Notes by General Benning on Battle of Gettysburg.
At Gettysburg the behavior of the brigade was magnificent. By deliberate and protractedfighting it ascended the mountain, took the enemy's line, about three hundred prisoners, and three of his six guns in position there, and held its ground until next afternoon late, when it was ordered to fall back by General Law, commanding the division. I was told that this was the only part of the enemy's line carried and held, and these the only guns captured. Indeed, the brigade believes and boasts that these were the only guns ever taken by any part of our army north of the Potomac.
On the next evening I mistook an order, thinking it was an order to advance when it was one to retreat. In consequence, I sent Colonel DuBose with the Fifteenth to my left and front to occupy a line which had been occupied by some of General McLaws' division. DuBose after moving five or six hundred yards found himself between two advancing lines of the enemy, with none of our troops in sight. (They had been withdrawn for two or three hours.) He had to retreat, and in doing so lost about one hundred men, mostly prisoners.
I must mention a thing I forgot to put in my report. When my mistake as to the meaning of General Law's order was corrected, and I found it to be an order to retreat, a good deal of time had been lost, the troops on the right and left had been withdrawn, and the enemy was advancing on both flanks, and had nearly got to our rear. I dispatched couriers in a run to regimental commanders to send me their colors immediately, and retreat in all haste and without any regard to order, and to form again where they should see their colors planted. The color-bearers were directed to run about three or four hundred yards to a position somewhat sheltered and plant their colors in line at regimental distance as nearly as they could judge. They did so. The brigade followed after as fast as men and officers could run, a confused mass; but when the colors were planted every man and every officer rushed to his own place in line, and the line was formed in, I think, one minute. Then the brigade marched back in perfect order to the place assigned to it. The loss in the operation was about twenty men, and most of these were pickets, to whom the order to retreat had not been communicated.
The brigade at Gettysburg had 1,280 men and 140 officers, according to my recollections.
On the last day's fight, about 2 P. M., we heard from the mountain we had taken the day before a great shouting in our rear down the Emmettsburg road. We soon distinguished it to be the enemy's cheer. Very soon the head of a line of his cavalry in that road emerged from the wood, galloping, hurrahing and waving their swords as if frantic. Our artillery, which had been thrown forward across the road, opened on them. They road[sic] on. An infantry fire from a wood on their left opened on them. They then turned to their right to escape, taking down a lane. Some men of ours (cooking details) threw themselves behind the stone fence on the side of the lane and opened on them as they came down the lane. They then turned again to the right and entered the field and directed themselves back towards the point where they had first appeared to us. In doing so they had to pass a wood on their left. From this an infantry fire opened on them, and their direction was again changed to the right. The result was that they galloped round and round in the large field, finding a fire at every outlet, until most of them were killed or captured. Every thing passed before our eyes on the mountain side as if in an amphitheatre.
Some of the men engaged (Cook's) told me that the prisoners said it was General Farnsworth's brigade, and that they were all drunk. The same men told me that in going over the field for spoils they approached a fallen horse with his rider by his side, but not dead. They ordered him to surrender. He replied wait a little, or something to that effect, and put his hand to his pistol, drew it and blew his brains out. This was General Farnsworth.
Brigadier-General E. M. Law, who commanded the division, General Hood having been wounded the day before, made the disposition to receive this cavalry. At very short notice he put the artillery across the road, the Seventh Georgia beside the road in a wood a little distance beyond the artillery, and the Ninth Georgia in a wood at some distance on the other side of the road and of the enclosed field. These two regiments were very small, having suffered heavily the day before. They were all that could be spared from the line of battle, and to spare them was a risk. Lee's baggage and rear were saved. There was nothing else to protect them. This was an exploit that excited my admiration. Never was anything better managed.
H. L. Benning
(Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 4, pp.176-178)