Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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BENTON, James Gilchrist, soldier, born in Lebanon, N. It., 15 September 1820; died in Springfield, Massachusetts, 23 August 1881. His father, Calvin Benton, was a wool-merchant and introduced merino sheep into New England. The son was graduated at the United States military academy in 1842, brevetted 2d lieutenant of ordnance, served at Watervliet, New York, arsenal until 1848, was promoted to the full rank of second lieutenant, 3 March 1847, and transferred to the ordnance bureau in Washington, where he assisted in preparing the "System of Artillery for the Land Service" and the "Ordnance Manual." He was made first lieutenant, 25 March 1848, served at Harper's Ferry armory in 1849, and in the San Antonio ordnance depot, Texas, from 1849 till 1852, was assistant inspector of arsenals and armories, and commanded the Charleston, South Carolina, arsenal in 1853. From this time until 1857 he was on special duty in Washington, engaged principally in making experiments that lad to the adoption of the Springfield rifled musket in place of the old smooth-bore. He was also a member of the ordnance boards of 1854 and 1856, then pro-rooted to a captaincy after fourteen years' continuous service, and appointed instructor of ordnance and gunnery at West Point, where he remained until the beginning of the civil war. He also designed the first wrought-iron sea-coast gun-carriage made in this country, which was adopted by the government, and has been in use ever since. In April 1861, Captain Benton went to Washington as principal assistant to General James W. Ripley, chief of ordnance, was promoted major of ordnance in 1863, and in the same year became a member of the ordnance board, when he was put in command of Washington arsenal, where he remained until 1866. Soon after he assumed command, when an explosion took place in the old penitentiary, which had been transformed into a storehouse for ammunition, he entered the building, and, with the assistance of a single man, succeeded, with his feet and hands, in putting out the fire in the loose tow and rope-handles of the boxes before the arrival of the fire department. In July 1864, he performed another act of valor on the occasion of a similar explosion, when he entered a magazine, stripped off his coat, threw it over an open barrel of powder that was in dangerous proximity to the flames, and carried the whole in his arms to a place of safety. For these services he was brevetted Lieutenant-Colonel and colonel, 13 March 1865. Among the improvements made by Colonel Benton in the arsenal grounds was cleaning the canal, an important sanitary measure; but the stirring of the muddy deposits engendered malaria, from the effects of which he never recovered. In June 1866, he was ordered to the command of the national armory at Springfield, Massachusetts, where he remained until his death. The various models of the Springfield rifle, known as the models of 1866, 1868, 1873, and 1879, were made under his direction. In 1873, with Cols. Laidley and Crispin, he went under orders from the United States government to Europe to collect information in regard to the construction of heavy cannon and other ordnance manufactures. His report on this matter, as well as his report on "Experiments made at the National Armory for the purpose of revising and improving the System of Smal1 Arms," was published by the government "for use in the army and distribution to the militia." He never took out a patent for his inventions, holding that, as he had been educated by the government, it was entitled to benefit in every way by his time and talents. Among his inventions was the application of electricity to determine velocity. Discovering, after a series of carefully conducted experiments, that the Navez electro-ballistic pendulum was too delicate and complicated for general purposes, he devised an apparatus with two pendulums of simple construction, known as the Benton electro-ballistic pendulum. This was adopted by the government, and came largely into use in private factories for testing powder. Among his other inventions were an improvement in calipers for inspecting shells; a cap-filling machine; the thread velocimeter for determining the velocity of projectiles; a system for loading and maneuvering barbette guns under cover from the enemy's fire, by depressing the muzzle of the piece and using a jointed ramrod; re-enforcing-cup for cartridge-case; and spring-dynamometer. He published a Course of Instruction in Ordnance and Gunnery" (New York, 1861; 3d ed., 1873).
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