Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Brigadier General Henry "Old Rock" Lewis Benning: My 5th cousin 6x removed and his son, Captain Seaborn Jones Benning: my 6th cousin 5x removed

Henry Lewis Benning

Henry Lewis Benning was born in Columbus County, Georgia on April 2, 1814.  He is my 5th cousin, 6x removed.  Our mutual ancestors, Ambrose Cobbs and Angelica Hunt, were early Virginia colonists.  Angelica's father, Robert Hunt was the the Chaplain of the Jamestown Expedition.  Henry was also a cousin of Howell and Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb, who I've previously written about. 

Prior to the Civil War, Henry attended Franklin College (now the University of Georgia).  He graduated in 1834 and began studying law in Talbot County, Georgia.  In 1835, after being admitted to the Georgia State Bar, he moved to Columbus, Georgia where he would live the rest of his life.  From 1837 - 1839, he served as Solicitor-General.  In 1839, Henry married Mary Howard Jones.  The couple moved into her father, Colonel Seaborn Jones El Dorado estate, where they raised five children.  Mary's father was a well respected attorney.  It was only logical for Benning to enter into a law partnership with Col. Jones.   The Benning family continued to live at El Dorado until 1868, when the family moved to town for safety reasons.  El Dorado lay vacant for 10 years until it was purchased by the Slade family and renamed "St. Elmo" in honor of the novel that was completed there.

Benning's former estate, El Dorado

Benning was an ardent secessionist and was quite active in Southern politics.  In a letter to cousin Howell Cobb written in 1849, he stated "that a Southern Confederacy would not be enough—because a Confederacy might itself eventually be become divided into northern and southern regions as slavery waned in some of the states—and called for a Southern "consolidated Republic" that "will put slavery under the control of those most interested in it."

During the Sectional Crisis of 1850, he was one of Georgia's delegates to a convention of nine slave-holding states, held in Nashville, Tennessee, to determine the Southern course of action if slavery were banned in the western territories.  The Compromise of 1850 would keep the dogs of secession at bay for the moment.

In 1851, Benning was nominated for U.S. Congress, running as a Southern Rights Democrat, but was not elected.  Benning was elected as an Associate Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, where he was noted for an opinion that held that a state supreme court is not bound by the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States on constitutional questions, but that the two courts must be held to be "coordinate and co-equal".

In 1860, Benning was selected as Chairman of Georgia Delegation to the Democratic National Convention.  Most of the Southern states chose to walk out of the convention when the national party refused to put a plank supporting slavery into its platform.   The split in the Democratic party virtually ensured the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln was opposed to the expansion of slavery into the West, but insisted he would not, and could not interfere with the institution where it currently existed.  Interestingly enough, Lincoln's opinion would change less than a year later.

Benning delivered a speech to the Georgia General Assembly on November 19, 1860, which urged immediate secession.  He ended the speech by saying “let us do our duty; and what is our duty? I say, men of Georgia, let us lift up our voices and shout, ‘Ho! for independence!’ Let us follow the examples of our ancestors, and prove ourselves worthy sons of worthy sires!”  In addition to delivering his speech, Benning also presided over Georgia's secession convention and and helped to draft the State’s Ordinance of Secession.  Following Georgia's secession in January of 1861, Benning was sent to Virginia, a State that was still debating secession, where he again delivered his speech in front of Virginia's secession convention urging Virginia to follow Georgia in seceding from the Union.

At the onset of the Civil War, Benning helped raise troops that would eventually become the 17th Georgia Infantry Regiment.  He was commissioned as Colonel of the Unit on August 29, 1861.  Benning was considered for a cabinet position in the government of the newly formed Confederate States of America, but instead chose to serve in a military capacity.  The 17 Georgia Infantry Regiment was assigned to General Robert Toomb's Brigade in the Right Wing of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

Benning's son, Seaborn Jones Benning, my 6th cousin 5x removed, also rendered his services to the Confederacy.  Seaborn was born July 8, 1840 in Cullman, Alabama.  On September 4, 1861, Seaborn was appointed as 2nd Lieutenant of the 1st Georgia Regulars.

Register showing Seaborn's appointment as 2nd Lieutenant

As a newly commissioned Confederate Officer, Henry Lewis Benning began to run into difficulty concerning the politics of the new government.  He was adamantly opposed to the Confederate Conscription Act of 1862,  and often spoke out against it openly.  His outspokenness and refusal to follow certain orders almost led to his court martial, however intervention from his cousin, Colonel Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb, defused the situation. 

Although he fought in the Seven Days Battle in June of 1862, the first significant action in which Colonel Benning participated was the Second Battle of Bull Run/Manassas on August 28-30, 1862 where his Brigade assisted in sweeping all the Union resistance off Chinn Ridge.   There he earned the nickname "Old Rock" for his steadfastness in battle.  On September 17, 1862, at the Battle of Antietam, Benning's Brigade was a crucial part in the defense of the Confederate Right Flank, guarding "Burnside's Bridge" across Antietam Creek all morning against repeated Federal assaults.  The Brigade's actions allowed time for Confederate reinforcements to arrive and prevent a complete rout of the Confederate army.

Brigadier General Henry Lewis Benning

On April 23, 1863, Henry Lewis Benning was promoted to Brigadier General.  The promotion had an effective date of January 17, 1863 and frequently put him in command of John Bell Hood's Division of James Longstreet's First Corps, of which his Brigade was attached.  As Benning was promoted, so was his son.  On January 17, 1863, Seaborn was promoted to Captain and transferred to his father's command as his adjutant.   His promotion was made official on April 30, 1863.

Register showing Seaborn's appointment as Captain

Benning missed the Confederate route at Chancellorsville due to being stationed in Southern Virginia.  His Brigade returned to action in the Battle of Gettysburg.  On July 2, 1863, Brigadier General Benning led his Brigade on an unsuccessful assault on the Federal position at Little Round Top.  During his charge on the Federal position in the "Devil's Den", his son Captain Seaborn Jones Benning, was shot in the left thigh.

Register showing Captain Benning was shot on July 2, 1863

General Benning's after battle report makes reference to the wounding of his son:

"To my staff--Capt. Seaborn J. Benning, adjutant, Lieut. John R. Mott, aide, and Lieut. Herman H. Perry, brigade inspector, voluntarily acting as aide---I was much indebted. They performed well duties that kept them in almost constant danger. The former having been disabled by a wound, the whole weight of staff duty toward the end of the fight fell upon the two latter."
The full context of Brigadier General Benning's after battle report for the Battle of Gettysburg can be read here:  Denning's Gettysburg After Battle Report 

In September of 1863, Longstreet's Corps was sent to the Western Theater to aid General Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee.  On September 19-20, 1863, Benning's Brigade participated in the Bloody Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia, which resulted in an overwhelming Confederate victory.  Reinforced by Longstreet's Corps, Bragg's Army of Tennessee delivered the most significant defeat to the Federal Army in the Western Theater.  The battle involved the second highest number of casualties following the Battle of Gettysburg.

Battle of Chickamauga (lithograph by Kurz and Allison, 1890)

On the second day of battle, General Benning participated in Longstreet's valiant charge against a gap in the Federal line.  During the charge, Benning's horse was shot from under him.  Causing no delay, he mounted another horse, who was also shot from under him and killed.  Finally, he commandeered a horse from a nearby Artillery Battery and rode into combat bareback.  During a surprise Federal counter-attack against his Brigade, many of the men in his command fled.  General Benning rode off to Longstreet to report the catastrophe.  Riding an old artillery horse and whipping it with a piece of rope, Longstreet wrote after the war that Benning was "Greatly excited and the very picture of despair."  Benning said, "General, I am ruined; my brigade was suddenly attacked and every man killed; not one is to be found. Please give me orders where I can do some fighting."  Longstreet responded impassively,  "Nonsense, General, you are not so badly hurt.  Look about you.  I know you will find at least one man, and with him on his feet report your brigade to me, and you two shall have a place in the fighting line."   Longstreet's reply shamed Benning, but gave him enough determination to return to find his Brigade and prevail in the battle.

Following the Confederate victory at Chickamauga, Benning's Brigade also took part in the Battle of Wauhatchie on October 28-29, 1863.  The Unit was also instrumental in Longstreet's Knoxville Campaign in the fall of 1863.   By the spring of 1864, Benning's Brigade returned to Virginia where they took part in defending against Ulysses S. Grant's Overland Campaign.

On May 5, 1864, during the Battle of the Wilderness, General Benning was severely wounded by a minié ball through his left shoulder.  His injury kept him out of the rest of the Overland Campaign and much of the subsequent Siege of Petersburg.  After Benning recovered, he assumed command of his Brigade in Petersburg, Virginia, in November of 1864.  His Brigade withstood strong Federal assaults against its entrenched position, but was forced to withdraw along with the rest of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in their retreat to Appomattox in April of 1865.   Both father and son would surrender on April 5, 1865.  They were each paroled on April 9th.

Captain Seaborn Jones Benning's Parole

Not much is known about Captain Seaborn Jones Benning's life following the end of the Civil War.   He lived an additional 9 years following the war's end and died in Columbus, Muscogee, Georgia on December 12, 1874 at the age of 34.  He was buried in Linwood Cemetery in Columbus County, Georgia.

Grave of Captain Seaborn Jones Benning

After the Civil War, Henry Lewis Benning returned home to a devastating economic situation.  Much of his wealth had been invested in slaves and land.  The slaves were now freedmen and much of his land had been ruined.  His house had been burned down and all his savings had disappeared.

Henry Lewis Benning late in life

Benning returned to Columbus and resumed his law practice.  He began to try to rebuild his life.  The loss of his son in 1874 weighed heavy on him.  On July 10, 1875, on his way to a court appearance, Henry Lewis Benning suffered a stroke and died.  The General was buried alongside his wife and son in Linwood Cemetery in Columbus County, Georgia.

Grave of Henry Lewis Benning

Historical Marker outside of Linwood Cemeter

The marker reads:
Born in Columbia County, Georgia, on April 2, 1814, Henry L. Benning attended Franklin College prior to practicing law in Columbus. As a local attorney and state Supreme Court Judge, Benning played an active role in Georgia’s secession in 1861. Entering the Civil War as Colonel of the 17th Georgia Infantry Regiment, he eventually became a brigadier general. He was wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness but continued his leadership of “Benning’s Brigade” until the surrender at Appomattox. After the war, Benning returned to Columbus and resumed his law practice. He died on July 10, 1875. Fort Benning is named in his honor.
Erected by the Historic Chattahoochee Commission and Lizzie Rutherford Chapter 60, United Daughters of the Confederacy 2012"

Confederate Military History, vol. VII, p. 395 describes General Benning as:

"General Benning was one of Nature's noblemen, formed in her very finest mould and most lavish prodigality. As an attorney he was open, candid and fair; as a jurist, spotless and impartial; as a warrior and patriot, brave, disinterested and sincere; and as a man and citizen, his whole life produced in those who knew him the constant vibration of those chords which answer to all that is true and noble and generous and manly.

He was a fine specimen of physical manhood, quite six feet tall, of noble presence and bearing. After a short and sudden illness he died on July 10, 1875. His wife had died on June 28, 1868."

In 1918 the United States Army established its Infantry School at a Camp located partly in Muscogee County and partly in Chattahoochee County.  At the request of the Columbus Rotary Club, the Camp and later Fort was named for Benning.

Here's my relation to Henry Lewis Benning:

Henry Lewis Benning (1814 - 1875)
is your 5th cousin 6x removed
Pleasant Moon Benning (1783 - 1845)
father of Henry Lewis Benning
Sarah Cobb (1756 - 1809)
mother of Pleasant Moon Benning
Thomas Addison Cobb Sr (1723 - 1832)
father of Sarah Cobb
John Cobb (1700 - 1775)
father of Thomas Addison Cobb Sr
Robert Cobbs (1660 - 1727)
father of John Cobb
Robert Cobbs (1626 - 1682)
father of Robert Cobbs
Ambrose Cobb (1662 - 1718)
son of Robert Cobbs
Robert Cobb (1687 - 1769)
son of Ambrose Cobb
Elizabeth Cobb (1724 - 1780)
daughter of Robert Cobb
Reuben Benjamin Eaton Moss Sr. (1737 - 1819)
son of Elizabeth Cobb
Howell Cobb Moss Sr. (1773 - 1831)
son of Reuben Benjamin Eaton Moss Sr.
Benjamin Lucious Moss (1792 - 1847)
son of Howell Cobb Moss Sr.
James C. Moss (1824 - 1891)
son of Benjamin Lucious Moss
William Allen Moss (1859 - 1931)
son of James C. Moss
Valeria Lee Moss (1890 - 1968)
daughter of William Allen Moss
Phebe Teresa Wheeler Lewis (1918 - 1977)
daughter of Valeria Lee Moss
Joyce Elaine Lewis (1948 - )
daughter of Phebe Teresa Wheeler Lewis
Chip Stokes
You are the son of Joyce

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