West Point: 1862.
6 pages (front and back), 10 x 8 inches, West Point, New York, September 8, 1862. Signed "S. V. Benet" and written to Col. Alexander Hamilton Bowman, Supt. of the United States Military Academy, reporting on an ordinance trial of a projectile designed by American inventor Michael Ritner that could actually penetrate iron...but would be denied a production contract, in very small part: "...One of the objects of the trial was to test the penetrating power of lead projectiles when fired against iron plates. The gun used was a 50 pound semi-steel caliber 5.1 inches - rifled. On July 29 - a lead shot, in the form of a night cylinder, weighing 32lbs, with India rubber sabot, a charge of 8 lbs mortar powder...was fired at a wrought iron plate 46 inches from a vertical distance...92 feet from the muzzle of the gun. The iron plate was strongly supported by timbers...the lead shot struck the plate in the center, penetrating 1 1/2 inches - the indentation being 8 inches in diameter. The iron plate was bent and riddled, and cracked in the rear, clear across and nearly through its entire thickness..." Benet would go on to perform many additional tests, several conducted using large amounts of black powder and 100lb. rifled Parrot Guns, but in conclusion he wrote: "There is nothing in the whole trial to show that any material benefit is to be derived from the use of India rubber wads or sabots." Just six months before this letter was written, the Ironclad vessels Merrimack and Monitor fought a battle that ended in a draw, partly because neither ship had the capacity to infiltrate iron plating with an effective projectile. Two metal-rimmed punch holes in the left margin, small stain in the upper right corner of the first page, and two horizontal folds. Very good condition.
Career military officer who fought through the Civil War, eventually being promoted through the ranks to Brigadier General and Chief of United States Army Ordinance. He was the father of Col. James Walker Benet and Laurence Vincent Benet (United States Navy), and the Grandfather of poets Stephen Vincent Benet and Laura Benet. He died on Jan. 22, 1895 and is interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Benet played a significant role in the American Army's organizational / technological modernization, which had its modest beginnings before the Spanish-American War.