Did Captain Frederick Benteen write his wife a "last" letter?
|Sunday 25th June, 1876|
I hope these few words find you in circumstances less precarious than those in which I find myself.
Today has been a day of which the 7th cannot be proud. We have been abandoned by that damned fool Custer. I am certain even now he is watering his horses somewhere along the Bighorn while we sit in the dirt and await our fate.
He divided the regiment earlier today, giving that reprobate Reno command of three companies and ordering him to charge the hostile village in the valley. I was given command of three companies and sent to ride senselessly across the gullies to the south. A last company was assigned to protect the pack mules, strung out for miles to our rear.
It is needless for me to say, Reno failed in his mission. You have met the man Kitty, he is a disgrace. When I returned from my futile mission I found him and his battalion milling like startled cattle atop the hill on which I currently sit. Though I had received a message from Custer to follow him northward, Reno begged me to stay and help him. He made such a pathetic figure Kitty, a grown man and cavalry officer blubbering and sobbing in front of the enlisted men that I did not have the heart to refuse him. Leaving them would surely have consigned them all to a grisly death.
At this moment I find myself the de facto commander of the remaining seven companies of the regiment. I have not seen that drunkard Reno for a while now. He came to me a half hour ago and whispered to me that we should run for the Powder River camp when it became dark enough to move without attracting the fire of Indian sharpshooters. My darling Kitty, can you imagine the implications of such an action. Our small command has several men wounded badly enough that they cannot move themselves, and to run would mean that we would need to abandon them to whatever gruesome fate those savages might wish to inflict. I am an ornery old man, I will admit, but I am an honourable man Kitty, I told him in no uncertain terms that no man is to be left to those devils and dismissed him from my presence. Since then he has kept out of sight and is surely in a drunken stupor somewhere among the saddles that form the breastworks of surgeon Porter's little hospital.
It is dark enough now that we can see the bonfires in the village below us and in a short while a few of the scouts will slip away to find help, though I suspect only divine intervention will be of any use to us should the Indians decide to rush us in the morning. I will hand this small note and a coin to one of them so that in the event that I do not ever see your pretty face again, you will know that I died on my feet and never surrendered while my body holds breath.
P.S. Remember me to young Freddy, he has always been the apple of his father's eye and please do your utmost to prevent him becoming a soldier.