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 Francisco.
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.
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.