Report of Brig. Gen. Henry L. Benning, C. S. Army, commanding brigade.
JUNE 3-AUGUST 1, 1863.--The Gettysburg Campaign.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXVII/2 [S# 44]
HEADQUARTERS BENNING'S BRIGADE,
August 3, 1863.
Maj. W. H. SELLERS,
MAJOR: In obedience to an order from the headquarters of this division, I have the honor to submit to you the following report of the operations of this brigade since it left Culpeper Court-House for the other side of the Potomac:
About 2 or 3 p.m. on July 2, ultimo, I was informed by Major-General Hood that his division, as the right of Lieutenant-General Longstreet's corps, was about to attack the left of the enemy's line, and that in the attack my brigade would follow Law's brigade at the distance of about 400 yards. In order to get to the place they assigned me, in the rear of General Law, it was necessary to move the brigade 500 or 600 yards farther to the right. Having clone this, I advanced in line of battle. A wood intervened between us and the enemy, which, though it did not prevent their shells from reaching us and producing some casualties, yet completely hid them from our view. On emerging from the woods, their position became visible. Before us, at the distance of 600 or 800 yards, was an oblong mountain peak, or spur, presenting to us a steep face, much roughened by rocks. To the right, 400 or 500 yards from the peak, was the main mountain itself, with a side that looked almost perpendicular. Its summit overlooked the peak just sufficiently to command it well. On the summit of the peak were three pieces of artillery, and a little in advance of them, on a sort of uneven, irregular shelf, were three others. To the right and left of the battery, as well as immediately in its rear, were lines of infantry, as we afterward ascertained. This formed the enemy's first line of battle.
On the top of the mountain itself, and a little to the right of the peak, were five other guns. These commanded our approaches to the peak, for nearly the whole way. To the right and left of these guns extended the enemy's second line of infantry. Where that line crossed the gorge running between the peak and the mountain, a point 500 or 600 yards in the rear of the peak, were two other guns. This we ascertained when the right of the brigade reached the gorge, by the terrible fire from them which swept down the gorge.
Thus, what we had to encounter were thirteen guns, and two, if not more, lines of infantry posted on mountain heights. The intervening spur over which we had to march to reach the first line was nearly all open. Our own first line also became visible advancing about 400 yards in our front. The part of it in our front I took to be Law's brigade, and so I followed it. In truth, it was Robertson's, Law's being farther to the right. This I did not discover until late in the fight, a wood on the right concealing from me most of Law's brigade. My line continued to follow the first line, halting once or twice to preserve its interval. At length I saw that the first line would not be able alone to carry the peak, so I advanced without halting again.
When my line reached the foot of the peak, I found there a part of the First Texas, struggling to make the ascent, the rest of the brigade having gone to the right and left--the Fourth and Fifth Texas to the right, and the Third Arkansas to the left. The part of the First Texas referred to falling in with my brigade, the whole line commenced ascending the rugged steep and (on the right) crossing the gorge. The ground was difficult--rocks in many places presenting, by their precipitous sides, insurmountable obstacles, while the fire of the enemy was very heavy and very deadly. The progress was, therefore, not very rapid, but it was regular and uninterrupted. After awhile the enemy were driven from their three front guns. The advance continued, and at length they were driven completely from the peak, but they carried with them the three rear guns on its summit, its sudden descent on the other side favoring the operation, so that we captured only the three front guns. These were 10-pounder Parrotts. A number of prisoners also were taken--more, I suppose, than 100. The peak being thus taken and the enemy's first line driven behind his second, I made my dispositions to hold the ground gained, which was all that I could do, as I was then much in advance of every other part of our line of battle, and the second line of the enemy on the mountain itself was in a position which seemed to me almost impregnable to any merely front attack even with fresh men. Indeed, to hold the ground we had appeared a difficult task. The shells of the enemy from the adjacent mountain were incessantly bursting along the summit of the peak, and every head that showed itself was the target for a Minie ball. Several attempts by flank movements were made to dislodge us, but by the gallantry of the regiments on the right and left they all failed. We held the position until late next day, when we were ordered back to the crest of the wooded hill from which we first saw the enemy on the clay before.
Our loss was heavy, not less than 400 in killed, wounded, and missing. Of this number, an unusually large proportion were killed and badly wounded. Among the killed were Col. John A. Jones, of the Twentieth Georgia, and Lieut. Col. William T. Harris, commanding the Second Georgia. Colonel Jones was killed late in the action, not far from the captured guns, after the enemy's forces were driven from the position and they had themselves opened upon it with shell from their other batteries, a fragment of one of which, glancing from a rock, passed through his brain. He had behaved with great coolness and gallantly. He fell just as success came in sight. Colonel Harris was farther to the right, where he and his regiment were exposed to the terrible fire of the two pieces which swept the gorge, as well as to the infantry fire of the enemy's left. A ball passed through his heart, killing him instantly. His gallantry had been most conspicuous.
I had no means of ascertaining the precise loss of the enemy. In killed and wounded it must have been large. Dead and wounded lay scattered over the ground of the conflict and of the retreat. From the latter they were removed by the enemy during the night. We took about 300 prisoners in all.
The conduct of both officers and men was generally, as far as I could observe it, excellent. Under a fire from so many cannon, and toward the last from so much musketry, they advanced steadily over ground for the most part open, mounted a difficult height, drove back from it the enemy, occupied his line, took three guns, captured a number of prisoners, and against his utmost efforts held all they had gained. The captured guns were taken by the Twentieth Georgia (Colonel Jones, and after his death Lieutenant-Colonel Waddell), the part of the First Texas above referred to (Colonel Work), and the Seventeenth Georgia (Colonel Hodges); but the honor of the capture was not exclusively theirs. They could not have taken (certainly could not have held) the guns if Lieutenant-Colonel Harris, and after his death Major [William S.] Shepherd, on the left with the Second Georgia, and Colonel Du Bose, with the Fifteenth Georgia, on the right, had not by the hardest kind of fighting and at great loss, protected their flanks. Colonel Du Bose not only drove back the enemy's line, but repulsed repeated attacks made to recover it, taking over 100 prisoners. The same may be said of the Second, excepting that it did not take so many prisoners.
To my staff--Capt. Seaborn J. Benning, adjutant, Lieut. John R. Mott, aide, and Lieut. Herman H. Perry, brigade inspector, voluntarily acting as aide---I was much indebted. They performed well duties that kept them in almost constant danger. The former having been disabled by a wound, the whole weight of staff duty toward the end of the fight fell upon the two latter.
At the close of the day the fighting ceased, and I employed the night in arranging my line, establishing pickets, and removing the wounded. The last was a work of great labor, as, owing to some fault or mistake in the surgeon having charge of the brigade ambulances, but two of them made their appearance, so that the labor to the litter-bearers became very heavy.
The enemy employed the whole night in throwing up two lines of breastworks, one above the other, on the mountain side. These works were formed from the loose stones which abounded on the surface of the mountain. The sound of the stones dropping into place could be distinctly heard from our line during the whole night. The morning light revealed the two long lines completed. The upper line was sufficiently above the lower for its fire to pass over the lower. The crest was still frowning, with its old line greatly strengthened since the day before. From this line the fire of both artillery and infantry would pass over both of the lines below.
Until late in the afternoon, nothing occurred more important than picket firing. About 5 o'clock, two or three pickets of McLaws' division came to me, and told me that the troops of General McLaws had for some hours been withdrawn from my left, leaving my flank entirely exposed. This was the first notice I had of that movement, so important to my brigade. I immediately ordered the strongest picket force I could spare to the abandoned post of General McLaws' line.
Shortly afterward, a courier from General Law came to me, and told me that General Law wished me to move to the crest of the hill. I asked him what crest--what hill. He said all he knew was that General Law waved his hand thus (making a wave of his hand). I was much at a loss to know what the wave meant. It seemed to me, however, to be in the direction of a ridge that ran through the woods toward the ground from which McLaws' troops had been withdrawn, and I concluded that the object of the order was to cause me to occupy that ground. Consequently, I immediately gave Colonel Du Bose orders to take his regiment along the crest to that ground, his regiment being most convenient, at the beginning of the crest. He moved off at once.
In a few minutes afterward, I received what was the same order from General Law, but this time clearly and in a very different sense. It was to move back immediately to the crest of the hill from which we had advanced the day before. I gave the necessary orders, and the three regiments remaining in position commenced moving out.
A little afterward, I heard a heavy infantry fire on the left, in the direction in which Colonel Du Bose had gone. Subsequently I learned from him that, after following the ridge for 500 or 600 yards, he suddenly found himself in the immediate presence of two long lines of the enemy, one almost at right angles to the other, with his own line between the two, the head of it being not far from the angle they made with each other. They opened fire on him, which he returned, so as to check their advance a little. He then fell back, and, availing himself of a stone fence, fought his way out, not, however, without a heavy loss in prisoners and some loss in killed and wounded.
He was fortunate to escape at all. His escape is high evidence both of his skill and courage. I did not go to his assistance, because, when I heard the fire, it seemed to be (and was, indeed) so far on my left that I thought some of General McLaws' men had been sent forward to check an advance of the enemy, and that it came from a collision between them and the enemy. The other three regiments got out with slight loss.
The whole loss of the brigade in the movement to the rear was about 100, of which about 80 or 90 belonged to the Fifteenth Georgia. A report of the killed, wounded, and missing for the two days has been sent up. The total was 509. The loss on the first day was about 400.
The next day (the 4th), the division was formed in line of battle, facing down the Emmitsburg road, and was ordered to erect breastworks, which it did. My brigade was on the left, its left resting on that road.
About 12 o'clock at night, the division commenced moving back toward Hagerstown, by Fairfield, my brigade bringing up the rear.
Nothing more of much interest happened to the brigade until the division had crossed the Shenandoah. It crossed that river at Berry's Ford by wading, and found the water deep and swift.
At dawn the next day [23d], the division took the road from Front Royal to Linden, by Manassas Gap. It found the Gap occupied by the enemy's cavalry and artillery, with pickets some distance in their front, and some regiments of cavalry between these and the Gap. My brigade was stretched across the road (relieving a portion of General Corse's brigade), on a ridge parallel with the Gap, and such dispositions were made by General Law on my flanks with the other brigades that the enemy's pickets soon fell back a mile or more, and his reserve regiments quite to the Gap.
Toward night, General Law informed me that he would soon move the other three brigades of the division over to the Chester Gap road, and stay there during the night, and at the same time ordered me to remain with my brigade and the Fourth Alabama Regiment until relieved by Lieut. Gen. A. P. Hill, and then to follow the division, and overtake it as soon as possible. He stated that General Hill was to relieve me during the night, or, at furthest, by daybreak. So I remained, but it was 9 a.m. before I was relieved. I then started to overtake the division.
When I reached the Chester Gap road, I found it filled with the rear of General Hill's long wagon train, the rest of that train and all of his troops having already passed. To get by these wagons and the artillery in the mountain road, was a work of no small difficulty. It was near night before I could do it. I succeeded, however, in passing them and the corps which had bivouacked near Flint Hill, and with my brigade bivouacked 2 miles this side of Flint Hill.
At daylight next day, the march was resumed. I halted for an hour or more at Gaines' Cross-Roads, which is 2 miles this side of my camp of the night before, to wait for the Fifteenth Alabama Regiment (Colonel Oates), which was holding the mountain road until General Hill's corps should come up and relieve it. That regiment having joined me, the march was resumed, General Hill's corps being close behind me.
When near Newby's Cross-Roads, 2 men of the cavalry, coming from one of those roads which leads to Amissville, dashed up to me, and told me that, as they were going over toward Amissville to get their horses shod, they had met a squad of Yankee cavalry coming from the opposite direction. Colonel [W. C.] Oates immediately proposed to take his regiment, which was in front, and go forward and make a reconnaissance. I accepted his services, and he advanced beyond the crossing of the roads. Very soon his skirmishers were engaged with those of the enemy. After some time, as I heard and saw nothing but skirmishing, I concluded to move on, General Hill sending me word that he would relieve Colonel Oates and let him follow me.
After moving on less than half a mile, a shell, much to my surprise, passed over my line, and then others in rapid succession. They had been fired by the enemy at our skirmishers. My-line was concealed from the enemy by an intervening hill and the cut of the road, so I continued to move on unharmed.
When I had almost reached the ford of Hazel River, I received a request from General Hill to wait for his artillery, and let it follow me. I accordingly halted. After waiting for some time, there came to me, instead of artillery, another message from General Hill, to the effect that it was necessary to drive the enemy back from their position in the mountain, and that he wished me to move my command on their flank and rear to the road by which they had come, and thus cut off their retreat, and to do this by a route which the bearer of the message (Lieutenant [Robert C.] Stanard) would show me.
The request seemed reasonable. The enemy had evidently gotten artillery into a mountain position difficult to be carried by a front attack, from which position they commanded the road at several points, including, I think, the ford, and thus, unless dislodged, could greatly annoy troops and trains passing by, if not stop their progress. My command was the one most conveniently situated to execute the suggested movement. I thought it right, therefore, to accede to General Hill's request. Signifying this to Lieutenant Stanard, he went forward as guide, and I followed him with the brigade and the Fourth Alabama Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel [L. H.] Scruggs. The route was so well chosen that we passed through the enemy's picket line, and got near enough to the road in their rear to command it before they discovered us.
Before fire was opened, Captain [J. B.] Newell, Second Georgia, commanding the skirmishers, reported to me a battery considerably on my right, just across the road, in a field. I moved to the right in the woods to get near it, and seize it before it could run back. The wood was thick. I got the right of the brigade opposite the battery, and then ordered an advance in line of battle. When the line emerged from the wood, the battery was gone. It had run back the way it came, having found out our presence by the fire which had opened between their skirmishers and ours. Our line fired upon such of the enemy as were in sight. Those of the latter who were not disabled fled in confusion to the opposite wood, where, on the left, was another battery, as I had just learned by its fire. The road, I found when the line reached it, a good place for protection against this battery, and also for assailing the cavalry on their expected retreat. I therefore halted in it. I now thought we had their cannon and cavalry secured. I had been assured by Lieutenant Stanard, as well as by citizens, that there was no practicable way to Amissville excepting this road occupied by the brigade, all others being excluded by the mountain and its spurs.
They were mistaken. The enemy found another road nearer to the mountain, and by it escaped with their artillery and most of their cavalry. We took a few of them prisoners, and killed and wounded more.
As soon as it was clear that the enemy had retreated, at the suggestion of General Hill, I returned to the ford, and resumed the march, the command having spent four hours, marched at least 4 miles over very difficult ground, and fought a brisk fight with cavalry and artillery in the détour.
Such was the part contributed by the brigade and the Fourth and Fifteenth Alabama to the defeat of a well-laid plan of the enemy, organized on rather a large scale, to impede the march and cut off the trains of a large part of our army. They must have had two, if not three, brigades of cavalry and two or three batteries of artillery.
This, major, is a much longer report than I would have had it to be, but, under the order requiring it, I do not see how it could have been shorter. Indeed, I have omitted some things showing the arduousness of the long march, which are, perhaps, called for by the order.
I must, in closing, ask leave to pay a tribute to the merit of the brigade in that respect. There was no straggling to speak of, either on the advance or the return. The rolls when we arrived at Gettysburg showed almost the same number which they showed when we left Culpeper Court-House; so they showed on our return to Culpeper Court-House almost the same number which they showed when we left Gettysburg.
I am, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
HENRY L. BENNING,
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