The Battle of Bentonville

March 19, 1865 – General Joseph E. Johnston concentrated his 20,000 Confederates near Bentonville, North Carolina to oppose the advancing left wing of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal army.

The Bentonville Dedication | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

The Bentonville Dedication | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

The previous morning, Johnston learned of separation between the left and right wings of Sherman’s army as they crossed the Black River en route to Goldsboro. Johnston resolved to attack one wing at a time to diminish the Federals’ numerical superiority. Major General Henry W. Slocum led the targeted left wing, accompanied by General Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry. Confederate cavalry under General Wade Hampton skirmished with Slocum’s advance units, hoping to hold them near Bentonville before Sherman’s right wing could join the contest. Johnston and Hampton planned for an all-out assault on Slocum the next day.[1]

Resuming his march on the 19th, Slocum expected no significant resistance until Hampton attacked in force outside Bentonville around 9 a.m. The Federals repulsed Hampton’s cavalry, and delays in bringing up Johnston’s main force gave the Federals time to dig entrenchments. When the Confederates finally advanced, they stormed through the defenses and drove the Federal left back two miles. Federals felt intense pressure on their right as well.[2]

A strong stand by Federals under Major General Jefferson C. Davis held firm, helping to repulse three major Confederate assaults. Rallying reinforcements, Slocum resumed the offensive around 6 p.m., but the Confederates held them off. Fighting ended after dark, when Johnston fell back to his original position behind Mill Creek. Meanwhile, Sherman (traveling with the right wing of his army) had learned of the fighting and hurried that wing to the scene.[3]

The Federal right wing began arriving near daybreak on the 20th. By the afternoon, Sherman had positioned his entire army of some 60,000 effectives near Bentonville to confront Johnston’s force of less than 20,000. Having lost over 2,000 men in yesterday’s fighting, Johnston resisted renewing his attack, and instead both armies spent the rest of the day skirmishing and probing for enemy weaknesses.[4]

The next afternoon, Federals maneuvered around the Confederate left to threaten the Mill Creek Bridge, Johnston’s line of retreat. A Confederate counterattack drove them off, but then Johnston received word that Major General John M. Schofield’s Federals had captured Goldsboro, the prized town where Sherman planned to combine all Federal forces in North Carolina. Despite having held firm in the face of superior numbers, Johnston ordered an evacuation under cover of darkness.[5]

The Federals suffered about 1,500 casualties, while the Confederates lost about 2,600, mostly captured. Sherman chose not to pursue Johnston, instead resuming his planned advance on Goldsboro. Although the Confederates fought hard against heavy odds, the fight at Bentonville marked their last effective opposition to the Federals’ relentless sweep into North Carolina.[6]

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  • [1] 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 17335-17345; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 70; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 653-54
  • [2] Korn, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles, p. 70-72; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 653-54; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 453
  • [3] Korn, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles, p. 70-72; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 653-54; Pollard, Southern History of the War, p. 453
  • [4] Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox, Kindle Locations 17433-17443; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 655; Pollard, Southern History of the War, p. 453
  • [5] Korn, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles, p. 75; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 655-56
  • [6] Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 213; Korn, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles, p. 75; Long with Long, The Civil War Day by Day, p. 655-56; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 362-63
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One thought on “The Battle of Bentonville

  1. […] General Joseph E. Johnston’s withdrawal toward Smithfield after the Battle of Bentonville enabled Major General William T. Sherman to concentrate his Federal army at Goldsboro, the […]

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