The Fall of Fayetteville

March 11, 1865 – The left wing of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal Army of the West occupied Fayetteville, an important city on the Cape Fear River in southern North Carolina.[1]

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

Sherman’s Federals had begun entering the state on March 7, sweeping in from South Carolina in four columns and taking just four days to reach Fayetteville. Once Sherman arrived, he dispatched messengers 75 miles downriver to contact Major General John M. Schofield, whose detached Federal corps belonged to Sherman’s army. Sherman reported, “Up to this period I had perfectly succeeded in interposing my superior army between the scattered parts of my enemy.”[2]

Sherman and Schofield intended to join forces at Goldsboro, then launch a two-pronged attack against General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates spread out between Goldsboro and Raleigh. Johnston warned Confederate General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee that if Sherman and Schofield linked as planned, “their march into Virginia cannot be prevented by me.”[3]

The next day, Federals destroyed buildings, machinery, and supplies considered useful to the Confederate war effort. The destruction included the U.S. Arsenal building, which Confederate forces had used extensively since taking it over. Sherman notified U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, “The arsenal is in fine order, and has been much enlarged. I cannot leave a detachment to hold it, therefore shall burn it, blow it up with gunpowder, and then with rams knock down its walls. I take it for granted the United States will never again trust North Carolina with an arsenal to appropriate at her leisure.”[4]

Also on March 12, a steamer arrived up the Cape Fear River from Wilmington to deliver mail to Sherman’s troops, giving them knowledge of the “outside world” for the first time since leaving Savannah, Georgia in January. Meanwhile, a small Confederate force under General William Hardee fought a delaying action while retreating from Fayetteville. This gave Johnston more time to concentrate his main force at Smithfield while awaiting the arrival of General Braxton Bragg’s troops withdrawing from Kinston after last week’s fight there.[5]

In a letter to U.S. General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant, Sherman stated, “Jos. Johnston may try to interpose between me here and Schofield about New Bern, but I think he will not try that.” Instead, Sherman predicted Johnston would try uniting his forces at Raleigh and make a stand there.[6]

Sherman was right. On March 14, Lee informed Confederate President Jefferson Davis that Johnston was indeed uniting his troops at Raleigh, and although he was outnumbered in “tone,” Johnston planned to “strike the enemy in detail.” Lee stated, “The greatest calamity that can befall us is the destruction of our armies. If they can be maintained, we may recover our reverses, but if lost we have no resource.” At the same time, Schofield’s Federals repaired the bridges over the Neuse River after three days of labor and began advancing to join with Sherman at Goldsboro.[7]

—–

  • [1] Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 650-51
  • [2] Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 648, 650-51; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 452
  • [3] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), Kindle Locations 17618-17628; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 650-51
  • [4] Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 17169-17189; Korn, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles, p. 67-69; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 651
  • [5] Korn, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles, p. 67-69; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 651
  • [6] Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 17169-17189
  • [7] Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 17246-17256; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 652
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