SHS Papers: Volume 7: Notes on the Final Campaign of April, 1865

   

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in Petersburg Campaign

Notes on the Final Campaign of April, 1865.1

By General H. L. Benning.

After I rejoined the brigade in November, 1864, nothing of importance was done by it until the 2d of April, 1865. On that day, at about 11 A. M., I reached Petersburg with two regiments, the Second and Twentieth, by the train from Richmond. The other two-Seventeenth and Fifteenth-and the rest of Field’s division were detained by an accident to the train, and did not arrive till late in the day. Colonel Fairfax received me, and conducted me and the two regiments through Petersburg to General Longstreet, who was beyond the creek at General Lee’s headquarters on Cox’s road; this I think is the name of the road. When near the headquarters, General Longstreet met us, and ordered me to advance on the left of the road and take position on the high ground about a half mile in front, and hold it as long as I could safely, making as much display of force as possible; and that when I fell back, if I should have to do so, to fall back from position to position slowly. The desperate state of things was visible to every eye. Not an infantry soldier of ours was to be seen. Fort Gregg was the nearest point on our line still held by us, and the attack on it had commenced. There was a battery, but the horses were so weak that they could not pull the guns into position until the enemy were prepared to drive it away from the position. The enemy’s line was in the edge of the woods, some mile beyond General Lee’s headquarters, with batteries near; nothing between.

We went to the position indicated, which was about six or eight hundred yards from the enemy’s line in the woods, with open, level ground between. They soon opened fire on us from a number of guns. The fire was at first rather wild, but it soon improved; and as the batteries were too far off for our arms, we dropped back a short distance and took up a less exposed position. The batteries made a corresponding change, and when their fire again became good, we fell back a second time and took a safer position. They again found a position from which they commanded us; we again moved back and got a position which afforded considerable protection to most of our line. Here we remained for a good while under the artillery fire. We had ourselves never fired a gun. The fire towards Fort Gregg ceased. I ran up a long hill and found that the fort had fallen, and at the same time that the enemy’s

infantry were advancing. Returning, I ordered the two regiments to a new position. Here I soon received an order from General Longstreet to take the Twentieth back across the creek and occupy some incomplete works that had been thrown up recently, leaving the Second to skirmish with the enemy and retard his advance as long as possible. This order was executed. The Second deployed, as skirmishers and kept the enemy’s skirmishers in check for a long time, falling back slowly until they came to the hill next the creek. There they stopped and held the position all day. General Longstreet complimented them there on the field, as I was told.

The Twentieth crossed the creek and entered the works, where they received the fire of the enemy’s artillery for some time. His advancing infantry began to show itself in long lines on the opposite side of the creek; but about this time, say 4 P. M., the other troops of Field’s division were arriving and getting into position on my right and left and entrenching themselves. The enemy’s infantry seeing this, halted; nor did it advance afterwards. A retreat for the army was secured.

The Second Georgia was commanded by Captain Thomas Chaffin; the Twentieth, by Captain Little. The number of officers and men in the former was about one hundred; in the latter, about one hundred and fifty or one hundred and sixty. What was the loss was never reported to me, but it was not large. Both officers and men evinced a perfect appreciation of the situation and of the object to be accomplished, and executed every movement with promptitude, order and decision. We were the last to leave the line on the retreat — leaving it about midnight. All was done under the immediate eye of General Longstreet, who rode “the colt” everywhere, frequently in front of the line, up and down, with grand unconcern. I never saw anything like it in the war; it was the talk of all.

Field’s division in the retreat was some times in the front, some times in the rear. At Farmville it had a sharp affair with the enemy, in which Anderson’s brigade made several hundred prisoners. Benning’s brigade was not actively engaged. The affair was quite a success.

At Appomattox Courthouse the division was in the rear, with the enemy close up. Its organization was perfect, and it was not at all demoralized. I saw many men with tears streaming from their eyes when it was known that Lee had surrendered. They gathered in groups and debated the question whether we should

not cut our way out and escape. Most of them were in favor of the attempt. They only waited for a word from me; but I would not give it. On the contrary, I urged them to acquiesce.

I do not remember the number we surrendered. It was between six hundred and seven hundred, men and officers. I do, however, well remember one thing — that not more than four men had been lost as stragglers during the trying march from Petersburg; and I can say almost, if not quite as much for every brigade in the division.

I never made any official report of these events.

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Editor’s Note: I do not have a hard copy or a PDF of the actual pages of the Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 7.  As a result, I cannot tell whether the information presented is entirely accurate.  I have proofread this article, but some misspellings may be present in the original while others may be the result of incorrect transcription from the source I am using.  I have mostly left the misspellings in for the moment.  If you know where I can get PDFs of the Southern Historical Society Papers which are basically “images” of the original pages, please use the Contact form and let us know.  Likewise, if you have access to hard copies of the Papers and would like to proofread for Beyond the Crater, Contact us.

Source:

  1. Benning, H.L. “Notes on the Final Campaign of April, 1865.Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 7, pp. 193-195

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