Benjamin Franklin Cheatham, descendant of a
distinguished Tennessee family, was born at Beech Grove on May 20 1867. His great-great
grandfather, called the father of Tennessee, was General James Robertson, founder of
Nashville. Cheatham's father fought in the Mexican War and had been a Major General in the
Confederate Army. He attended the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee, taking a
three-year course in engineering. For the next ten years he served as a Captain in the
Tennessee National Guard . His civilian profession was that of civil engineer.
At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, the
governor of Tennessee offered him an appointment as Colonel of the First Tennessee
Regiment. General Cheatham declined the honor because his acceptance would have displaced
a Confederate Army veteran who had been properly chosen as colonel of the regiment.
Instead, he was elected to fill an existing vacancy as Major and sailed with his regiment
for the Philippine Islands in September 1898. General Cheatham remained in the
Philippines during the Filipino insurrection until early in 1901. During these years he
was promoted to colonel of the 37th U. S. Volunteer Infantry and was mustered out of the
Volunteer service on February 20, 1901.
General Cheatham's service in the Philippines was so
outstanding that the Commanding General of the Department of Southern Luzon recommend him
for a Regular Army commission. He accepted a Captaincy in the Quartermaster's Department
upon his return to Tennessee. By August 1901 he was again in the Philippines serving as
assistant to the Chief Quartermaster of the Philippine Division until the spring of
1903. Except for an interval of a few months, Cheatham had been on duty in the
Philippine Islands for almost five years.
For the next nine years his duties were that of a
construction Quartermaster, first at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, then at San
Francisco, and finally he was placed in charge of all construction at the Office of the
Quartermaster General. On March 17, 1908, he was promoted Major. In the fall of 1912 General Cheatham was assigned as Chief Quartermaster in
the Department of Hawaii and was also in charge of the Army Transport Service at Honolulu.
He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on March 29, 1914. He continued on duty in Hawaii
until July 1915 when he was assigned assistant to the depot Quartermaster at San
World War I brought a rapid change of assignments to
General Cheatham. In February 1917 he had been assigned as assistant to the Chief
Quartermaster of the Western Department. On April 12 he was ordered to duty at Boston as
Chief Quartermaster of the Northeastern Department and by June was en route to France as
Quartermaster of the First Infantry Division, a post he held until January 20, 1918. He
then served as Quartermaster, First Army Corps, through March 12. Promoted to Colonel in
the National Army, he was placed on duty at General Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary
Force, for three months. This was followed by one month as Quartermaster of the Advance
Section Service of Supply and two months as Inspector General.
General Cheatham applied for combat service in the
summer of 1918 and was given command of the 104th Infantry Regiment, 26th Infantry
Division. He skillfully commanded this unit through the Meuse-Argonne offensive and
until his return to the United States in April 1919. After the war he was awarded the
Distinguished Service Medal for his outstanding service.
Benjamin F. Cheatham
27th Quartermaster General
January 1926 - January 1930
Returning to the United States, he was temporarily assigned to duty as
Quartermaster of the Western Department. He was soon sent to Fort Leavenworth as a student
at the General Staff School and upon graduation was promoted to Colonel. The following
year he attended the Army War College in Washington. He was assigned as Quartermaster of
the Ninth Corps Area in July 1921; Chief of Staff of the Ninth Corps Area in April 1922;
and as executive officer to the Assistant Secretary of War in January 18, 1924.
President Calvin Coolidge, appointed General Cheatham as Quartermaster
General, with the rank of Major General on January 3, 1926. General Cheatham had the
unenviable duty to oversee the continuing downsizing of the Quartermaster Corps after
World War I. It was his unpleasant task to release civilian personnel, close depots
and dispose of excess military property. But he was also insistent on planning for
expansion of the Corps should there be another war. He worked to eliminate disastrous
inter-agency competition, minimize production delays, direct resources into essential
channels, and avoid transportation difficulties.. World War I had revealed the folly of
not preparing plans in advance. Detailed procurement plans were drafted which later were
reviewed periodically and kept current.
He also had the duty of exercising staff supervision over the Graves
Registration Service which was still identifying and burying the American dead of World
War I, either in permanent American cemeteries in Europe or in private or national
cemeteries in the United States. In 1929 Congress passed an act authorizing the
Secretary of War to arrange for pilgrimages to cemeteries in Europe by mothers and widows
of American soldiers buried in Europe. The Quartermaster General was given responsibility
for arranging and conducting these pilgrimages. General Cheatham took a personal interest
in working out all the details involved - developing plans of procedure, handling the
voluminous correspondence involved in contacting widows and mothers to learn their wishes,
and in making arrangements for their transportation and shelter.
In 1927 he was awarded the French Legion of Honor (Commander) by decree of
the President of France. General Cheatham applied for retirement on January 17,
1930, after more than 31 years of service.
His successor, Major General John L. DeWitt, requested that General
Cheatham be recalled to active duty to serve as General Inspector to oversee the
pilgrimage to the cemeteries in Belgium, France, and England in the summer of 1930 by the
mothers and widows of World War I dead who were buried there. Cheatham had given much time
and thought to the preparations for this first pilgrimage during his last year as
Quartermaster General and was the ideal person for the job. He was returned to active duty
from May, 10 to September 15, 1930.
After retirement he managed of a 1,100 acre plantation in Virginia. He
became Resident Superintendent of Stratford Hall, birthplace of Robert E. Lee, located in
Westmoreland County, Virginia. General Cheatham died during World War II on November 2,
1944, at Fitzsimons General Hospital in Colorado at the age af 77. He was buried at
Arlington National Cemetery.
since 19 Nov 00