect before the hearing even began.
Little of what I’ve expressed above speaks to Reno’s decision making at the Little Bighorn or the processes by which he came to those decisions, but I hope it does point out the pitfalls of encompassing totally unrelated later events or thoughts concerning, and from, the post-fight years - and using then too much in assessing the two men’s judgments prior and up to 25 June 1876.
“What did they know and when did they know it?” is the shorthand way of saying all that. Excuse making went on afterward, when would it not? Needing to point a finger and assign blame has gone on for over 130-plus years since. That’s completely natural too, but the various coats of painted colors added since the event don’t count.
John Ryan, Johnny R. among his fellows, was not Benteen's First Sergeant. That honor belonged to Joseph McCurry, or Joe McCurry, if you knew him well, or just like to use the familiar names of the guys. Benteen called him "Lovey." [made up]
Benteen was not a "Professional Soldier" but rather a professional real estate investor/speculator and landlord, who made a pile after the War. He probably stayed on in the Army because of the cachet and status his commission bestowed upon him, as a genuine officer and gentleman.
Not being an amateur psychologist/psychiatrist [just a weekend gynecologist], I offer my unqualified opinion [in every sense of the word] that the outstanding facet of Benteen's psychological make-up was what is popularly known as "transference" - the affixing to another of one's own motives, thoughts and ideas. For example the oft-quoted scene where Benteen and Custer first meet, and Custer supposedly trots out his order books to impress - who? Benteen? I hardly think so. I think that it was the other way around, with Benteen trying to impress his new commander with his exploits during the War under Cavalry Wilson, and Custer [probably stuttering and stammering] saying "That clown?" [made up]
And I believe that it was Benteen, not Custer, who thought that they would not catch any Indians up ahead, and hence his ambling march to the left, and his ambling approach to the LBH after following his orders to return to the trail if he found nothing. And his airy dismissal of Knipe: "I believe, sergeant, that if you look around you, you will see no mules - that being because I am not the commander of the pack train, which is just east of St. Louis, and therefore safe as all get out, with myself between them and the non-existent Indians ahead. Hie thee hence, and report to the commander of that train." [made up].
Aside from from trusty old Charley [see he signed my discharge paper] Windolph, who among the Hsters left loving remembrances of their captain. Moller? Any of the guys wounded because the captain couldn't be bothered to dig his men in on the night of 25 June. Any of the guys he urged on in the famous "charges" on the 26th: "Whoop, whoop!!! Here you go, boys - I'll be watching from here." [made up]
As to his being an ideal troop commander, I'll see your Scott, and raise you a Bell: "Benteen's weakness was vindictiveness, which was pronounced. He was indifferent to the minor matters of discipline, and always had the poorest company in the regiment. He was not considered a good company officer, but was a first-rate fighter. It always galled Benteen to serve at such low rank as captain, after having been a colonel in the War. For this reason, he never took the interest in his command tht might have been expected of him." [undated note from Walter Camp's Field Notes, Box number 2, misc., Folder number 1, Lilly Library]
rch has the man pegged, pretty much.
Last Edit: Mar 2, 2009 11:57:12 GMT -5 by biggordie
From "An anonymous Sixth Infantry sergeant's account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn" (I hate anonymous stuff, but . . .)
"To the coolness and bravery and foresight of Colonel Benteen, of the Seventh cavalry, at the beginning of Reno's engagement, is due the salvation of Reno and the greater portion of his command. He now occupies the very enviable position of idol in the esteem of those who were engaged with him and came out with their lives."
Dr. Porter: "Though Reno was ranking officer, Colonel Benteen was really in command, and to his coolness and bravery those of us who were saved owe our lives. With the air thick with bullets and some of them piercing his clothing, he stood calmly directing the troops. "
Stanislas Roy: "Benteen saved the command, according to my opinion. He was a very brave and nervy man. "
George Glen: "Benteen was on his feet all day June 26, and, it being hot, his shirt tail worked out of his pants and hung down, and he went around that way encouraging the men. He would say "Men, this is a groundhog case; it is live or die with us. We must fight it out with them."
John Ryan: "Too much cannot be said in favor of Captain Benteen. His prompt movements saved Reno from utter annihilation, and his gallantry cleared the ravines of Indians and opened the way for water for the suffering wounded. In Captain Benteen, Reno found one whose advice and assistance was invaluable."
Charles Windolph: "Cool, capable Benteen more or less assumed command. Major Reno had just come through a terrible experience, and at the moment was glad to have Benteen, his junior, take over." ________________
I think a number of survivors were thankful that Benteen was there and he was the difference whether the rest of the 7th survived or not.
In the military, everything you must consider in making a tactical decision can be categorized as:
Mission - What you need to accomplish, and how much to sacrifice ("risk") to get it.
Enemy - What they have, and what you think they will do with it...what are their strengths to avoid and weaknesses to exploit.
Terrain and weather - How it helps and hurts you, and the enemy...how you use it/how he may use it.
Troops and support available - All the tools in your bag, incl. ammo and other logistics, the condition of men and horses/equipment, etc...its impacts on how you conduct your mission.
Time available - How much time do you have? How does time affect what you need to do.
Civil considerations - How do noncombatants affect the conduct of your mission?
We call these "mission variables," often abbreviated "METT-TC." Even back then, this is the information commanders had in their mind for every decision they made, albeit subconsciously. This information structure can help you organize what affected their decision-making that day.
Last Edit: Mar 2, 2009 13:19:19 GMT -5 by biggordie
The "ad infinitum" comment came on 3 Feb 79, in response to a question from Reno or his counsel. I doubt, considering the photo taken of Benteen and Lyman Gilbert, that Benteen was interested in indulging his talent for sarcasim at that moment.
The recorder was apparently surprised by this statement. Though he resumed questioning Benteen after the Reno examination, Lee did not refer to the "ad Infinitum remark" that day. However on the next day he went back to the remark. Lee, in effect, gave Benteen a chance to modify, soften, or correct his remark. Benteen said, "That is the way I would like to have it, that is the way I understood it. I understood it as a senseless order." The trouble was Lee had read Benteen's report. He may not have had it handy on 4 Feb, but when he made his final statement, Lee did have it and did quote it. In the last paragraph dealing with the facts of the battle, in fact in the last sentences, Lee quoted from Benteen's report. That quote contradicted the "ad infinitum" statement as well as Benteen's statement that he thought he was in disobedience of his orders when he returned to the trail.
If Custer had done that, there is no doubt the word that would have been trowelled onto name.
If we can rattle around in Custer's head, we can spend a little time in Benteen's.
I said nothing about Reno.
Whose 1st Sgt got up the Promotion Petition" (even though he and certainly his captain knew that the promotions were made by seniority)? Who thinks that the petition was circulated without Benteen knowing it. Whose 1st Sgt became Sgt Maj?
Where is the direct evidence that Elliott's fate preyed on the minds of the men of the 7th Cavalry before the night of 25 - 26 Jun.
Who said Benteen was known as the "toughest" officer in the Army? According to his own statement (I don't believe him here either) men who had been in his company for 7 months were not well trained. What kind of soldiering was that? Was he tough or just an old softy.
Ryan was not Benteen's 1st Sgt.
As for what Benteen did after making sure that Reno would take the responsibility, he did well. He led and inspired the defence. Officers and men admired him for that.
If some can admire and respect Benteen, I can hate him.