Andrew Ellicott Kennedy Benham was born in Staten Island, (Richmond County) New York, on April 10, 1832. He was appointed a Midshipman on November 24, 1847; Passed Midshipman upon graduation from the Academy, June 10, 1853; and was commissioned Master to date from September 15, 1855. He subsequently attained the rank of Rear Admiral, to date from February 28, 1890, before his retirement on April 10, 1894.
Between 1847 and 1850 he served on the brig Dolphin in the East India Squadron, and in July 1851 joined USS Saranac. Detached from that vessel in October 1852 he was assigned to the Academy. On July 1, 1853 he reported to USS Princeton, and later that year joined USS St. Mary’s. He was relieved of service in that vessel upon her arrival at Panama and subsequently had duty in the Coast Survey Steamer Bibb.
He served in Westernport from September 1858 to June 1859 and was wounded during the capture of a piratical Chinese junk near Macao, China; and with the Brazil Squadron was present at Paraguay expedition (1858-1959). Following an assignment in USS Crusader, he reported in November 1861 aboard USS Bienville. While serving in that vessel, he took part in the Battle of Port Royal, and continued sea duty in her for thirteen months without going to port.
Returning to the United States, he reported in September 1856 to the Navy Yard, New York, New York, and remained there until August 1866, followed by duty until June 1867 in the Receiving Ship Vermont; USS Susquehana, and again in the Vermont. He had a second tour of duty at the Navy Yard, New York, between April 1868 and October 1870, when he became Light House Inspector, First Naval District. He had consecutive service in command of USS Canonicus and aboard USS Saugus until April 1874, and in September of that year reported to Naval Rendezvous, New York, New York. He became Inspector Sixth Light House District in January 1875, and in September 1878 assumed command of USS Richmond.
He was assigned in December 1881 to the Navy Yard, Portsmouth, New Hampshire and from January 1883 and September 1884 had special duty as President of the Board at Portsmouth. He served for two months as Assistant Inspector, Third Light House District, after which he became Inspector. He continued to serve in that capacity until January 1887, when he reported as President of the Board of Improvement, League Island Navy Yard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When that board was dissolved on January 12, 1889, he was assigned duty as Commander Navy Yard, Mare Island, California.
He commanded the South Atlantic Station from June 25, 1892, until May 31, 1893, when he transferred to command of the North Atlantic Station, hoisting his flag in USS San Francisco. He again assumed command of South Atlantic Station, upon his arrival at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on January 12, 1894. He was chief in command during the rebellion there and on January 28, 1894 took action to prevent the insurgent Brazilian Navy from interfering with United States merchant vessels in innocent and regular operations of loading and unloading at the wharves of Rio de Janeiro, that city being in the hands of the regular government. For this action, which set a new precedent in international law, he received the commendation of the United States Government.
He was transferred to the Retired List of the US Navy on April 10, 1894. After his retirement he had permission to go abroad for one year, from October 1894, and during the five years following, he had periods of active duty as member of the Board of Awards; Member of the Court of Inquiry; President, General Court Martial, Navy Yard, Washington, DC; and President of the Board, Navy Department, Washington, DC.
Rear Admiral Benham had the Civil War Medal.
He died on August 11, 1905, at Lake Mahopac, New York, and is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.
The USS Benham (DD-49, DD-397, and DD-796), is named in his honor.