Brigadier General
Stephen Vincent Benet

Brigadier General Stephen Vincent BenetStephen Vincent Benet was born in St. Augustine, Florida, on 22, January 1827, the son of a prominent political figure of Spanish descent. His grandfather, a native of Minorca, had settled in St. Augustine toward the end of the 18th century, and a great uncle had been a captain in the Spanish Navy. Three of General Benet's grandchildren, William Rose Benet, Stephen Vincent Benet, and Laura Benet, were to become distinguished twentieth century writers. At the age of 12, young Benet entered a private school in Alexandria, Virginia, where he compiled an outstanding record over a period of several years. On the strength of this background, he was admitted to the University of Georgia as a junior, but left before completing his course to enter West Point in June 1845. He was the first cadet ever admitted from his home state, which had been admitted to the Union just three months previously. Originally determined to pursue a career in law, Benet had considered remaining in the Army for a comparatively short period of time. He nonetheless consistently remained one of the top students in his class. He ultimately stood third in his class of 1849. During the 1850s, Benet served in a variety of posts at Watervliet, Frankford, and St. Louis Arsenals, and also taught geography, history, ethics and law at the Military Academy. Promoted to captain in August 1861, Benet was again detailed to West Point, this time as an instructor in ordnance and gunnery. By 1864, he had been made commandant of Frankfort Arsenal, a post he held for five years. In May 1865, Benet was awarded brevets of major and lieutenant colonel for faithful and meritorious service as an ordnance officer during the Civil War. When the Dyer Court of Inquiry was convened in 1868, Benet, by then a major, was assigned the task of serving as an expert witness in defense of his chief. He subsequently served on the Ordnance Board for a short time, inspected ordnance and projectiles, and experimented with Parrott guns at Cold Spring, New York. On the death of General Dyer in June 1874, Benet was appointed brigadier general and Chief of Ordnance. General Benet's tenure of nearly seventeen years was marked by the development of new facilities at the various Ordnance installations around the country. Sandy Hook Proving Ground was established in August 1874. The Ordnance Board studied and recommended significant improvements for field artillery, including breech loaders, high angle fire weapons, elevating mechanisms to allow curved fire with reduced powder charges, uniform construction of interchangeable wheels, and folding trail handspikes. Considerable experimentation was carried on with seacoast guns, armor plate, and high explosives. The early modern machine guns were given some attention after they were first introduced in 1884, and work was also done on a pneumatic dynamite gun. General Benet was also credited with having successfully pressed for retention of the Arsenal system despite determined efforts by private industry to take over all weapons production. The General retired on his 64th birthday, 22 January 1891. During his four years in retirement, Benet was increasingly troubled by ill health, and he died on his 68th birthday, 22 January 1895.