Saturday, June 16, 2007

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

Edited by Susan Williams Benson

From the publisher:
"An outstanding memoir."—Civil War History

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 classic account of his wartime service is filled with the minutiae of the common soldier's life and paced by a continual succession of battlefield anecdotes. A new biographical introduction by historian Edward J. Cashin adds further depth and detail to Benson's own vivid memories. The introduction also reveals Benson's less widely known early life and his postwar careers, interests, and activities.

At seventeen, after leaving his home near Augusta, Georgia, to join the army, Benson soon distinguished himself as a crack shot, natural leader, and sure judge of human nature-abilities that would serve him well as a scout. Benson's reconnaissance exploits took him within earshot of Union trenches and encampments. On the battlefield he saw firsthand the desperation of a frontal charge and the blind panic of a disorganized retreat. Benson's odyssey as a prisoner of war took him to Elmira Prison in New York, where he joined the only successful tunnel escape in the camp's history.

Benson, who was the model for the figure atop Augusta's Civil War memorial, is most often remembered as a soldier. However, his postwar life defies simple labels. He held such conventional jobs as cotton trader and accountant, yet he also published verse and philosophical writings, supported labor causes, worked tirelessly to exonerate the accused murderer Leo Frank, and earned respect as an amateur cryptologist. Energetic and unconventional to the end, Berry Benson remains a fascinating figure to this day.

Susan Williams Benson was a daughter-in-law of Berry Benson. Edward J. Cashin is Professor Emeritus of History and Director of the Center for the Study of Georgia History at Augusta State University. His many books include Lachlan McGillivray, Indian Trader (Georgia) and Paternalism in a Southern City (Georgia).

"This book showers well-deserved attention on one of the South's truly noble sons. Benson, who served his homeland from Charleston to Appomattox, won even greater glory late in life when he championed the innocence of Jewish factory boss Leo M. Frank, convicted of murder in 1913 in Atlanta and subsequently lynched. Benson was a terrific character and this volume does him justice."
—Steve Oney, author of And the Dead Shall Rise

"Well-told and very captivating." — Civil War Courier

"[Benson] knew how to tell an exciting story. . . . Unusually descriptive; his book contains a host of little details." — Richmond Times-Dispatch