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Berry Benson's Civil War Book: Memoirs of a Confederate Scout and Sharpshooter

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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 anecd 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.


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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 anecd 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.

30 review for Berry Benson's Civil War Book: Memoirs of a Confederate Scout and Sharpshooter

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    Berry Benson served in the 1st South Carolina Regiment, Maxcy Gregg's Brigade throughout the Civil War. He moved to Augusta Georgia after the war and became quite prominent. He rose to the rank of Sergeant and often served as both a scout and a sharpshooter. He was captured during or shortly after the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. He was imprisoned at Point Lookout in Maryland, escaped back into Virginia but was recaptured and sent to Elmira Prison in New York. He was part of a group of pr Berry Benson served in the 1st South Carolina Regiment, Maxcy Gregg's Brigade throughout the Civil War. He moved to Augusta Georgia after the war and became quite prominent. He rose to the rank of Sergeant and often served as both a scout and a sharpshooter. He was captured during or shortly after the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. He was imprisoned at Point Lookout in Maryland, escaped back into Virginia but was recaptured and sent to Elmira Prison in New York. He was part of a group of prisoners who dug a tunnel & escaped. He made his way back to rejoin Lee's army in Virginia during the Siege of Petersburg. Rather than surrender at Appomattox Court House, he took off to make his way to join Johnston's army, only to find out that they too surrendered. So he resumed his journey back home. There's a lengthy introduction before Berry Benson begins telling his story. Since he lost part of his journal when he was captured, he quotes from his brother Blackwood's letters, who also served in the same regiment. Berry Benson has a very folksy style. He downplays his achievements but anyone who was able to escape from Elmira Prison and rejoin Lee's army is resourceful and an individual to be reckoned with. You'll enjoy reading his memoir.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Katharina

    One of the most interesting and entertaining Confederate diaries / memoirs I've read, and I've read quite a few. Mr. Benson's unique voice sparkles with wit and great story-telling skills, for example when he self-deprecatingly recounts his adventures, especially meeting some ladies, after escaping from Point Lookout prison camp. In the end he never surrendered, oddly enough. Some basic knowledge of the historical background is probably quite helpful though as it will make it easier to follow hi One of the most interesting and entertaining Confederate diaries / memoirs I've read, and I've read quite a few. Mr. Benson's unique voice sparkles with wit and great story-telling skills, for example when he self-deprecatingly recounts his adventures, especially meeting some ladies, after escaping from Point Lookout prison camp. In the end he never surrendered, oddly enough. Some basic knowledge of the historical background is probably quite helpful though as it will make it easier to follow his sometimes swift account. The most recent edition provides excellent biographical notes and an introduction that rounds out the original memoirs perfectly. I came away with a sense of having "met" a wonderful guy who I'd love to have met and listened to in real life.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

    It was very interesting but it was told so erratically it was hard to keep up with. Sometimes they'd be in a battle for 20 pages. Sometimes they'd go through twenty battles in one page! It was hard for me to figure out where and when everything was happening. I'm sure if I knew more history that would help. It was very interesting but it was told so erratically it was hard to keep up with. Sometimes they'd be in a battle for 20 pages. Sometimes they'd go through twenty battles in one page! It was hard for me to figure out where and when everything was happening. I'm sure if I knew more history that would help.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Awbrey

    What an amazing book! Benson describes the war & his encounters in so much detail you feel like you're right there with him. I finished the book with a deep respect for this man & the Confederate Army. I would say this is a must read!!! What an amazing book! Benson describes the war & his encounters in so much detail you feel like you're right there with him. I finished the book with a deep respect for this man & the Confederate Army. I would say this is a must read!!!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Joel Manuel

    An entertaining memoir from a member of Jackson's Corps who apparently escaped (successfully) from both Point Lookout and Elmira prisons. I found those parts of Benson's book particularly interesting because an ancestor of mine was at both prisons at the same time these events took place. An entertaining memoir from a member of Jackson's Corps who apparently escaped (successfully) from both Point Lookout and Elmira prisons. I found those parts of Benson's book particularly interesting because an ancestor of mine was at both prisons at the same time these events took place.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mark Bromberg

  7. 5 out of 5

    P

  8. 5 out of 5

    Greg Thiele

  9. 4 out of 5

    Laura

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

  11. 4 out of 5

    S.H. Ford

  12. 4 out of 5

    Harry R

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ollie

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kent

  15. 4 out of 5

    Philip S

  16. 4 out of 5

    Randall E Hiemforth

  17. 5 out of 5

    Gloria Erin

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jacksonw

  19. 4 out of 5

    Robert

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tim

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jim Jolly

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lenny

    Interesting story, especially the parts about Berry's imprisonment and his subsequent escapes. Interesting story, especially the parts about Berry's imprisonment and his subsequent escapes.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Itamar Brill

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jacqueline

  27. 4 out of 5

    Steve

  28. 5 out of 5

    Annie

  29. 5 out of 5

    Trey Hood

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Oliver

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