Frederick W. Benteen 1834-1898
Frederick W. Benteen was
born Aug. 24, 1834 in Petersburg, VA. Descendent of Dutch immigrants,
the family settled in Baltimore, where they commenced to amass wealth
as music publishers (they had Stephen Foster as one of their clients).
Extremely conservative, the Benteen family even retained their loyalty
to the crown during the American Revolution.
Benteens immediate family moved to Virginia with his father, Theodore
C. Benteen, in the 1830s. The census of 1840 lists that the family had
The Benteens moved to St. Louis, Missouri in 1849, where Theodore worked
as a paper hanger and young Fred worked as a painter. Fred got married
in 1860 to a young woman named Catherine Norman.
Tranquil family life was shattered with the coming of the Civil War. Fred
announced to his family one day that he planned to serve with the Union
Army. His father, who was raised from stock that had remained loyal to
the crown during the American Revolution, was steadfastly in support of
the Confederacy. In an angry argument, the elder Benteen told his son
that he hoped he was killed by the first bullet -- preferably fired by
a Benteen fighting on the side of the south. Against his fathers
wishes, he became a first lieutenant in Bowens Battalion Sept. 1,
1861. This battalion shorty was renamed the Tenth Missouri Volunteer Cavalry.
Capt. F. Benteen War makes for rapid promotions in fighting units; Fred
was promoted to Captain in 1861. He and his company captured several Confederate
steamships that steaming troops and supplies up and down the Mississippi
River. It was common to set the prisoners free not long after capture.
Benteen continued this practice -- except for the chief engineer off the
steamship Fair Play, one Theodore C. Benteen. Fred arranged for a prolonged
incarceration of the chief engineer. Most accounts indicate that Fred
ordered his fathers long imprisonment to protect him during the
Promoted to major in 1862 and lieutenant colonel in 1864, he took command
of the regiment. He continued his war career as a a paragon of combat
leadership. He received numerous citations for his actions during the
When the war ended, Benteen gained the rank of colonel and was named commander
of an all-black regiment, the 138th U.S. Colored Volunteers.
His stint with the 138th lasted only six months. Drawing on support form
military and political friends, he received a commission in the regular
army, joining the Seventh Cavalry as a captain.
Benteen met George Armstrong Custer on Jan. 29, 1867. It was dislike at
first sight -- Benteen found Custer vain, arrogant and egotistical.
Benteen fought with the Seventh during the ensuing Indian wars in Kansas
An incident during these wars may have added fuel to the burning hatred
Benteen later expressed for Custer. A group of soldiers led by Maj. Joel
Elliott, having split off from the Seventh earier in the day to pursue
a band of Indians, had not returned when Custer issued orders that the
Seventh should return to its supply camp. He did not send out scouts to
search for the missing patrol. Benteen and several other officers were
violently cricital of Custers actions. Several months later, returning
to the Washita battlefield, the Seventh found the dead and mutilated bodies
of Elliot and his troopers. Benteen wrote a letter about the incident
to a friend, and it was printed (without Benteens permission) in
a St. Louis newspaper. Custer found out about the article and, enraged,
threatened to horsewhip the author. Benteen admitted he had penned the
letter. Nearly speechless, Custer told Benteen, "I'll see you later,"
but he never followed through on his threatened whipping.