Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Frederick William Benteen

There's a fantastic article about Fredrick Benteen, a member of the Cyclone Club, at HistoryNet.com. Written by Steven M. Leonard, it covers Benteen's life and military career much better than I ever could. So rather than subject you to my ponderous prose, I'll just direct you to Mr. Leonard's fine piece on Benteen.

Mr. Leonard writes the following about Benteen:

Frederick William Benteen was born in the Virginia port city of Petersburg on August 24,1834 to Theodore Charles and Caroline Hargrove Benteen. The Benteens had moved to Virginia from Baltimore shortly after the birth of their first child, Henrietta Elizabeth, in October 1831. The elder Benteen earned a prosperous living as a paint and hardware contractor, securing a private education for his son at the Petersburg Classical Institute, where Frederick was first trained in military drill. Sadly, Caroline Benteen died suddenly in 1841, leaving a young husband and family. Undoubtedly, the loss of his mother at such an impressionable age impacted Frederick, but to what extent is unknown.

Following the marriage of his daughter in the spring of 1849, Charley Benteen followed the call of the west and moved his family to St. Louis, Missouri. There, he remarried, established a paint and glass supply business, and employed his sixteen-year-old son as a sign painter. In 1856, Frederick became acquainted with Catharine Louisa Norman, a young woman recently arrived in St. Louis from Philadelphia. "Kate", a staunch supporter of the Union, would have a profound influence on the future of Frederick Benteen.

The election of Abraham Lincoln as U.S. President in 1860 polarized the country, and Missouri was no less affected than any other state in the Union. Kate strongly urged Frederick to support the cause of the Union forces in Missouri. His father, an ardent secessionist, vehemently opposed Frederick's association with Unionists, igniting a family crisis that was never truly resolved. When told of his son's decision to support the Union, Charley Benteen retorted, "I hope the first God damned bullet gets you."

As early as July 1861, Frederick was observing and supervising the drill of volunteer infantry companies in and around the St. Louis Arsenal. He got his first taste of battle -- although not officially on the rosters of any of the participating units -- on August 10, at Wilson's Creek. Outnumbered five to one, volunteer and Federal forces under Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon attacked a concentrated force of 22,000 Confederates ten miles southwest of Springfield, inflicting over 5000 casualties before retreating in ultimate defeat to Rolla. The opening act of the Civil War in Missouri, although inauspicious, cemented Frederick's decision to join with the volunteers.

On September 1, the 67 members of what would become the 1st Battalion, Missouri Cavalry, held an election of officers; Frederick Benteen was elected first lieutenant of C Company. By October 1, the battalion was at full strength and Benteen was elected captain and commander of C Company. Twelve days later, Benteen saw his first action as an officer at Dutch Hollow against a large body of irregular Confederate cavalry.

On January 7, 1862, Benteen married his longtime girlfriend, Kate Norman, at Saint George's Church in St. Louis. Only her immediate family attended the ceremony. Their honeymoon was short; within three days, Frederick returned to Rolla. Kate settled into their new home to wait out the war.

Quoting Harold Schindler of the Salt Lake Tribune, the Arlington National Cemetary Website has a very interesting reference to Benteen and baseball:

He was a good soldier, Benteen. He was dearly fond of fishing ("I saw him wade over his boot tops many times into the cold water to get mountain trout," one of his troopers recalled in later years) and he loved baseball with an extraordinary passion. As a matter of fact, most men in H Company were members of the "Benteen baseball and gymnasium club." The Benteen Nine, it seems, was a ringer. It regularly shellacked Army competition. For instance, in June 1875, when the Benteens played the Fort Randall First Infantry, the final score was Benteens, 54; Randalls, 5.

At the website for the Ninth Memorial Cavalry, there's an article by Robert Foster that chronicles the Ninth Cavalry's time in Utah under Benteen in the late 1880's. Talking about the relationship between the black and white soldiers at Fort Duchesne, Foster writes the following:

Relations between black and white soldiers stationed at the post were generally amicable. A visitor to the fort commented, "The white infantrymen and the black cavalrymen at the fort fraternize without any fine discrimination as to color." The men ate together and, according to the same visitor, may have slept and fought "the festive bedbug together." Army records show no serious incidents of any kind between black and white soldiers at Fort Duchesne.

The only problem between white and black soldiers seemed to occur at baseball games. The buffalo soldiers were tremendous baseball players, usually winning most games they played. Many of them were exceptionally good boxers, too. Fistfights between black and white soldiers over "bad" calls by the umpires are mentioned in several newspaper stories. Of course, a good fistfight relieved some of the dull monotony of garrison duty, and many members of the 21st Infantry were Irishmen who loved a good donnybrook--among themselves, with blacks, whites or any others who were in the mood.
It's not necessarily related to Benteen or baseball in St. Louis but it's interesting none the less.

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