Bennett Jeffries Doty A Delayed Obituary

July 1, 2018


Doty, Bennet J. for article

Bennett Jeffries Doty, 1927, Wide World Photo.

Bennett Jeffries Doty, Soldier of Fortune, attorney and author died April 4, 1938 in an unidentified hospital near Gandesa, Spain. Doty was born to Lemuel Humphries Doty (1866-1962) and Margaret “Mell” Jeffries Doty on August 16, 1900 in Faunsdale, Hale County, Alabama.[i] Doty, who had an adventurous streak, joined the Tennessee Army National Guard in 1916 and accompanied his unit, the 55th Artillery Brigade, 115th Field Artillery to France. During World War I, Doty fought in the Battle of St. Mihiel (September 12-15, 1918) and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (September 26-Noember 11, 1918).[ii] In 1919, after returning from France, Doty enrolled in Vanderbilt University. Doty appears to have left Vanderbilt, travelled to Spain, and enlisted in the newly formed Spanish Foreign Legion to fight in the Rif War. Doty cut his enlistment short and returned to the United States on January 9, 1922 aboard the Baltic citing “ill treatment, poor conditions and breach of contract.[iii]  After his return, he resumed his college education. This time, Doty attended the University of Virginia from 1922-1925.[iv]

In 1925, Doty left the University of Virginia and travelled to the French Foreign Legion recruiting office in Bordeaux, France.  He enlisted in the Legion under the alias Gilbert Clareon on June 12, 1925.[v] He later stated that he “. . . enlisted because I wanted to fight Mister Abd-El-Krim in Morocco, but they sent me to Syria.”[vi] After training in Sidi Bel Abbès, the Legion’s home in Algeria, Doty was posted to Lebanon where he fought against Druse rebels. He received citations in two army orders while on active duty with the Legion’s 29th Company of the 1er Régiment Étranger.[vii] When the action died down and boredom set in, he deserted along with three other legionnaires. Arrested by Syrian police and shipped back to France for court martial, Doty was sentenced to death for desertion in the face of the enemy. This sentence was later reduced to eight years in prison.[viii]

Legion of the Damned

Dust Cover of Doty’s Book.

Correspondent George Seldes of the Chicago Tribune interviewed Doty shortly before he deserted and he subsequently reported on Doty’s trial and sentence. Doty’s family learned of his trial and sentence from an article by Seldes.  In response to the news, the family contacted the State Department which interceded leading to Doty’s release after serving only seventeen months. Upon his return to the US, he stated “Never, no more. I have had all the experiences I crave.”[ix]

Doty in Syria with the French Foreign Legion.

Doty in Syria with the French Foreign Legion.

After his return to the US on December 20, 1927 aboard the SS Majestic, Doty wrote a memoir of experience in the French Foreign Legion.[x] His book, The Legion of the Damned: The Adventures of Bennett J. Doty in the French Foreign Legion as Told by Himself was published in 1928.[xi] Doty travelled around the country promoting his book before entering Tulane University’s Law School in 1932.  Doty was admitted to the Mississippi Bar in 1936.[xii]

The Spanish Civil War seems to have rekindled Doty’s wanderlust. In February 1938 he sailed to France.  Doty crossed into Spain over the Pyrenees arriving at the Fort of Figueres on March 4, 1938.[xiii]  He reached Albacete three days later where he formally entered the International Brigades.  After enlisting Doty was sent to the XVth International Brigade’s training base located in Tarrazona.

A large-scale Nationalist Offensive kicked off two days after Doty arrived in Albacete.[xiv] The XVth Brigade was routed in an campaign remembered as “The Retreats” by the survivors.  The Nationalists crashed through the front and drove the Republican armies before it. Doty along with many others in the training camp volunteered to forego additional training to go to the front as a replacement for the Lincoln-Washington Battalion.

Doty likely joined the Lincoln-Washington Battalion west of Corbera where it was being reconstituted. On March 26, the battalion moved to positions north of Corbera. On March 31, 1938 the men of the rebuilt XVth Brigade were issued rifles, ammunition and grenades.  The Lincoln-Washington Battalion was marching toward new positions on the morning of April 1, 1938, when they ran head-on into the Nationalists’ resumed offensive. Later that day, Doty was wounded in action near Gandesa. He was evacuated to a hospital where he died from his chest wounds three days later on April 4, 1938.[xv]  After surviving three wars Doty’s luck expired.

Special Thanks to J. Wagner whose blog posts on Doty provided the inspiration for this article.


[i]Doty’s only known sibling was a brother Lemuel Humphries Doty, Jr. (1903-1993); L-W Tree.

[ii] “Experienced: Damned Restless,” MHQ, April 6, 2017, originally published in the April 2014 issue of Military History Quarterly (MHQ).

[iii] “13 Americans Quit Fighting for Spain” New York Times, November 25, 1921, Lists a Bennett Doty of Memphis who along with thirteen Americans WWI veterans, and forty-three British, quit the Spanish Foreign Legion; The Spanish Foreign Legion was founded on January 28, 1920. The author of the blog Mon Legionnaire noted that the New York Times article, is the only reference to Doty’s time with the Spanish Foreign Legion, which took place “after a year at Vanderbilt University (1920) but before he spent three years in the University of Virginia studying literature and economics (1922-1925).”  Doty appears to have joined the Spanish Foreign Legion during the Riff War but, left before his contract was completed. “Fought in Three Armies,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 28, 1927. Return data is from the Baltic’s passenger list in L-W Tree.

[iv] The University of Virginia Record, Volume 8, No. 1, December 15, 1921; lists “Doty, Bennett Jeffries (College, 1) Wichita Falls, Texas” under students registered in 1920-21 after Jan. 1, 1921. p. 70.; There remains some question as to whether he graduated from UVA. A Bennett Jeffries Doty, from Texas is also noted as having served in the US Marines.  It is unclear if this is the same individual. Ancestry, L-W Tree.

[v] “Experienced: Damned Restless,” MHQ.

[vi] “French Pardon Yank Who Fled Foreign Legion,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 28, 1927.

[vii] “Experienced: Damned Restless,” MHQ.

[viii] “A Deserter Who Was Not Shot,” The Literary Digest, August 14, 1926, pp. 44, 46, 48. (

[ix] “French Pardon Yank Who Fled Foreign Legion,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 28, 1927.

[x] Passenger List, Ancestry.Com L-W Tree.

[xi] The Legion of the Damned: The Adventures of Bennett J. Doty in the French Foreign Legion as Told by Himself, (New York: Century Co., 1928).

[xii] James B. Lloyd, Lives of Mississippi Authors 1817-1967, University Press of Mississippi, 1980, p. 140.

[xiii] RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 6, Delo 36, ll. 97.

[xiv] RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 2, Delo 303, ll. 243. Arrived in Albacete on March 7, 1938.

[xv] RGASPI Fond 545, Opis 6, Delo 51, ll. 26-33, Doty referenced 27, “Batallon 58,” undated, Typed list of killed, missing and wounded,  lists under Heridos en Accion 1 de April 1938, “Bennet Doty, Gandesa, pecho (chest).”


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2 Responses to “ Bennett Jeffries Doty A Delayed Obituary ”

  1. Well Bennett Powell on December 14, 2020 at 5:46 pm

    I have heard about him all of my life from my aunt Margaret Mell Bennett for whom I was named. I was told that he disappeared around a harbor or dock. My aunt who I called ” Sister”, would have loved to have heard known this!

  2. Allan J Watson, III (Jack) on March 16, 2022 at 9:17 pm

    Bennett was my cousin. I, too, heard about him most of my life and, strangely enough, looked up his book recently, as I’m reasonably certain our family copy was lost in Hurricane Katrina and found this obit. Bennett’s father was my mother’s father’s cousin–first she thought–, and they lived in Biloxi when I was a child. I remember them well. We called them “C’un” Lem and “C’un” Mell. Daddy said numerous times that Mr. Doty, as he referred to him, said he was confident Bennett was dead. Mama said numerous times that C’un Mell said she was sure that if Bennett were alive, he’d have come home when WWII broke out. My last memory of Bennett’s brother Lemuel, Jr. “Gitch” was his attendance at my wedding in 1985. My father and I attended Gitch’s funeral here in Gulfport in 1993.