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[673]

Report of Brigadier-General Benning of action at Thoroughfare Gap.

headquarters Toombs's brigade, camp near Winchester, October 7, 1862.
Major A. Coward, A. A. G.:
Major: I respectfully submit to you the following report of the part taken in the action at Thoroughfare Gap, on the twenty-eighth of August last, by the brigade, which, in the necessary absence of General Toombs, I commanded, as the officer next to him in rank:

The brigade marched into the gap from Salem by the left flank. This threw the Twentieth Georgia in front, the Second Georgia next, the Fifteenth Georgia next, and the Seventeenth Georgia in the rear. When it entered the gap, the enemy were pouring into the gap shot and shell on the south side from two or three batteries, so situated as to sweep much of the railroad and more of the turnpike on that side. Soon after the Twentieth came under this fire, I was ordered, by General D. R. Jones, to take two of the regiments and to seize and hold the point of the mountain on the right of the gap. This mountain terminated quite abruptly at the gap, and was high enough to command its whole outlet, as well as most of the approaches on the side of the enemy. On both sides the mountain was very steep, and it was covered with a dense undergrowth of stiff bushes, mostly ivy.

As soon as I received the order, I sent forward the Twentieth, under Major Waddell, to the point indicated, and went back for the next regiment, the Second, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Holmes, and ordered him to follow the Twentieth as quickly as possible. The Second was then on the railroad, and separated some little distance from the Twentieth, and the descent down the embankment of the railroad was difficult. The consequence was, that the regiment did not reach the point from which the Twentieth had started until the latter was out of sight. Colonel Holmes, consequently, halted there for directions. Meantime I had, as soon as I gave him the order, galloped forward to the Twentieth, which I overtook double-quicking toward the mountain through a field, exposed to a hot fire from the enemy's batteries. As soon as it reached the foot of the mountain, it was formed in line of battle, and preceded at a short distance by a company of skirmishers, under Lieutenant Thomas, it commenced the ascent. This, though the ground in some places was almost precipitous and everywhere was covered with stiff bushes, it accomplished at a rapid gait. And it was well that it did so, for, when the skirmishers reached the summit, the enemy's skirmishers, supported by a line of infantry, were in sight, coming up on the other side. Fire was immediately opened on him by our skirmishers, and by the time the regiment itself arrived at the summit, short as that was, the enemy's skirmishers had commenced falling back, and directly their supporting line also withdrew and left us in possession of the mountain. If the enemy had succeeded in seizing this mountain, he would have had complete command of the gap. Very soon afterward his batteries commenced playing on the mountain. This they continued to do, short intervals excepted, until the close of the action.

The company of skirmishers was then posted as pickets down the side of the mountain. In a short time, they observed the enemy endeavoring to place a battery on the right of the outlet of the gap, at a point from which it could have commanded the south side of the gap as entirely as the batteries already established commanded the north side. This movement of the enemy was reported to me by Major Waddell, who, at the same time, suggested the propriety of sending forward the men of the regiment who were armed with long-range guns to fire on the enemy's party engaged in planting this battery. At once I adopted the suggestion. These men, numbering, I think, not more than thirty, immediately took such positions in front as they could find, from which the enemy's party was visible, and, at about four or five hundred yards, opened fire on it. Just at this time Colonel Holmes, with the Second, came up, he having received the directions he halted for from General Jones, and I ordered those of his men who were armed with long-range guns, about ten or twelve, to join the others so armed. The enemy withstood the fire from these guns with much obstinacy, the position being evidently one of the very highest value to him. Finally, however, he gave up the attempt to establish the battery, and carried off his guns. But in a short time the attempt was renewed. This time it was soon abandoned, under our stinging fire.

I beg leave to say that, if this battery had been once established, the effect would have been to give the enemy complete command of both sides of the gap and a great distance into it, and also of the part of the mountain on which our two regiments were posted. It is obvious that from positions such as these he could not have been driven, except at a great cost of one of two things — time or blood; neither of which did the state of affairs then existing admit of paying.

The Second Georgia was ordered by me to take post on the right of the Twentieth, and throw out pickets as far to the front as possible. This order was admirably executed by Lieutenant-Colonel Holmes, who posted each picket himself, in person, and far down the mountain side. The two regiments were small, the Second very small, and, when stretched to the utmost, they were far from being long enough to occupy the line required by the ground, and, therefore, the right flank was still without protection. I directed Colonel Holmes to reconnoitre the ground in his front as far forward as he could, and, if he found the way clear, to advance his pickets as skirmishers out of the wood into an open ravine behind the house at the foot of the mountain, the ravine being perpendicular to the mountain, and running far enough into the field for its mouth to be nearly or quite opposite the left flank of the enemy's battery. In about a half an hour, he had made


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C. R. Holmes (5)
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