Wednesday, September 05, 2007

James D. Bennett

James D. Bennett was born March 4, 1841, in Michigan, the son of John Delivan (1811-1887) and Mary Ann (Borden, 1811-1866).

New Yorkers John D. and Mary were presumably married in New York where they were living by 1832 when their oldest son Joseph was born. John brought his family to Michigan and had settled in Lodi, Washtenaw County by 1838 when his son William was born and was probably living in Salem Township, Washtenaw County by 1840. By 1850 James was attending school with four of his older siblings, including his brother William and they were all living on the family farm in Lodi. John D. eventually moved his family to the western side of the state, settling in Grand Rapids, Kent County.

In December of 1859 James was living in Grand Rapids when he joined the Grand Rapids Artillery, a Grand Rapids militia company made up mostly of men from the west side of the Grand River and commanded by Captain Baker Borden, who would become the first captain of Company B, Third Michigan infantry. (Baker was probably related to James’ mother Mary. In fact, Baker first settled his family in Lodi, Washtenaw County in the late 1830s before moving to the western side of the state.) In addition, James’ older brother William B. may have been the same “William D. Bennett” who joined the Grand Rapids Artillery on June 16, 1860. (In turn, this may have been the same "William W. Bennett" who also served in the GRA and subsequently in Company B, Third Michigan Infantry.)

In 1859-60 James’ father was manufacturing vinegar on the west side of Turner Street between Second and Third Streets on the west side of the Grand River in Grand Rapids, and in 1860 James was living with his family in Grand Rapids’ Fourth Ward and possibly working as a tinsmith. Next door lived Elisha O. Stevens who would also join the Third Michigan.

James was 21 years old and still living in Grand Rapids when he enlisted as Fourth Sergeant in Company B on May 13, 1861. James was promoted to Second Lieutenant, commissioned on October 27, 1862, replacing Lieutenant George Remington.

He was probably present for duty with the regiment from the time it arrived in Washington in June of 1861 until May of 1863 when he was court-martialled shortly after the battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia.

At 10:00 a.m. on May 25, 1863, James was court martialled at Second Brigade headquarters, First Division, Third Corps, near Falmouth, Virginia, for being AWOL during the battle of Chancellorsville, on May 2, 3 & 4 of 1863.

Specifically, he was charged with, first, “Conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline” in that he “did leave his company and Regiment on the night of the 2nd day day of May, while said company and Regiment were engaged with the enemy [at Chancellorsville] and did not return until the morning of the 4th day of May 1863.” Second, he was charged with being “Absent without leave,” that he “did leave his company and Regiment without the consent or knowledge of his company commander (First Lieutenant Alfred Pew) or Regimental commander (Colonel Byron R. Pierce), and did remain absent about two days. All this while the Regiment was engaged with the enemy at or near Chancellorsville, Va., on or about the 2nd, 3rd & 4th days of May 1863.”

Brigadier General J. H. Ward presided over the court which consisted of Colonels Samuel Hayman of the Thirty-seventh New York, Thomas Egan of the Fortieth New York, A. S. Leidy (?) of the Ninety-ninth Pennsylvania, Peter Sides of the Fifty-seventh Pennsylvania, Byron Pierce of the Third Michigan and Lieutenant Col. E. Burt of the Third Maine; Major W. C. Taylor of the Twentieth (?) Indiana was the Judge Advocate. The accused was asked if he had any objection to any member of the court and replied no. First Lieutenant Alfred Pew, First Sergeant William Coughtry and Sergeant David Northrup (all of Company B) were called as witnesses for the prosecution. Bennett pled guilty to both charges and specifications, was found guilty on both and sentenced to “forfeit all pay and allowances that are or may become due him and that he be cashiered.”

On June 7, while the regiment was at Belle Plain, Virginia, David Northrup of Company B wrote to a former Company B soldier, Fred Stow discussing this incident.

You mention the report of the arrest of James [Bennett] and Almon Borden. It is too true. Their sentence is as you hear. Capt. Borden dismissed with pay [and] James cashiered, dismissed without pay. It is the opinion of all that it is unjustly hard on James. It ought to be reversed the two. Borden ought to go without pay. The charge against James was deserting his company before the enemy. He went in with us the night of the charge and was not seen till Monday morning. We all supposed him killed or taken prisoners. But Monday morning he made his appearance. He is with Al[mon Borden] in Washington at present. I do not know what they intend to do. Now do not tell anyone that I have written anything about it. It must be a severe blow to his father. I presume he will take it hard. James has been anxious, very, to get out of the service but I think at too great a sacrifice. I am very sorry and do not know hardly how to express my thoughts. I should rather have sacrificed my life than to have to have such a thing to think of. I would not let this be public even to his friends if they do not know it. You will see it in the Herald of June second or third. I do not remember which. I have not got through but must close for the want of more room.

Interestingly, on October 31, 1864, the War Department informed Michigan Governor Austin Blair that the sentence of Bennett’s court martial “is hereby removed, and he can be recommissioned an officer of Volunteers”, presumably to serve in the colored troops. And in fact James served as First Lieutenant in Company C, Thirteenth United States Colored Heavy Artillery. The Thirteenth had been organized at Camp Nelson, Kentucky on June 23, 1864 and was attached to the District of Kentucky (Dept. of Ohio) until February of 1865 and then to the Dept. of Kentucky until November. It was in garrison duty at Camp Nelson, Smithland, Lexington and a variety of other points in Kentucky. The regiment was mustered out of service on November 18, 1865.

After the war James eventually returned to his home in western Michigan and by 1865-66 was working as a clerk and living at 34 Fourth Street on the west side of the Grand River in Grand Rapids, next door to one J. H. Bennett.

No pension seems to be available.

James apparently never married and was probably working as a tinsmith when he died of consumption in Grand Rapids on November 24, 1867. His funeral service was held at the West Side Presbyterian Church (where the funeral of Francis Barlow of Company I had been held in 1864), and he was buried in Greenwood cemetery: section C lot 1. (David Northrup would also die of consumption in Grand Rapids in 1876 and he too was buried in Greenwood cemetery after a funeral at the Presbyterian Church on the West Side.)

James’ headstone describes Bennett as “A sacrifice in the slaveholder rebellion.”

His father John remarried one Emma, who died in 1878.

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