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Henry Bennett, of Topeka, has been a resident of Kansas over forty years. Before coming to Kansas he made an enviable record as a gallant soldier in the Union army, having served with the famous Chicago Board of Trade Battery. He has lived three-quarters of a century, but still retains his youth and the optimism of virile and aggressive manhood. No individual record could be more worthy of a place in Kansas history than that of Henry Bennett.
He was one of the two sons of William and Rachel (Ludby) Bennett, and was born at Chicago, Illinois, June 15, 1841. His people became identified with Chicago at the very beginning of municipal growth. In that city he was reared, and gained his education in the public schools. When he was fifteen years old he undertook a three years’ apprenticeship at the carpenter’s trade. During the latter part of that period he did almost a man’s work, and yet his wages were only fifty cents a day, out of which he had to board and lodge himself. He then worked as a journeyman until 1861, and was paid $1.00 a day while his foreman received $1.25 per day. Thus through his individual career it is possible to understand the remarkable changes that have occurred during the past half century in the matter of wages paid to workmen. For the work he performed as a carpenter before the war, mechanics at the present time would receive four or five times the wages.
When President Lincoln issued his first call for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion, Henry Bennett was one of those who enlisted for ninety days in Battery A, Chicago Light Artillery. Three days after the enrollment he was sent to Cairo but saw little active service. At the expiration of his enlistment he was sick with chills and fever, and did not have the opportunity to re-enlist with his former comrades. He returned to Chicago and recuperated so that he was ready for another enlistment in the summer of 1862. On July 21st of that year there occurred an enthusiastic meeting of the members of the Chicago Board of Trade, in which it was resolved to recruit and equip a company of light artillery for the war. This became the famous Chicago Board of Trade Battery. Mr. Bennett was one of the first to enroll, and owing to his previous military experience he was elected one of the two second licutenants. Within forty-eight hours after the meeting a telegram was sent to the President offering the battery to the war department, and with almost equal celerity the board of trade raised three regiments of infantry. A few days later James H. Stokes was elected captain of the company by acclamation. He was a veteran artillerist, having received a commission from General Jackson and was captain of a company several years in the Florida war, and had also been an instructor at West Point. On September 9th the battery left Chicago for Louisville, Kentucky, where it was placed under the orders of General Christopher, chief of artillery of General Buell’s command. It fought at Salvisa and in a part of the Perryville engagement. Later the battery went into camp at Bowling Green and subsequently to Nashville. In the meantime General Rosecrans succeeded General Buell in command, and the battery was attached to the Pioneer Brigade of the Army of the Cumberland. The battery took an important part in the battle of Stone River at Murfreesboro in December, 1862. After the battle of Stone River it was converted into horse artillery, and attached to the Second Cavalry Division, Army of the Cumberland, and participated in a minor engagement on Duck River, and was stationed on the highest point in the battlefield. After the engagement of Duck River the command went through what was known as the Tullahoma campaign. In the spring of 1864, with his command, Lieutenant Bennett started for Chattanooga, but at Bridgeport crossed the Tennessee River and entered upon the campaign which culminated in the battle of Chickamauga. In this historic engagement the Chicago Board of Trade Battery had the honor of firing the first round on the extreme left which brought on the engagement, and likewise two sections of the battery on the extreme right, at Crawfish Springs, fired the last round. Returning to Chattanooga, Lieutenant Bennett was detailed with his command to guard the fords to prevent the crossing of General Wheeler’s Cavalry, but failing to do so pursued that energetic commander to Farmington, where a severe engagement ensued.
The next winter was spent near Huntsville, Alabama, and in the spring of 1864 joined Sherman’s advance upon Atlanta. In the meantime Lieutenant Bennett had been detailed to return to Chicago to recruit members for their depleted ranks. The next important engagement in which he bore a part was at Resaca, and later at a little town on the Chattahoochie River where three cotton mills were busy night and day supplying the rebels with cloth. Upon orders, these mills were burned. He was next in the battle of Peachtree Creek, and in the general siege of Atlanta. The headquarters of the battery were at Decatur on the extreme right. A portion of the battery participated in the famous Kilpatrick’s raid around the entire Confederate army. During July some desperate fighting occurred at Decatur between the opposing forces and the Union troops narrowly escaped destruction. One account of the fighting at this point says that during the Federal advance across Flint River the Confederate guns were silenced by Lieutenant Bennett’s section of the battery. His men then rushed to the bank of the river and dislodged the sharpshooters from the opposite bank, when the column crossed and advanced to Jonesboro. He was also in the battle of Lovejoy’s Station where the Federal losses were about 700.
After the reduction of Atlanta Lieutenant Bennett with his command joined the army of General Thomas at Nashville and took part in the tremendous fighting before that city on December 15-16th. He subsequently was with the forces in pursuit of General Hood, and spent the winter at Waterloo. In the spring of 1865, taking advantage of the general order which permitted soldiers having served two or more years to resign, Lieutenant Bennett resigned on February 18, 1865. He had received his lieutenant’s commission on July 31, 1862, and was thus a gallant officer of the Army of the Cumberland for nearly 2½ years. He was once offered the captaincy of another battery, and once a majorship in a regiment of cavalry, but he declined these honors in order that he might remain among the comrades with whom he had so long been associated in times of danger and strife.
On his return to Chicago Mr. Bennett engaged in [p.1755] the general contracting business as a member of the firm of Grannis & Bennett. Their office was on Twenty-second Street, between Michigan and Indiana avenues. After two years of partnership he was in business for himself, and from 1865 to 1876 superintended the construction of many large buildings in Chicago. His work was especially heavy after the fire of 1871, and at the time of the panic of 1873 he was employing 250 workmen. Among many other buildings he constructed the Grocers’ Block at the corner of Wabash and Lake Street, a building which has very recently been torn down in order to make room for skyscraper construction.
In 1876 Mr. Bennett came to Kansas. His first undertaking here was as a stockraiser, and he bought a place sixteen miles from Topeka near Silver Lake, where his family lived while he attended to some contracting. A year later he put up a building for the insane asylum at Ossawatomie. Since the completion of that task his home has been in Topeka, but from that city his business activities have extended over a large portion of the state. During the past forty years Mr. Bennett has constructed many of the state buildings in whole or in part, and the record of his work includes churches, banks, business blocks and many of the important structures for the Santa Fe Railway.
In 1878 he went to Manhattan and put up the north wing of the Central Building of the Kansas State Agricultural College. He has since contracted for the building of several other structures for the state at Manhattan, including the auditorium, the mechanical engineering building, the veterinary building and the original creamery building. Just thirty years ago he took the contract for remodeling the east wing of the State House as a senate chamber and altogether has put in between $250,000 and $300,000 of interior finish work on the central part of the building.
Some of the more conspicuous of his operations in Topeka alone have been the Governor Crawford Block, the Columbia, the Masonic Block, the Independent Telephone Building, the original Central National Bank Building, the National Hotel, the old Copeland Hotel which was destroyed by fire and the present fireproof building on the old site. He built the governor’s mansion, the Topeka Library Building, and the Edison office building. After he had passed his seventieth birthday his organization undertook the new Santa Fe office building, the Grace Cathedral, and the Sunday School building of the First Methodist Church, which has been completed.
In 1891 Mr. Bennett went to Mexico and for a year or so was engaged in constructing the general offices, a depot and a hotel for the Gulf & Monterey railroad, and also built a number of stations between Monterey and Mexico City for the Mexican National Railway. He also had several contracts for construction work on the World’s Fair grounds at Chicago, and put up the Territorial Building for the territories of Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico and Alaska. After that he added two more buildings, the State Hospital for the Insane at Ossawatomie, and in 1896 erected the National Hotel at Cripple Creek, Colorado, and also the administration building of the hospital at Ossawatomie. It was during the construction of a hotel at Hutchinson, Kansas, in 1908 that Mr. Bennett’s health received its first serious setback, when he was overcome by the heat, but he is still in the harness and has no intention of retiring. In the past twenty years his organization has erected many buildings for the Santa Fe Railway Company all over the Southwest. These include the freight depot at Hutchinson, depots at Santa Fe and Lamy, New Mexico, a Harvey eating house at Las Vegas, and a thirty-five-stall roundhouse at Albuquerque, New Mexico. When Oklahoma was open to settlement he had a contract with the Rock Island Railroad for building every station on that company’s line in Oklahoma. That was one of his largest years and besides all his work he put up the roundhouse and other buildings for the Rock Island at Blue Island, Illinois.
Two or three years ago Mr. Bennett’s two sons took a large share of the responsibility and became active partners in the business, and more and more he is throwing the burden of hard work upon their shoulders.
Mr. Bennett is a member of the First Methodist Episcopal Church in Topeka, is an independent republican in politics, and is a Knight Templar Mason. He has always been interested in old army comrades, and is a past commander of the Loyal Legion in the State of Kansas. He also belongs to the Rotary and the Topeka Commercial Clubs.
On December 13, 1866, Mr. Bennett married Mary F. Vreeland, whose father Henry Vreeland was an old time contractor in Chicago. Four children have been born to their union: Belle B., widow of Dr. William Swan; Mary, wife of George B. Harrison and the mother of three children; Henry Jr. and J. Albert. The sons are married, have families, and are progressive representative business men of Topeka.