Frederick W. Benteen - Cavalry

Captain 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.
Benteen’s immediate family moved to Virginia with his father, Theodore C. Benteen, in the 1830s. The census of 1840 lists that the family had two slaves.
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 father’s wishes, he became a first lieutenant in Bowen’s 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 father’s long imprisonment to protect him during the war.
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 war.
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 during 1868.
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 Custer’s 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 Benteen’s 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.