A Day in the Life of
Major General Henry Washington Benham
On the 19th of June 1862, Captain E. W. Smith executed the arrest of Brigadier General Henry Washington Benham with no preferred charges against him. Evidence was being collected against him for disobeying his immediate commander's orders placed in writing the 10th day of June 1862 directing that no advance be made upon the Confederate Fort Johnson and Secessionville, South Carolina without being so ordered by him. It was signed "Major General David Hunter."
With this said, the major general commanding departed the immediate area for Hilton Head leaving the immediate theatre of operations to General Benham. The range of the cannon demanded the division commander's attention however, his encampments were consistently under fire and he had determined to do something about it.
The strength of the Confederate position was a grave concern to both Brigadier Generals Horatio Wright and Isaac Stevens. When asked for opinion in a counsel of war, Wright had proposed his questions to General Stevens about the success of an attack. The artillery duels that had been undertaken was not having the desired effect and in Steven's opinion, no volunteer troops could storm the position and succeed. The 1st Division commander concurred with brigade and emphatically was against such an assault. Benham however, had over ridden the opinion and ordered it anyway.
The assault was made on the 16th of June 1862, and defied everything the commanding general had ordered, obviously with safety to his command in mind. The attack against the bastion lasted but twenty-five minutes between the hour of 4:30 and 5:00 am. More than five hundred soldiers lay in its front killed and wounded.
For a general officer to admit defeat in his after action report is one thing, but its quite another to admit defeat holding a written order stating that an attack was not to be made at all. General Officers upon other battlefields had faced court martial charges for breaches in discipline such as this and the blood of one soldier in the endeavor was to high a price to pay.
The evidence was certainly there to not only warrant a court martial but also to bring a conviction against the officer, instead he was relieved and his brigadier commission revoked. It had taken intervention from the President to re-commission him and assign him to engineering duties with the Army of the Potomac where he would spend the remainder of his Civil War career. While serving with the engineers he would win brevets to both brigadier and major general in the United States Army.
It was not an unbelievable turn of events when high-ranking officers find themselves walking the fine line between politics and military affairs on the battlefield. Major General Henry Washington Benham reaped the rewards more than likely deserving of another, and escaped the jaws of military death at the hands of a court martial.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a new feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at email@example.com