Benteen was a source of strife and division almost from the moment he joined the Seventh Cavalry. It is fair to say that his animosity toward Custer made him a most unreliable source on any matter related to his new commander. He was gossipy and hyper-critical, willing to give the worst possible interpretation to anything Custer did. He did not like Custer from the beginning, in part because of critical remarks Custer had made about Benteen's former commander, General James Wilson, when he first joined the Seventh at Fort Riley. His hatred for Custer grew over time. As an officer, Benteen served well during the Civil War and was a capable field officer. At the Little Big Horn, he questioned Custer, made excuses for not following Custer's orders, ultimately choosing to link up with Reno. When he did, he essentially took command and consolidated the defense of the hill.
He was ambitious, sought recognition for his bravery during the war, as did others, after the war. He was cautious and frequently challenged and second-guessed Custer, with a persistent tenacity. Had he been attached to any other regiment, he might have fared differently, although his personality traits makes even that an open question. It was not his military skill that made him a problem, but the way, over time, that he undermined regimental cohesion.
Following the fight at the Washita, Benteen wrote a sharp letter on December 22, 1868, accusing Custer of abandoning Major Elliott, which was published anonymously. In March 1869 at Camp Supply, Custer confronted Benteen about the letter, and Benteen admittedd he was the author. Elliott apparently pursued a party of Cheyennes, and most accounts say that Custer was unaware of his departure Ben Clark, who was present as a scout, was quoted in the New York SUN, on May 14, 1899, "the chare was made against Custer in after years that he [Custer] gave the order which led Elliott to his death and then abandoned him to his fate. This accusation was false. Custer knew nothing of his going. Half an hour after Elliott an his men rode away Custer came up and asked me what had beccome of Elliott."
Custer did not refer to the loss of Elliott's command in his report, choosing to concentrate on the action he commanded, but General Sheridan said that Custer believed that Elliott had left without a guide and believed that he would ultimately return to Camp Supply or Fort Dodge. Sheridan was not entirely pleased with his explanation, and Elliott's fate did fester in the regimental discord. But those who have studied it most closely, like Jerome Greene, T. J. Stiles, and Robert Utley, have tended to accept Custer's word, supported by Clark's account and reports by others, including Lieutenant Godfrey. Besides, there is no way to tell whether Custer could have done anything by the if he had tried to find Elliott. He was also concerned about the Indian forces, larger in number, and chose to protect the his command. There was just enough question raised by Elliott's fate to keep the argument alive, especially when watered over years by Benteen allegation.
Roy, what is your perspective of Benteen’s claim that Custer abandoned Elliot at the Washita? I would be interested in Gary’s perspective also since he has done some excellent research of this battle... more
that during a staff meeting of his officers, Custer complained of the cowardedly anonymous letter and wanted to know who wrote it. Benteen said that he excused himself, left the tent, checked to see t... more
I have never thought Custer abandoned him. Chaos all around. I'm doing some studying on the aftermath, including Custer's return trip to Washita soon after the massacre/battle. What a grizzly site t... more
Some of the documentation indicates Benteen’s reason for not coming to Custer’s aid was he thought Custer was chasing the Indians and glory up the river and abandoning the rest of the regi... more
Reno gave conflicting orders on his hill. At one point he seemed willing to abandon the wounded. He was accused of being drunk. He ordered his soldiers to mount and then dismount. He was rattled. He ... more
Here ia a description: " Reno's Arikara scout, Bloody Knife, was shot in the head, splattering brains and blood onto Reno's face. The shaken Reno ordered his men to dismount and mount again.... more
Roy, I was not looking for information. Just interested in your overall perspective of Custer and his Indian wars.
Since 1980 I have accumulated a lot of information about Custer and the battle a... more