Confederate soldier still stands tall

In 1917, the Georgia Confederate Veterans Battalion was assembled for a review before President Woodrow Wilson in Washington.

 

Among them was a 74-year-old man named Berry Benson, a former sergeant wearing his old uniform and clutching the ancient rifle he never surrendered to the Union.

It's unknown whether Wilson recognized Benson, but he could have.

In the heart of Augusta, Wilson's boyhood home, stands a 76-foot-tall monument to the city's Confederate soldiers. On the corners of the monument's base are four famous generals; at the top is an anonymous soldier.

The model for that soldier was Benson.

Benson was born in Hamburg, S.C., a village that once stood on the other side of the Savannah River, near the current Fifth Street Bridge.

He joined the Hamburg Minutemen at age 17, along with his 15-year-old brother, and together they were mustered into the First South Carolina Volunteer Regiment in Charleston. He was part of the Edgefield Battery that bombarded Fort Sumter and witnessed the federal surrender of the fort in Charleston.

He saw action in several major battles, including Second Manassas and Fredericksburg in Virginia and Antietam in Maryland. He left the war to recover in Augusta after he was shot in the leg during battle in Chancellorsville, Va.

Benson returned to war in time to fight in one of the most fierce battles of the Civil War at Spotsylvania, Va.

His talent as a scout gave him many opportunities to reconnoiter and in Spotsylvania he stole a colonel's horse on impulse.

Twice he was captured and twice he escaped from Union prisons. The first escape involved swimming two miles across the Chesapeake Bay; the second found him digging a 65-foot tunnel under the prison camp in Elmira, N.Y.

He and his brother walked home to Augusta at the end of the war and never surrendered their rifles.

Benson was chosen as the model for the anonymous soldier by the Ladies Memorial Association in Augusta, which had previously erected monuments in the city's cemetery.

The base of the statue features four Confederate generals: William Henry Talbot Walker, representing Augusta; Robert E. Lee, representing the Confederacy; Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson, representing Virginia; and Thomas Reade Roots Cobb, representing Georgia.

The base of the monument is 25 feet of Georgia granite, from which rises a 47-foot obelisk of Italian marble. It was designed by Von Gunden of Philadelphia and carved in Carrara, Italy.

On one side is an inscription that begins: "No nation rose so white and fair, none fell so pure of crime."

Total cost: $17,331.35.

The monument was dedicated Oct. 31, 1878, the same year the Confederate Survivors' Association was formed.

Even at age 79, Benson was leading Boy Scout troops into the woods on 15-mile hikes.

He died Jan. 1, 1923.

Monument inscription

"No nation rose so white and fair, None fell so pure of crime

Worthy to have lived and known our gratitude

Worthy to be hallowed and held In tender remembrance

Worthy the fadless fame which Confederate soldiers won

Who gave themselves in life And death for us

For the honor of Georgia For the rights of the States

For the liberties of the South For the principles of the Union, as these were handed down to them, By the fathers of our common Country."

"Our Confederate Dead"

Erected A.D. 1878 by the Memorial Association of Augusta, In honor of the men of Richmond County, Who died in the cause of the Confederate States."

The series

As the 150th anniversary observations of Civil War history begin next week with the commemoration of the firing on Fort Sumter, The Augusta Chronicle looks back on our city's role in and connections to the war.

TODAY: Berry Benson, of Hamburg, S.C., is the model for the anonymous soldier atop Augusta's Confederate Monument.

TUESDAY: Alexander Stephens, of Crawfordville, Ga., chose books over farm work and served as vice president of the Confederacy.

WEDNESDAY: Robert Toombs, of Washington, Ga., excelled as a lawyer and later led troops into the battle at Antietam.

THURSDAY: The Battle of Aiken kept the city out of Union Gen. William T. Sherman's hands, but it is not much more than a footnote in Civil War history.

FRIDAY: Archeologists have recently unearthed detailed artifacts of one of the largest Confederate prisons, Camp Lawton, in Millen, Ga.

SATURDAY: Augusta's Confederate Powder Works produced millions of pounds of high-quality gunpowder for several major battles.

SUNDAY: Two seminal figures on their path to Civil War legend, Sherman and Capt. Robert Anderson of Fort Sumter fame, made stops in Augusta.