University Archives


Manuscript account of the career of Brigadier General Henry Washington Benham with framed map of Charleston Harbor

Manuscript Civil War narrative of the campaigns of Brigadier General Benham. Two volumes. Quarto, contemporary three quarter brown morocco, marbled endpapers, Volume I has been rebacked and recornered to match the original binding. WITH: BACHE, Alexander Dallas. Expertly framed preliminary Chart of Charleston Harbor, with manuscript account of the assault of June 16, 1862. Engraved map measures 26" x 29.5". WITH: BENHAM, Henry Hill. Three manuscript leaves by Henry Hill Benham. Three leaves, each measuring 8" x 10". Quarto, contemporary three quarter brown morocco, marbled endpapers, Volume I has been rebacked and recornered to match the original binding; engraved map measures 26" x 29.5", framed measures 32.5" x 35.5"; three 8" x 10" manuscript leaves. Original manuscript account of the controversial career of Brigadier General Henry Washington Benham, with his own perspective on the "James Island Affair" together with a framed large government survey map of Charleston Harbor showing James Island and Secessionville, a vintage photograph of Benham in uniform, and three manuscript leaves of military assessment by Benham's son, Henry Hill Benham.

From 1848 until 1861, Henry Benham was engaged as superintending engineer for seacoast fortifications from Boston Harbor, to New York Harbor, to the Florida coast. He was also assistant in charge of the U.S. Survey Office under Alexander Dallas Bache, who once described Benham as "a man of excellent judgment, of great kindness, yet firmness in dealing with his subordinates... His loyalty of character and devotion to the service in which he is engaged cannot be surpassed." In 1861, Benham was appointed to the position of chief engineer of the Department of the Ohio, and participated in McClellan's West Virginia campaign. During the campaign, Benham led an advance guard in pursuit of Confederate General Robert Garnett to Corrick's Ford, where Garnett was killed. As a result of this action, Benham was promoted to Brigadier General. He then took part in the campaign against Robert E. Lee, under General William Rosecrans, and commanded the leading brigade at the battle at Carnifex Ferry in September 1861. On June 16, 1862, however, Benham led an unsuccessful attack against Confederate forces in Secessionville, South Carolina (called the "James Island Affair"); he was relieved of his command by General David Hunter and charged with disobeying orders. Hunter was supported by Rosecrans, who himself accused Benham of making his case publicly in the press and of "disparaging others, in the hearing of officers and men, and claiming praise for himself." Benham lost his rank over the matter and requested a Court of Inquiry to restore his reputation. The accompanying large Chart of Charleston Harbor, with the lines of battle sketched in and containing a manuscript account of orders issued and obeyed, may actually have been used as an exhibit at Benham's inquiry, as it relates internal communications that seem to exonerate Benham. The account ends with affidavits from two wounded Confederate officers who stated that their troops "would have surrendered had the assault continued 5 to 10 minutes longer." In January 1863, the Washington Chronicle reported "a most complete exoneration of General Benham from all blame in relation to that affair." On February 6th, President Lincoln reinstated him and assigned him to command the engineering brigade of the Army of the Potomac. Benham excelled in this position. During his tenure he superintended the construction of several famous pontoon bridges, including the one constructed (under fire) across the Rappahannock River for the retreat of Hooker's Army from Chancellorsville (fully described at the end of his narrative). Benham devised a method of laying pontoon bridges by simultaneous bays, thereby accelerating the movement of troops. He also invented a portable entrenching tool called a "picket shovel". Benham was mustered out of the military at the end of the war after being rewarded a brevet Major General. Yet he remained in the regular army, directing such engineering projects as the construction of the Potomac aqueduct and the Washington Navy Yard.

These are Benham's own manuscript narratives of his career, with special emphasis on the "James Island Affair," illustrated with three intricately hand-drawn maps. Also included are three leaves of manuscript notes by Benham's son Henry Hill Benham, assessing the condition of uniforms and materiel of French troops at Vincennes, sometime between 1893-97, when he served as quartermaster of the Second Infantry. Henry had earlier served on the faculty of Union College as Military Professor. One of these narratives was published: Recollections of West Virginia Campaign, with The Three Months Troops" (1873). His "Army of the Potomac Pontoons," also here in manuscript, was prepared for publication by the New England Historical Society. Bookplate of "Ye Army and Navy Club of ye City of New York." Laid into the Civil War narrative is an original salt-paper photographic print of Henry Washington Benham. Ink quite blurred with words over-written in critical passages, expert restoration to original bindings, beautifully framed map near-fine, with early paper repairs to folds on verso; photographic print slightly silvered; edge-wear to manuscript leaves.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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