General Benham Arrested for Disobeying Orders at Secessionville; Pope Invited East

June 19, 1862 (Thursday)

General David Hunter, commander of the Department of the South, headquartered at Hilton Head, South Carolina, had left strict orders for General Henry Benham to keep his 6,600 men in their entrenchments and to not attack to enemy on James Island, near Charleston.

Following the Union defeat at Secessionville, brought about by General Benham marching his men from their entrenchments to attack the enemy, a report of the “reconnaissance” penned by Benham’s hand, made its way to Hunter.

Upon reading Benham’s side of things, it was clear that a reconnaissance that resulted in well over 600 casualties was not a reconnaissance at all, but a pitched battle.1

General Benham's in some hot water.

On this date, Hunter took action. He immediately removed Benham from command, placing General Horatio Wright in in his stead. “You will not attempt to advance toward Charleston or Fort Johnson till largely re-enforced and until you receive express orders from these headquarters,” Hunter ordered Wright, making perfectly sure he was understood.

If Wright believed the position to be untenable, he was to “make all the necessary dispositions for abandoning James Island and John’s Island, sending off in the first place all your sick and all your stores.”2

General Benham, unaware that he had been relieved, spent the morning shoring up his defenses, as 300 wounded were transported off the island, headed for Hilton Head.

Hunter's Headquarters at Hilton Head.

A steamer coming from Hilton Head docked that afternoon. General Hunter had given the order to Samuel Stockton, his newphew, and sent him to James Island. Upon arrival, Stockton found Benham and delivered the news.3 Whatever message that Hunter had written or verbally related has been lost, but it was clear, General Benham was being relieved for, as Hunter would write in his final report, “disobeying positive orders and clear instructions.”4

By the evening, Benham set foot on Hilton Head and made for Hunter’s headquarters right away. After whatever small formalities, Benham launched into a defense of his “reconnaissance.” During what was little more than a paraphrasing of his report, Hunter sat there and simply listened. He asked no questions and made no comment. When Benham was finally through, Hunter called for his order book and read aloud his June 10th order.5

“In leaving the Stono River to return to Hilton Head I desire, in any arrangements that you may make for the disposition of your forces now in this vicinity, you will make no attempt to advance on Charleston or to attack Fort Johnson until largely re-enforced or until you receive specific instructions from these headquarters to that effect.”6

When Hunter finished with the reading, he turned to Benham and said, “General, I put you under arrest.”

Henry Washington Benham’s career with the infantry was over. Later in the war, however, he would serve as a commander of the engineers traveling with the Army of the Potomac, his true calling.


General Pope Requested in Washington

General John Pope, General John Pope, General John Pope

Since the fall of Corinth, Mississippi, the Union army under General Henry Halleck had pursued General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Rebel army but slightly. Most of the troops had remained at Corinth, while General John Pope’s Corps moved south.

There had been a huge misunderstanding over a report sent by Pope, who claimed that there were 10,000 Rebel stragglers who would soon come into Union lines. General Halleck somehow interpreted it to mean that Pope had already rounded up 10,000 Confederate prisoners.7

“General Pope, with 40,000, is 30 miles south of Corinth, pushing the enemy hard,” wrote Halleck to Washington on June 4. “He already reports 10,000 prisoners and deserters from the enemy and 15,000 stand of arms captured.”8

Pope was furious over Halleck’s fabrication. When the press caught wind of it and how Pope never captured anywhere near that many, he was drawn as a egoist and a liar.

Though, at the end of the war, he would refute Halleck’s claims, he said little or nothing about it at this time. He gave reasons such as honor and not wishing to use the press to his advantage for his silence, but in reality, it was politics.9

Secretary of War Edwin Stanton

On this date, Pope received a message from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton: “If your orders will admit, and you can be absent long enough from your command, I would be glad to see you at Washington.”10

What this was about, Pope had an idea. There would be no other reason to call him to Washington unless he was being transfered to a command in the east. He had made himself a home in the West. His wife and newborn child lived in St. Louis, while most his subordinate officers and men thought highly of him. Pope also had great disdain for eastern officers like George McClellan and Fitz John Porter.

He would arrive in Washington, amidst Halleck’s protestations, on June 24.11

  1. Secessionville by Patrick Brennan, Savas, 1996. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 14, p355. []
  3. Secessionville by Patrick Brennan, Savas, 1996. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 14, p42. Hunter’s report was filed on June 21. []
  5. Secessionville by Patrick Brennan, Savas, 1996. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 14, p46. []
  7. John Pope by Peter Cozzens, University of Illinois, 2000. []
  8. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 13, p669. []
  9. John Pope by Peter Cozzens, University of Illinois, 2000. []
  10. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 17, Part 2, p17. []
  11. John Pope by Peter Cozzens, University of Illinois, 2000. []
Creative Commons License
General Benham Arrested for Disobeying Orders at Secessionville; Pope Invited East by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


View all posts by