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Berry Benson's Civil War Book

Memoirs of a Confederate Scout and Sharpshooter

Berry Benson Edited by Susan Williams Benson New Introduction by Edward J. Cash

Publication Year: 2007

Confederate scout and sharpshooter Berry Greenwood Benson witnessed the first shot fired on Fort Sumter, retreated with Lee's Army to its surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, and missed little of the action in between. This memoir of his service is a remarkable narrative, filled with the minutiae of the soldier's life and paced by a continual succession of battlefield anecdotes.

Three main stories emerge from Benson's account: his reconnaissance exploits, his experiences in battle, and his escape from prison. Though not yet eighteen years old when he left his home in Augusta, Georgia, to join the army, Benson was soon singled out for the abilities that would serve him well as a scout. Not only was he a crack shot, a natural leader, and a fierce Southern partisan, but he had a kind of restless energy and curiosity, loved to take risks, and was an instant and infallible judge of human nature. His recollections of scouting take readers within arm's reach of Union trenches and encampments. Benson recalls that while eavesdropping he never failed to be shocked by the Yankees' foul language; he had never heard that kind of talk in a Confederate camp!

Benson's descriptions of the many battles in which he fought--including Cold Harbor, The Seven Days, Manassas, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, and Petersburg--convey the desperation of a full frontal charge and the blind panic of a disorganized retreat. Yet in these accounts, Benson's own demeanor under fire is manifest in the coolly measured tone he employs.

A natural writer, Benson captures the dark absurdities of war in such descriptions as those of hardened veterans delighting in the new shoes and other equipment they found on corpse-littered battlefields. His clothing often torn by bullets, Benson was also badly bruised a number of times by spent rounds. At one point, in May 1863, he was wounded seriously enough in the leg to be hospitalized, but he returned to the field before full recuperation.

Benson was captured behind enemy lines in May 1864 while on a scouting mission for General Lee. Confined to Point Lookout Prison in Maryland, he escaped after only two days and swam the Potomac to get back into Virginia. Recaptured near Washington, D.C., he was briefly held in Old Capitol Prison, then sent to Elmira Prison in New York. There he joined a group of ten men who made the only successful tunnel escape in Elmira's history. After nearly six months in captivity or on the run, he rejoined his unit in Virginia. Even at Appomattox, Benson refused to surrender but stole off with his brother to North Carolina, where they planned to join General Johnston. Finding the roads choked with Union forces and surrendered Confederates, the brothers ultimately bore their unsurrendered rifles home to Augusta.

Berry Benson first wrote his memoirs for his family and friends. Completed in 1878, they drew on his--and partially on his brother's--wartime diaries, as well as on letters that both brothers had written to family members during the war. The memoirs were first published in book form in 1962 but have long been unavailable. This edition, with a new foreword by the noted Civil War historian Herman Hattaway, will introduce this compelling story to a new generation of readers.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xlix

MOST people of Augusta, Georgia, know Berry Greenwood Benson as the "man on the monument." Indeed, it is his image that provided the model for the statue of the anonymous soldier atop downtown Augusta's lofty Confederate monument. Even in his own time, however, Benson was a legend for his Civil War exploits ...

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pp. lv-lvii

BERRY GREENWOOD BENSON was born February 9, 1843, in Hamburg, South Carolina, just across the Savannah River from Augusta, Georgia, the oldest child of Abraham and Nancy Harmon Benson. He attended Mr. Griffin's school in Augusta until he was seventeen and a half years old, at which time his father took him ...

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I: A Young Volunteer

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pp. 1-15

ALREADY in the fall of 1860, companies of Minute Men were being formed throughout S. C. holding themselves in readiness to be under arms at a minute's notice. One being formed in Hamburg, Blackwood and I joined it, and its services were proffered to the Governor. On the 8th of Jany. 1861, ...

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II: Under Stonewall Jackson

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pp. 16-40

SHORTLY after being put under Jackson, we began to march. The movement culminated in the attack on Pope at Cedar Mountain, Aug. 9, 1862. In this battle our brigade had no active part, being held as rear guard for the protection of the army train, though our brigadier, Gen. Gregg, chafed ...

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III: I Miss Gettysburg

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pp. 41-56

ON THE morning of May 4th, I was helped into a wagon in which were three others of the Regt. We drove off but had gone but a little distance when the whole train was halted, Gen. Lee having ordered that the wagons (which belonged to the Commissary Dept.) should immediately load ...

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IV: A Scout and Sharpshooter

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pp. 57-82

BLACKWOOD and I had made up our minds to get into the Sharpshooters' Corps upon its reorganization for the next summer's campaign if possible. So we now applied to Capt. Barnwell to let us go. But a difficulty arose; he was willing to let one of us go, but not both. I was a sergeant and ...

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V: A Prisoner of the Yankees

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pp. 83-125

THE corporal came up and took charge of me, the whole party accompanying me back to where they had me before. On the way I suffered a great deal of abuse from the corporal, who called me all kinds of villainous names, and when I dared remonstrate, he spitefully thrust the point of his bayonet ...

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VI: Elmira Prison

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pp. 126-150

WE were put on board a train of freight cars, with a guard in each car—maybe two—and guards on top of the cars. I had made up my mind to seize the first chance I had to jump from the cars, but decided to wait for night decreasing the chance not only of being shot by the guards but also of ...

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VII: A Fugitive in Enemy Country

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pp. 151-173

AT the appointed meeting place I gave the signal, getting no answer. I called Traweek and Fox Maull by name. No reply. Then as daylight slowly spread its first signs over the hills and valleys, and over the white camp of captive soldiers, I turned to the forest. It was now morning of the 7th of ...

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VIII: Final Resistance

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pp. 174-204

McGowan's Brigade was encamped about 3 miles below Petersburg, occupying the very point in the line of defense upon which Grant's heaviest assault would be made, the point where he would break through on the night of April 1, 1865. Our picket posts were half a mile or more in front of the ...


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pp. 205-214

E-ISBN-13: 9780820342252
E-ISBN-10: 0820342254
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820329437
Print-ISBN-10: 0820329436

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 753978362
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Berry Benson's Civil War Book

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Subject Headings

  • Augusta (Ga.) -- Biography.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Campaigns.
  • Elmira Prison (Elmira, N.Y.).
  • Prisoners of war -- New York (State) -- Elmira -- Biography.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Prisoners and prisons
  • Shooters of firearms -- Confederate States of America -- Biography.
  • Scouts (Reconnaissance) -- Confederate States of America -- Biography.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Scouts and scouting.
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives, Confederate.
  • Benson, Berry, 1843-1923.
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