Tag Archives: Henry W. Slocum

Action Winds Down in North Carolina

April 16, 1865 – Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston received a message from Federal Major General William T. Sherman that had the potential to end most hostilities east of the Mississippi River.

Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

As April began, Sherman’s Federals remained at Goldsboro reorganizing and preparing for their next major march. On the 5th, Sherman issued Special Orders No. 48, instructing his men that they would soon be moving north of the Roanoke River, poised to reinforce the Federal armies under Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia. The plan changed the next day when Sherman received word that Petersburg and Richmond had fallen.

Sherman now directed his forces to move directly for Raleigh and confront the Confederates under General Joseph E. Johnston before they could be reinforced by General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Grant notified Sherman that Lee was headed for Danville, and a Lee-Johnston merger must be prevented at all costs. Grant concluded, “Rebel armies now are the only strategic points to strike at.”

Sherman had nearly 100,000 men to stop Johnston’s force of less than 35,000. The Federals began moving out on the 10th in three columns led by (from left to right) Major Generals Henry W. Slocum, John Schofield, and Oliver O. Howard. In addition, a Federal cavalry force under Major General George Stoneman raided western North Carolina.

As Johnston began pulling back from Smithfield to Raleigh, a portion of Stoneman’s force attacked a Confederate supply train at Salisbury. The Federals charged some 3,000 Confederate defenders at Grant’s Creek, taking about 1,300 prisoners along with 10,000 small arms and 14 cannon. Had the Federals attacked Greensboro instead, they would have captured Jefferson Davis and the remnants of his Confederate government in exile. Nonetheless, the Federal attack deprived Davis of the ability to escape via the railroads.

Meanwhile, Johnston learned that Lee had surrendered to Grant, thereby making his tattered force the last significant Confederate army east of the Mississippi River. When Johnston arrived at the North Carolina capital of Raleigh, he urged Governor Zebulon Vance to negotiate a ceasefire with Sherman while Johnston got instructions from Davis on whether to surrender or fight.

By the time the Federals reached Raleigh’s outskirts, Sherman had learned of Lee’s surrender. He passed the news along to his men in Special Field Orders No. 54:

“The general commanding announces to the army that he has official notice from General Grant that General Lee surrendered to him his entire army, on the 9th inst., at Appomattox Court-House, Virginia.

“Glory to God and our country, and all honor to our comrades in arms, toward whom we are marching!

“A little more labor, a little more toil on our part, the great race is won, and our Government stands regenerated, after four long years of war.”

The men cheered and celebrated as they prepared to destroy Raleigh just like they had destroyed the capitals of South Carolina and Georgia. However, Vance dispatched former Governors William A. Graham and David L. Swain to meet with Sherman. The formally attired emissaries were “dreadfully excited” after passing dangerously close to a cavalry fight on their way to the meeting. They pleaded with Sherman to spare Raleigh from destruction; Sherman appreciated their effort to avoid bloodshed and agreed.

Vance and other state officials fled the capital before the Federals jubilantly entered in pouring rain on the 13th. Raleigh became the 9th of 11 Confederate state capitals to fall; only Austin and Tallahassee remained unconquered. Sherman directed that military police keep a strict guard to prevent looting, and as a result Raleigh did not suffer the same fate as other cities on Sherman’s march such as Atlanta, Savannah, and Columbia. Sherman also allowed civic officials to continue business as usual until he was instructed otherwise by his superiors.

The Federals at Raleigh received news from Commander William H. Macomb, commanding naval forces on the Roanoke River, that–

“–the rebels have evacuated Weldon, burning the bridge, destroying the ram at Edward’s Ferry, and throwing the guns at Rainbow Bluff into the river. Except for torpedoes, the river is therefore clear for navigation. The floating battery, as I informed you in my No. 144, has got adrift from Halifax and been blown up by one of their own torpedoes.”

Federals skirmished in heavy rain around Raleigh and Morrisville as Sherman planned to advance on Johnston’s main force near Greensboro. Johnston had no hope of matching Sherman in open battle, but Sherman now feared that Johnston might disperse his army to wage guerrilla warfare, which could go on indefinitely.

Meanwhile, Johnston conferred with President Davis and obtained permission to talk with Sherman, but only if those talks could result in peace negotiations between the U.S. and Confederate civil authorities. Johnston sent a message through the lines, which Sherman received on the morning of the 14th:

“The results of the recent campaign in Virginia have changed the relative military condition of the belligerents. I am, therefore, induced to address you in this form the inquiry whether, to stop the further effusion of blood and devastation of property, you are willing to make a temporary suspension of active operations, and to communicate to Lieutenant-General Grant, commanding the armies of the United States, the request that he will take like action in regard to other armies, the object being to permit the civil authorities to enter into the needful arrangements to terminate the existing war.”

Despite the political ramifications of such a request (President Abraham Lincoln had directed his generals to only discuss surrender, not peace terms, with Confederate army commanders), Sherman quickly replied:

“I have this moment received your communication of this date. I am fully empowered to arrange with you any terms for the suspension of farther hostilities between the armies commanded by you and those commanded by myself, and will be willing to confer with you to that end. I will limit the advance of my main column, to-morrow, to Morrisville, and the cavalry to the university, and expect that you will also maintain the present position of your forces until each has notice of a failure to agree.

“That a basis of action may be had, I undertake to abide by the same terms and conditions as were made by Generals Grant and Lee at Appomattox Court-House, on the 9th instant, relative to our two armies; and, furthermore, to obtain from General Grant an order to suspend the movements of any troops from the direction of Virginia. General Stoneman is under my command, and my order will suspend any devastation or destruction contemplated by him. I will add that I really desire to save the people of North Carolina the damage they would sustain by the march of this army through the central or western parts of the State.”

Johnston received Sherman’s reply on the 16th, and the two commanders planned to meet between the lines at noon the next day.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 222-23; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 592; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22137, 22887-95; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 556-59; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 20343-63, 20808-77, 20897-917; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 583-84; Gates, Arnold, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 683; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 155-60; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 672-79; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 611-12, 652, 736; Sherman, William T., Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, Vol. I (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1889, Kindle Edition), Loc 12158-89, 12196-208, 12204-19, 12228, 12252-74; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks. Kindle Edition, 2012), Q265

The Battle of Bentonville

March 19, 1865 – General Joseph E. Johnston’s makeshift Confederate army moved to crush the left wing of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal army outside Bentonville before the right wing could come up in support.

Sherman’s left wing was led by Major General Henry W. Slocum, and it consisted of XIV and XX corps, with Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry in support. The Federals had camped within five miles of the Confederate line on the 18th and resumed their forward march the next morning, with Major General Jefferson C. Davis’s XIV Corps in the lead.

Johnston had about 18,000 infantrymen from various commands, along with Lieutenant General Wade Hampton’s cavalry. The Confederates blocked the Federals’ path to Goldsboro, where Sherman hoped to join forces with Major General John Schofield’s Army of North Carolina. Johnston looked to take on XIV Corps, which was about the same size as his force, before XX Corps or Sherman’s right wing could reinforce it.

The Federals advanced near dawn and quickly ran into Hampton’s cavalry in front of the main Confederate line. Skirmishing ensued, but Slocum did not think it was too serious. A staff officer informed Sherman that Slocum’s “leading division had encountered a division of rebel cavalry, which he was driving easily.” Satisfied there was no danger, Sherman rode off to join his right wing, about a half-day’s march to the east.

Meanwhile, the skirmishing intensified and both sides brought up artillery. The Confederates began deploying for battle, but they moved slowly because there was only one viable road from Bentonville to the field. General Braxton Bragg’s division under Major General Robert F. Hoke held the Confederate left, while Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s corps from the Army of Tennessee held the right. Lieutenant General William Hardee’s command was slated to come up between Hoke and Stewart, but he was running late. Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s corps from the Army of Tennessee was also on its way.

Fighting at Bentonville | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Slocum sent a message to Sherman assuring him that no reinforcements were needed. He then ordered Davis’s XIV Corps forward to meet the threat. Brigadier General William P. Carlin’s division led the advance, but they were hit by unexpectedly heavy volleys from Hoke’s Confederates and forced to fall back. One officer said, “I tell you it was a tight spot… (we) stood as long as man could stand… (then) we run like the devil.” Carlin’s men quickly built breastworks that one officer said “saved Sherman’s reputation.”

Davis soon learned from Confederate prisoners that this was more than just an isolated Confederate unit; Johnston was making a stand with his whole army. According to Slocum, Davis “informed me that General Johnston had, by forced marches, concentrated his army in my front; that it was understood among the rebel soldiers that this force amounted to 40,000 men; they were told that they were to crush one corps of Sherman’s army.” Slocum therefore “concluded to take a defensive position and communicate with the commanding general.”

The Federal advance was stopped by 1:30 p.m., as the troops fortified themselves and Slocum called on XX Corps, led by Brigadier General Alpheus Williams, to hurry to the front. Williams’s men began arriving around 2 p.m. and took positions to the left of XIV Corps.

On the Confederate side, Hardee’s troops began arriving around 2:45 p.m., with Hardee taking command of the right wing. Johnston then ordered a general assault. Colonel Charles W. Broadfoot from Hoke’s command described the scene: “It looked like a picture and at our distance was truly beautiful… But it was a painful sight to see how close their battle flags were together, regiments being scarcely larger than companies and a division not much larger than a regiment should be.”

The Confederates crumpled the Federals’ left flank, which had not yet been fully manned by XX Corps. They nearly captured Carlin and overran a Federal field hospital. As they continued forward, Major General D.H. Hill’s Confederates began enfilading the rest of the Federal line. However, the attack was not coordinated well enough to break the Federal defenses.

A second phase of the battle began when Hoke’s Confederates attacked the Federal right, which was isolated due to the left having been crumpled. Vicious fighting took place, with one Army of Northern Virginia veteran later stating that “it was the hottest infantry fight they had been in except Cold Harbor.” The Federal line seemed about to break, but reinforcements arrived just in time to repel the attackers.

Hampton wrote that Bragg, “fearing he could not maintain his ground, applied for reinforcements. General Johnston at once determined to comply with this request, and he directed Hardee to send a portion of his force to the support of Hoke. This movement was in my judgment the only mistake committed on our part during the fight…”

A third phase began when the Confederates on the right renewed their assault on the crumpled flank. Hardee committed two divisions in a heavy attack near the Harper house. Johnston later wrote of Hardee:

“He then made the charge with characteristic skill and vigor. Once, when he apprehended the difficult, Hardee literally led the advance. The Federals were routed in a few minutes, our brave fellows dashing successively over two lines of temporary breastworks, and following the enemy rapidly, but in good order.”

But troops from XX Corps came up and checked the Confederate advance. Hardee committed a third division and launched five separate assaults after 5 p.m., but none could break the Federal line. A North Carolinian remembered that nowhere “in the battle of Gettysburg (was) as hot as that place.” Slocum reported, “The enemy was repulsed at all points along our line, but continued his assaults until a late hour in the evening.”

Nightfall ended the fighting. Johnston concluded that the enemy force had been “greatly increased,” even though Sherman’s right wing had not yet arrived. He reported:

“After burying our dead and bringing off our own and many of the Federal wounded, and three pieces of artillery… we returned to our first position. The impossibility of concentrating the Confederate forces in time to attack the Federal left wing while in column on the march, made complete success also impossible, from the enemy’s great numerical superiority.”

After midnight, the Confederates fell back to their original position behind Mill Creek and built defenses. Meanwhile, the Federals set up makeshift hospitals to tend to the wounded, and a witness recalled:

“A dozen surgeons and attendants in their shirt sleeves stood at rude benches cutting off arms and legs and throwing them out of the window where they lay scattered on the grass. The legs of the infantrymen could be distinguished from those of the cavalry by the size of their calves.”

During the night, couriers hurried to Sherman’s headquarters and delivered the news that a major battle had been fought. One of Sherman’s staff officers recalled:

“At about half past nine, one of General Slocum’s aides came up at a dashing pace, and, throwing himself from his horse, asked for General Sherman. We all gathered round, and listened attentively, as he told the particulars of the battle. The commander-in-chief would have made a good subject for Punch or Vanity Fair. He had been lying down in General Howard’s tent, and hearing the inquiry for him, and being of course anxious to hear the news of the fight, he rushed out to the camp-fire without stopping to put on his clothes. He stood in a bed of ashes up to his ankles, chewing impatiently the stump of a cigar, with his hands clasped behind him, and with nothing on but a red flannel undershirt and a pair of drawers.”

Sherman wrote:

“I sent back orders for him to fight defensively to save time, and that I would come up with reénforcements from the direction of Cox’s Bridge, by the road which we had reached near Falling-Creek Church. The country was very obscure, and the maps extremely defective. By this movement I hoped General Slocum would hold Johnston’s army facing west, while I would come on his rear from the east…”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 213; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22119-28; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 548; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 568; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (John G. Barrett, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 270-71; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 70-72; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 654-55; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p.56; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 829; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 453; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 304; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 362-63

The Battle of Averasboro

March 15, 1865 – A small Confederate force dug in near Averasboro and partially blocked the path of Major General William T. Sherman’s advance into North Carolina.

Sherman’s Federals moved out of Fayetteville on the 14th and began crossing the Cape Fear River on their way to Goldsboro, where they hoped to join forces with Major General John Schofield’s Federal Army of North Carolina. After three days of repairing bridges, Schofield’s men crossed the Neuse River and resumed their advance toward Goldsboro.

The Confederate high command still believed that Sherman’s true objective was Raleigh, and General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee warned General Joseph E. Johnston not to allow the Federals to cut the railroad supply line running from Raleigh to Petersburg and Richmond. If this happened, Johnston’s army would have to fall back toward Virginia, and if “forced back in this direction both armies would certainly starve.”

Johnston had no more than 24,000 men, most of whom were either pulled from garrison duty or belonged to state militias. Some were demoralized veterans from the Army of Tennessee. They were expected to stop an enemy that, if Sherman and Schofield joined forces, would number over 90,000. Lee reported to President Jefferson Davis:

“The army under Genl Johnston is about being united at Raleigh. It is inferior in number to the enemy, and I fear its tone is not yet restored. It is in great part without field transportation and labours under other disadvantages, I think it would be better at this time if practicable to avoid a general engagement and endeavour to strike the enemy in detail. This is Genl Johnston’s plan, in which I hope he may succeed, and he may then recover all the ground he may be obliged to relinquish in accomplishing it.

“The greatest calamity that can befall us is the destruction of our armies. If they can be maintained we may recover from our reverses, but if lost we have no resource. I will endeavour to keep your Excellency advised of Genl Johnston’s intentions, but from his dispatches and reports of the condition of his army, I fear it may be necessary to relinquish Raleigh.”

Johnston hoped to defeat Sherman and Schofield while they were still separated, but since he still did not know Sherman’s true intentions, he had to divide his own force. General Braxton Bragg’s Confederates coming from Kinston were directed to guard Goldsboro, while Lieutenant General William Hardee’s small force coming up from Fayetteville was to guard Raleigh. The central command would be at Smithfield, between the two towns.

Confederate Lieut Gen William Hardee | Image Credit: Flickr.com

By the 15th, both the left and right wings of Sherman’s Federal army had crossed the Cape Fear River. Hardee’s 7,500 Confederates took positions on a ridge between the river and Averasboro, a small town about 30 miles south of Raleigh. This blocked Sherman’s left wing, specifically Major General Henry W. Slocum’s XX Corps in that wing. According to Sherman:

“On the 15th of March the whole army was across Cape Fear River, and at once began its march for Goldsboro’; the Seventeenth Corps still on the right, the Fifteenth next in order, then the Fourteenth and Twentieth on the extreme left; the cavalry acting in close concert with the left flank. With almost a certainty of being attacked on this flank, I had instructed General Slocum to send his corps-trains under strong escort by an interior road, holding four divisions ready for immediate battle.”

Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s Federal cavalry screened Slocum’s advance on the left, probing for the enemy. The Federals ran into a Confederate skirmish line consisting mainly of the 1st South Carolina Heavy Artillery, which had previously been garrisoned at Charleston. A skirmish ensued in which the Federals took several prisoners.

The prisoners included Colonel Alfred M. Rhett, son of Robert B. Rhett, the fire-eating editor of the Charleston Mercury. Colonel Rhett defiantly warned Kilpatrick, “There are 50,000 fresh men ready and waiting for you” in South Carolina. Kilpatrick replied, “Yes and if that is true we will have to hunt the swamp to find the damned cowards.” Rhett was taken to Sherman’s headquarters, where he was questioned and turned over to Slocum’s provost-guard.

Hardee’s Confederates ultimately fended off Kilpatrick’s probe, and Slocum’s men camped within eight miles of Averasboro on the night of the 15th. As Sherman explained, his force “encountered pretty stubborn resistance by Hardee’s infantry, artillery, and cavalry, and the ground favored our enemy; for the deep river, Cape Fear, was on his right, and North River on his left, forcing us to attack him square in front. I proposed to drive Hardee well beyond Averysboro’, and then to turn to the right by Bentonville for Goldsboro.”

The next day, as Hardee resumed his attacks on Kilpatrick’s cavalry, Slocum’s XX Corps attacked the Confederate front. The Federals made little progress until Sherman ordered a brigade to move around and try outflanking Hardee’s right. This forced the Confederates to fall back to a second defensive line. They fended off three Federal charges, and when their flanks were about to crumble, Hardee withdrew to a third position on high ground behind a swamp.

The Confederates withstood repeated attacks from this new position throughout the afternoon. As night fell, Hardee learned that the Federals were crossing the Black River to turn his left flank. This compelled him to withdraw his men under cover of a stormy night toward Smithfield. Hardee reported to Johnston:

“The enemy have made repeated attempts to carry my lines and turn my flanks, but have been repulsed in every attempt. I shall retire toward Smithfield tonight. General Hampton says the enemy have crossed Black River at several places, and urges me to move rapidly to prevent being intercepted…”

The fight at Averasboro cost the Federals 682 casualties (95 killed, 533 wounded, and 54 missing), while the Confederates lost about 865. This was neither a major battle nor a Confederate victory, but it gave Johnston more time to concentrate his forces and possibly block the planned junction between Sherman and Schofield at Goldsboro. Hardee issued orders commending his troops for their effort and for “giving the enemy the first check he has received since leaving Atlanta.”

Sherman’s advance through the Carolinas had been nearly flawless thus far, but he made a serious mistake at Averasboro: he failed to put his right wing into the fight, which could have destroyed Hardee’s entire force. This not only allowed Hardee to escape, but the fight left Sherman’s left wing dangerously spread out and separated from the right by nearly 12 miles.

Sherman’s forces continued moving forward nonetheless, struggling along muddy roads and building bridges on the way.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22111-19; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 547; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 17246-96, 17315-35; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 566-67; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (John G. Barrett, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 268; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 69; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 652-53; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 418-19; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 31, 56; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 829; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 452-53; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 304

The Fall of Fayetteville

March 11, 1865 – The left wing of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies captured Fayetteville, a key city on the Cape Fear River in southern North Carolina.

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

Sherman’s Federals had begun entering the state on the 7th, sweeping in from South Carolina in two wings of two columns each:

  • Major General Henry W. Slocum’s Army of Georgia, consisting of XIV and XX corps, held the left (west).
  • Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee, consisting of XV and XVII corps, held the right (east).

Sherman planned to feint toward Charlotte while actually targeting Fayetteville, the largest town in his path through North Carolina thus far. It housed 3,000 residents and an arsenal that North Carolinians had seized from the Federal government after the state seceded. The arsenal contained rifle-making machinery that Confederates had transferred from Harpers Ferry in 1861.

Securing Fayetteville would enable Sherman to open a supply line on the Cape Fear River. The Federals were slowed by rain and sandy roads that needed corduroying, as well as sporadic Confederate resistance, but they eventually closed in on their target. Only a small cavalry force led by Lieutenant General Wade Hampton guarded Fayetteville. The rest of the Confederate forces in North Carolina remained dispersed while their new commander, General Joseph E. Johnston, tried to unite them. Sherman wrote, “Up to this period I had perfectly succeeded in interposing my superior army between the scattered parts of my enemy.”

On the morning of the 11th, Slocum reported to Sherman: “The advance of the Fourteenth Army Corps last night reached Buckhead Creek, where they met the enemy in some force. (Absalom) Baird’s division is now moving from this point. The Twentieth Corps is several miles in rear. I shall soon learn whether they intend to defend the place and shall be in there at 9 a.m. if they do not.”

As the Federals began surrounding Fayetteville, a scouting party of 67 cavalrymen under Captain William R. Duncan rode into town. The party encountered Hampton’s horsemen and nearly captured Hampton himself, but a Confederate detachment arrived and drove the Federals off. The Confederates killed 11 and took 12 prisoners, including Duncan.

Major General Lafayette McLaws, commanding Confederate infantry near Fayetteville, received sensational reports that Hampton had driven off a much larger Federal force, but he was unimpressed: “Report says he killed two with his own hand, but the chivalry have fallen so deep into the pit of ‘want of chivalry’ that they are constantly inventing Munchausen as to the prowess of those from that state, of defaming others in order that thereby they appear elevated by the contrast.”

If the clash could be called a Confederate victory, it was a short-lived one. Federal troops soon advanced in overwhelming numbers, and Hampton abandoned Fayetteville. The Confederates scored one last moral victory by burning the Cape Fear Bridge before the Federals could stop them. Mayor Archibald McLean formally surrendered the city to Sherman’s men.

Sherman sent messengers to contact Major General Alfred H. Terry’s Federal X Corps at Wilmington, 75 miles down the Cape Fear River. Terry’s corps was part of Major General John Schofield’s Army of North Carolina, all under Sherman’s military division. Terry responded by sending a naval squadron under Lieutenant Commander George W. Young upriver to open communications between Sherman and Washington. Scouts reported the waterway to be “very narrow and torturous, with a strong current… the Chickamauga is sunk across the stream at Indian Wells, with a chain just below. Her two guns are on a bluff on the western bank of the river.”

Meanwhile, Sherman entered Fayetteville:

“I took up my quarters at the old United States Arsenal, which was in fine order, and had been much enlarged by the Confederate authorities, who never dreamed that an invading army would reach it from the west… During the 11th the whole army closed down upon Fayetteville, and immediate preparations were made to lay two pontoon bridges, one near the burned bridge, and another about four miles lower down.”

Sherman intended to continue northeast to Goldsboro, where he would join with Schofield’s forces coming from Wilmington (Terry’s X Corps) and Kinston (Major General Jacob D. Cox’s XXIII Corps). From there, the united command would advance in two wings to confront Johnston’s Confederates spread out between Goldsboro and Raleigh.

But before Sherman’s men continued their march, they stayed at Fayetteville long enough to destroy factories, tanneries, railroad machine shops, factories, warehouses, and supplies considered useful to the Confederate war effort. This included the arsenal. Sherman reported to 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.”

Sherman informed Terry, “We are all well and have destroyed a vast amount of stores and done the enemy irreparable damage. I will destroy the arsenal utterly.” In addition to war-related property, the Federals destroyed several private residences and three newspaper buildings. A resident wrote that “there was no place, no chamber, trunk, drawer, desk, garret, closet, or cellar that was private to their unholy eyes. Their rude hands spared nothing but our lives…” A provost guard was finally assigned to stop the pillaging.

Meanwhile, Sherman instructed Terry:

“I want you to send me all the shoes, stockings, drawers, sugar, coffee, and flour you can spare; finish the loads with oats or corn. Have the boats escorted and them run at night at any risk… refugees, white and black… have clung to our skirts, impeded our movements, and consumed our food… I must rid my army of from 20,000 to 30,000 useless mouths, as many to go to Cape Fear as possible, and balance will go in vehicles, and captured horses via Clinton to Wilmington.”

The steamer U.S.S. Eolus became the first vessel to reach Sherman’s men at Fayetteville on the afternoon of the 12th. The Eolus delivered supplies and mail, giving the troops knowledge of the “outside world” for the first time since leaving Savannah over a month ago.

As the Federals continued their destruction, a small Confederate force fought a delaying action while retreating from the Fayetteville area. This gave Johnston more time to concentrate his main force at Smithfield, between Goldsboro and Raleigh, in hopes of preventing the junction of Sherman and Schofield. Johnston warned General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee that if this happened, “their march into Virginia cannot be prevented by me.”

Sherman wrote to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, “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. Sherman was right.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22111; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 545-47; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 17169-89, 17246-56, 17618-28; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 565; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 67-69; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 650-52; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 254-55; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 31; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 452; Rhodes, James Ford, History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1917 [Kindle Edition, Reservoir House, 2016], Loc 5546

Sherman Approaches North Carolina

March 5, 1865 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies began crossing the Pee Dee River after leaving a swath of destruction through South Carolina.

As March began, Sherman’s troops continued their northward march. The Federals laid waste to most everything in their path, making sure that the state which had been the first to secede felt their fury. They were hampered by bad roads and rough wire grass, but they still averaged about 10 miles per day.

Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Sherman planned to invade North Carolina and feint toward Charlotte while occupying Fayetteville. From there, he intended to join forces with Major General John Schofield’s Army of North Carolina, which was securing a supply line from the Atlantic to Goldsboro.

Sherman’s right wing, consisting of Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee, entered the town of Cheraw on the 2nd. Lieutenant General William Hardee, whose small Confederate force had retreated through South Carolina after abandoning Charleston, withdrew across the Pee Dee River. Sherman arrived at Cheraw the next day and later wrote:

“Cheraw was found to be full of stores which had been sent up from Charleston prior to its evacuation, and which could not be removed. I was satisfied from inquirers, that General Hardee had with him only the Charleston garrison, that the enemy had not divined our movements, and that consequently they were still scattered from Charlotte around to Florence, then behind us. Having thus secured the passage of the Pedee, I felt no uneasiness about the future, because there remained no further great impediment between us and the Cape Fear River, which I felt assured was by that time in possession of our friends (i.e., Schofield).”

Sherman reported that Cheraw had been a sort of sanctuary for people who had fled Charleston. Many had brought their possessions with them, including luxury items that the Federals quickly seized. Sherman added, “There was an immense amount of stores in Cheraw, which were used or destroyed; among them twenty-four guns, two thousand muskets, and thirty-six hundred barrels of gunpowder. By the carelessness of a soldier, an immense pile of this powder was exploded, which shook the town badly, and killed and maimed several of our men.”

An investigation was conducted as to the cause of the deadly blast, and according to the official report:

“The explosion was caused by ignition of a large quantity of rebel ammunition which had been found in the town of Cheraw and hauled out and thrown into a deep ravine lying between the town and the pontoon bridge… After diligent inquiry I am unable to ascertain the names of the men who set fire to the powder, but I have no doubt they were ignorant, as I was myself, that any explosive material was in the ravine.”

Another explosion occurred behind Sherman’s armies in South Carolina. Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the Federal South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, left Charleston aboard his flagship Harvest Moon to inspect the recently captured Fort White at Georgetown. During the trip, the flagship struck a torpedo. One man was killed, but Dahlgren escaped. He later reported:

“Suddenly, without warning, came a crashing sound, a heavy shock, the partition between the cabin and wardroom was shattered and driven in toward me, while all loose articles in the cabin flew in different directions… A torpedo had been struck by the poor old Harvest Moon, and she was sinking.”

The ship went down in five minutes.

Back at Cheraw, Sherman learned that General Joseph E. Johnston had assumed command of the Confederate forces in the region. Sherman guessed that Johnston’s priority would be to unite these scattered commands and then make a stand against him somewhere in North Carolina. As such, Sherman sought to hurry and join forces with Schofield before Johnston could stop him.

The Federals laid a pontoon bridge over the Pee Dee on the 4th and began crossing the next day. They moved in four columns, with Howard’s XV and XVII corps on the right (east), and Major General Henry W. Slocum’s XIV and XX corps of his Army of Georgia on the left (west). Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry division screened the Federal left. By the 8th, Sherman’s entire force had crossed into North Carolina.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 541-44; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 560-63; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (John G. Barrett, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 268; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 648; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 254-55, 506; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 451-52

South Carolina: Federals Cross the Congaree

February 14, 1865 – By this time, Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies were moving directly toward the South Carolina capital of Columbia.

Sherman reported that he was advancing “without wasting time or labor on Branchville or Charleston.” The troops advanced in two wings, with Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee on the right (or east) and Major General Henry W. Slocum’s Army of Georgia on the left.

Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, 17 Dec 1864, Vol. VIII, No. 416

Part of Sherman’s force reached the Congaree River, the last major waterway separating the Federals from Columbia. The men discovered some undefended fords and began building bridges to cross the river. General P.G.T. Beauregard, the overall Confederate commander in the region, finally realized that Sherman was targeting Columbia and not Charleston.

Beauregard traveled from Columbia to confer with Lieutenant General William Hardee, commanding the Confederates around Charleston. Beauregard wrote, “The holding of Charleston is now reduced to only a question of a few days. Its loss does not jeopardize the safety of the State of South Carolina, but the loss of its garrison would greatly contribute to that end.”

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

On his way back to Columbia, Beauregard stopped at Florence and wired General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee that Hardee would evacuate Charleston immediately and withdraw his troops to Chesterville, north of Columbia. Beauregard then forwarded intelligence received from Major Generals Carter L. Stevenson and Joseph Wheeler, commanding Confederates at Columbia, that the “enemy has appeared in their front and driven their pickets across Congaree, at railroad bridge near Kingsville. They consider movement on Columbia serious.”

Beauregard saw this as all the more reason for Hardee to abandon Charleston because if Columbia fell, Hardee would be isolated and easily destroyed. He wrote to Hardee, “Commence immediately movement as arranged, and if practicable, average 20 miles a day.” Hardee forwarded a message from President Jefferson Davis urging him to save Charleston “for future use, and save us the pain of seeing it pass into the hands of the enemy.”

Beauregard quickly replied to Davis: “I have far from sufficient force to hold the enemy in check in the field… Hence I see no good reason for deviating from the plan already decided upon; on the contrary, I urge its immediate execution.” Beauregard returned to Columbia that night and notified Lee that all of Sherman’s four corps were “moving on this place, two of them pressing our troops back on south side to within about four miles of the river.”

Confederate reinforcements from the Army of Tennessee were expected to arrive in Columbia at any moment, but these totaled no more than 5,000 men from the depleted corps of Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham and Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart. This would give Beauregard less than 20,000 men to oppose Sherman’s 60,000 veterans.

Beauregard directed Stevenson, whose Confederates were falling back north of the Congaree River, to “construct works on this side to keep enemy’s batteries as far from city as possible.” Columbia “must then be held as long as circumstances will permit to give time to our re-enforcements to arrive.”

The next day, residents began evacuating Columbia as Sherman’s Federals inched closer through thick morning fog. Stevenson’s batteries opened on them, but the fog caused many gunners to miss their marks. By late afternoon, a large Federal force had outflanked Stevenson’s men, forcing them to fall back. Lieutenant General Wade Hampton’s Confederate cavalry made a desperate charge across an open field, but it did nothing to stop the irresistible Federal wave coming toward the capital.

The bulk of Sherman’s force arrived directly opposite Columbia on the 16th. Captain Francis De Gress ordered artillerists to unlimber two guns and start shelling the town. Sherman rode to the sound of the firing and, as he later wrote, “I instructed him not to fire anymore into the town, but consented to his bursting a few shells near the depot, to scare away the negroes who were appropriating the bags of corn and meal which we wanted, also to fire three shots at the unoccupied State-House.”

Sherman then directed Major General John A. Logan’s XV Corps (of Howard’s army) to “occupy Columbia, destroy the public buildings, railroad property, manufacturing and machine shops; but will spare libraries, asylumns, and private dwellings.” Sherman’s remaining three corps would bypass the city and continue to North Carolina as planned.

A brigade was dispatched to find a river crossing, and the Federals found one on the Broad River, northwest of Columbia, before its confluence with the Congaree. By the end of the day, two divisions of XV Corps were poised to enter the capital first thing next morning. Sherman wrote:

“The night of the 16th, I camped near an old prison bivouac opposite Columbia, known to our prisoners of war as ‘Camp Sorghum,’ where remained the mud-hovels and holes in the ground which our prisoners had made to shelter themselves from the winter’s cold and summer’s heat. The Fifteenth Corps was then ahead, reaching to Broad River, about four miles above Columbia; the Seventeenth Corps was behind, on the river-bank opposite Columbia; and the left wing and cavalry had turned north toward Alston.”

Earlier that day, Beauregard, unable to wait for reinforcements any longer, ordered Columbia evacuated. Troops and residents hurried out of town, leaving behind bales of cotton sitting in wagons; there was no time to carry out the order to burn them before the Federals arrived.

Joe Wheeler’s cavalry rode into town, and according to a southern reporter, “proceeded to break into the stores along main street and rob them of their contents” on the premise that the Federals would soon pillage the city anyway. As Wheeler’s troopers rode off, Hampton conducted the final Confederate withdrawal from Columbia. Both Columbia and Charleston were now doomed.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 213-14; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21975; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 533-34; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 16569-608, 16627-67; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 554; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 58-63; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 638-41; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 131, 153; Murphy, Richard W., The Nation Reunited: War’s Aftermath (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 30-31; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 446, 448

South Carolina: Sherman’s Entire Force Arrives

February 4, 1865 – Major General William T. Sherman’s two Federal armies were now entirely in South Carolina while what remained of a Confederate resistance scrambled to stop them.

Sherman’s men advanced northward from Savannah in two columns: Major General Henry W. Slocum’s Army of Georgia comprised the left (west) wing, and Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee comprised the right (east) wing. The Federals marched past Augusta to their left and Charleston to their right en route to the South Carolina capital of Columbia straight ahead.

On the 3rd, Howard’s column drove off a small Confederate force guarding Rivers’ Bridge on the Salkehatchie River. The Federals advanced through three miles of swampland to outflank the defenders and cross the river. Their immediate objective was the South Carolina Railroad at Blackville, which connected the Confederates at Augusta and Charleston.

Federals in South Carolina | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, Vol. IX, No. 427, 4 Mar 1865

By the 4th, Sherman’s entire force had entered South Carolina, skirmishing with Confederates at Buford’s Bridge, Fishburn’s Plantation, and on the Little Salkehatchie River near Barnwell. Confederate Flag Officer William W. Hunter directed the crews of the C.S.S. Macon and Sampson, trapped on the Savannah River, to turn their ammunition over to army forces so they could better stop Sherman’s advance. It helped little.

General P.G.T. Beauregard, the Confederate department commander, set up headquarters at Columbia and asked President Jefferson Davis to send him reinforcements from General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. However, Lee told Davis that he had no men to spare, so Beauregard would have to confront Sherman “wherever he can be struck to most advantage.”

Meanwhile, the Federal advance continued, pushing through natural obstacles and Confederates all the same. Sherman used naval transports to get his men across swollen rivers and swamps whenever possible, and the march soon became so difficult that he even considered changing direction and moving along the coast instead. He wrote to Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron:

“We are on the railroad at Midway (S.C.), and will break 50 miles from Edisto towards Augusta and then cross towards Columbia. Weather is bad and country full of water. This may force me to turn against Charleston… Send word to New Bern (N.C.) that you have heard from me, and the probabilities are that high waters may force me to the coast before I reach North Carolina, but to keep Wilmington busy.”

Along the way, Federal “bummers” roamed the countryside, looting and pillaging houses, barns, and anything else they found. Major General Joseph Wheeler, commanding the Confederate cavalry, wrote to Sherman asking him to restrain his men. Sherman responded that most civilians had fled before the Federals came through, adding, “Vacant houses being of no use to anybody, I care little about. I don’t want them destroyed, but do not take much care to preserve them.”

Howard’s troops reached Blackville on the 7th, where they seized the Edisto River Bridge and the railroad. Beauregard directed the Confederates in that area to fall back to Cheraw and Chester, thus relinquishing central South Carolina to the Federals. Slocum’s men came up on Howard’s left two days later, and the Federals spent the next few days wrecking a 50-mile stretch of the railroad. By this time, the troops had perfected their technique of melting the iron rails and twisting them around trees so as to make it impossible for Confederates to straighten them out.

The Federals left destruction in their wake as they continued moving toward Columbia. They were supported by the gunboats U.S.S. Pawnee, Sonoma, and Daffodil as they crossed the Edisto River and headed for the Congaree. Still unaware of the Federals’ true target, the editor of the Columbia South Carolinian opined that there was “no real tangible cause” for believing they would attack the state capital.

But the Federals were not only moving toward Columbia, they were moving so fast that as soon as Beauregard set up headquarters there, he called on Major General D.H. Hill to abandon Augusta and reinforce him. Meanwhile, Federals detached from Sherman’s main command attacked James Island and Johnson’s Station around Charleston Harbor to keep the Confederates guessing about where the main strike would be.

President Jefferson Davis still believed that Charleston was Sherman’s true target. Davis wrote to Lieutenant General William Hardee, commanding the Confederates at Charleston:

“The indications suggest Charleston as the objective point, and if you have supplies inside the works and General Beauregard has the hoped-for success in concentrating the army and in raising auxiliary forces in Georgia and South Carolina, the attempt of the enemy will, I hope, be reduced to operations on the sea front and be finally defeated.”

By this time, Beauregard had changed his mind about Sherman attacking Columbia and agreed with Davis that Charleston would be hit. He wrote Hardee, “By late movements of the enemy, it is apparent that he intends to move upon Charleston, or to cut off your communications along the Northeastern Railroad. It is therefore advisable that you proceed to execute as soon as possible the movement agreed upon the 2nd instant.”

The “2nd instant” movement involved Hardee evacuating Charleston and joining forces with Beauregard at Columbia. Hardee was reluctant to abandon a city as important as Charleston and wrote to Beauregard, “Do you direct that the agreement made on the 2nd instant be carried into effect immediately? Please answer at once.”

Beauregard did not give a direct answer; he instead instructed Hardee to shorten his defensive line, adding, “Send here soon as practicable the siege-train guns and all available rifled guns on siege carriages, with their ammunition.” He also directed Hardee to begin building bridges over the Santee River using all available ferry boats on hand. Anything that could not be used was to be destroyed.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 213-14; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21975; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 527-31; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 15674-84, 16501-11, 16541-79, 16588-98; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 549-52; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8168; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 631-32, 634, 637-39; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 153; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 445; Wikipedia: Carolinas Campaign

South Carolina: The Federal Destruction Begins

February 1, 1865 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies continued moving into South Carolina, disregarding the elements and sporadic Confederate resistance along the way.

Sherman had left Savannah, Georgia, with 60,000 men consisting of Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry and two Federal armies:

  • Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee, which included XV and XVII corps under Major Generals John A. Logan and Francis P. Blair, Jr. respectively
  • Major General Henry W. Slocum’s Army of Georgia, which included XIV and XX corps under Major Generals Jefferson C. Davis and Alpheus Williams respectively

Sherman’s initial objective was to move through South Carolina and link with the Federals moving inland from the North Carolina coast. From there, the united Federal armies would continue north and join forces with the Federals besieging Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia. This march would not be easy; it was a 425-mile hike over rough ground and treacherous waterways during one of the wettest winters on record. But the Federals were imbued with high morale and a deep hatred for South Carolina because it was the first state to secede.

Howard’s army comprised Sherman’s right wing, which was stationed near Pocotaligo, South Carolina, as February began. Slocum’s army comprised the left wing, which was at Sister’s Ferry, about 40 miles north of Savannah on the flooded Savannah River. Howard cleared enemy obstructions at Pocotaligo, Slocum finally crossed the Savannah, and the march began in earnest on the 1st. The destruction began at the town of McPhersonville, which was burned until, according to a resident, “there was left standing the Presbyterian Church and two houses.”

The Burning of McPhersonville | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Despite the foul weather, Sherman’s Federals advanced at an impressive average of 10 miles per day. The two wings feinted toward Augusta to the northwest and Charleston to the northeast while actually targeting Columbia to the north.

The Confederates in the Georgia-South Carolina region were commanded by Lieutenant General William Hardee. He had a small garrison under Major General D.H. Hill defending Augusta while he stayed with the other garrison guarding Charleston. Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry patrolled the Savannah River, but this force was too small to contest Slocum’s crossing. Sherman later wrote that Wheeler was “capable of making a respectable if not successful defense, but utterly unable to meet our veteran columns in the open field.”

Sherman was confident that his men could reach their objective, but “the question of supplies remained still the one of vital importance… we might safely rely on the country for a considerable quantity of forage and provisions, and that, if the worst came to the worst, we could live several months on the mules and horses of our trains.” Once Slocum’s Federals crossed the river, Sherman “gave the general orders to march, and instructed all the columns to aim for the South Carolina Railroad to the west of Branchville, about Blackville and Midway.”

General P.G.T. Beauregard, the Confederate department commander, arrived at Augusta on the 2nd to discuss the situation with Hill and Hardee, who came from Charleston by rail. Major General Gustavus W. Smith was also there with 1,500 Georgia militia.

Beauregard estimated his total force to be 33,500 men scattered between Georgia and South Carolina. This included Smith’s militia, which was barred by law from leaving Georgia. It also included the Army of Tennessee, which had not yet arrived from the west. And even when it did, it would number no more than 10,000 demoralized men hardly fit for combat. This left Beauregard with only about 20,000 effectives to oppose Sherman’s 60,000 veterans.

News of a possible peace conference had reached Beauregard, who later explained his strategy: “During the pending negotiations for peace, it was thought of the highest importance to hold Charleston and Augusta as long as it was humanly possible.” Once the Confederate commanders concluded that Sherman would march on Charleston, they placed two of Hardee’s divisions along the Combahee River. According to Beauregard’s orders:

“Whenever it should become evident that a longer defense was impracticable, General Hardee should abandon the place, removing all valuable stores, and hasten to form a junction in front of Columbia with the forces of General Beauregard, who would have to cover Columbia, and take up the Congaree (River) as a line of defense.”

Beauregard would hold Columbia with a token force, and Hill’s Confederates would continue holding Augusta while standing ready to reinforce Beauregard if needed. When Wheeler reported that Sherman was headed for Branchville, Beauregard concluded that the Federals were not targeting either Charleston or Augusta, but rather Columbia.

Beauregard dispatched Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s 4,000 troops from the Army of Tennessee to cover Branchville while the rest of the army was on its way. But this would not be enough to stop Sherman, and Beauregard reported to President Jefferson Davis: “Concentration of Hardee’s forces and mine cannot, therefore, take place south of Columbia.”

Charleston and Augusta could be saved, Beauregard explained, if he could keep the Federals out of Columbia. But to do that, more men were needed. Beauregard wrote, “I respectfully urge the vital importance of concentrating at Columbia such forces as can be sent from North Carolina and Virginia. Ten or twelve thousand additional men would insure the defeat of Sherman…”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 213-14; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 525-26; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 15738-48, 15865-75, 16541-61; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 549; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 631-32; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 131; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 825, 827; Rhodes, James Ford, History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1917 [Kindle Edition, Reservoir House, 2016], Loc 5479

Sherman Turns Toward Columbia

January 29, 1865 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals began turning inland, away from the coast, as they inched northward from Savannah into South Carolina.

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

Sherman formed his two armies into wings, with Major General Oliver O. Howard’s wing (i.e., the Army of the Tennessee) operating around the Georgia-South Carolina border, and Major General Henry W. Slocum’s wing (i.e., the Army of Georgia) staying mostly around Savannah. Slocum’s Federals began moving out of town on the 20th, with Sherman himself following two days later.

The Confederates expected Sherman to attack both the prized port city of Charleston and the key supply base at Augusta. Sherman guessed that they would, and therefore planned to feint toward those cities while actually targeting the South Carolina capital of Columbia. But he did not divulge this plan to anybody, including most of his own staff. According to Sherman’s judge-advocate Henry Hitchcock:

“As to where we are going or what we are going to do, that will all appear in time. Nobody knows the details except Gen. Sherman himself; very few know even the general outlines, though my position is such that I am one of those; and you may be assured that neither the rebels nor the newspaper men know anything about it–and value what you see in the papers accordingly.”

As the Federals advanced, they stayed close enough to the coast so they could be supported by the Federal naval fleet if needed. The movement was slowed by heavy rains that flooded the roads. But as the Federals reached Pocotaligo on the 24th, Sherman received good news from Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander: the Confederates would be sending no troops from Virginia to help oppose Sherman’s advance.

Meanwhile, the Confederates sent all the men they could to Sherman’s presumed targets of Charleston and Augusta. Major General D.H. Hill was sent from Virginia to command the skeleton force guarding Augusta, while Lieutenant General William Hardee commanded the various troops at Charleston. Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry was the only substantial mobile force that could oppose the Federals.

Hill informed Hardee that a problem was developing in the region: men were forming irregular cavalry companies and plundering the countryside. And since it had been reported that most of these men lacked adequate horses to be real cavalry, Hill wrote:

“What I wish to propose is the getting together of this organized or semi-organized mob and putting them into infantry service… Ought not the attention of the Secretary of War be called to this great evil, and to the necessity of disbanding or changing into infantry this omnivorous mob before they bring a famine upon the fighting men of the army?”

Hardee could do little to help Hill because he was having his own problems with the Confederate War Department. He had been promised a regiment of North Carolina regulars, but since then the Federals had captured Fort Fisher and were now threatening Wilmington. Thus, the North Carolinians stayed back to defend their home state. Hardee wrote to Secretary of War James A. Seddon, “They are almost the only regular troops holding line of the Combahee; the remainder, Reserves, are much dissatisfied at being detained out of their own States.”

At the same time, Hill at Augusta sent a desperate message to his cavalry commander:

“I cannot use too strong language in urging upon you the importance of delaying the enemy by fighting them. If you but draw a line of battle every mile you will compel him to do the same, and thus give us time, which is everything to our success… If you divide your command and hold each road you can check the Yankees until our forces come up. Augusta depends upon this delay.”

The Federals, by now veterans of moving through hostile country under adverse conditions, continued advancing despite the rain. Like their march from Atlanta, they discarded all excess baggage and intended to live off the land. By the 29th, they were slowly turning away from the coast, skirmishing with various Confederate detachments as they began moving toward Columbia.

Sherman had set up headquarters at Pocotaligo and stayed there several days while waiting for the rain to stop. Hitchcock wrote, “It is understood that we leave here tomorrow morning ‘for parts unknown’, but you know by this time that a soldier’s punctuality consists in his being ready to move at the appointed hour.” Hitchcock also wrote of meeting with black troops (in a brigade of whites and blacks) for the first time:

“The white troops are ‘vets’ and march and look best; but the blacks are a fine looking body of men, and one of the regiments fought at Olustee. A captain in it, an intelligent man, though not of much culture, who was at Olustee fully confirms the good account then given of the negroes’ good behavior there; claiming, I do not doubt truly, from other evidence also, that their steadiness under very adverse circumstances, saved the defeat from being a total and serious rout.”

By month’s end, Sherman’s Federals had definitively turned northwest, with small pockets of Confederate defenders scrambling to stop them. The first units from the shattered Army of Tennessee arrived at Augusta, but it was clear that they still lacked the numbers to offer any effective resistance. President Jefferson Davis desperately turned to new General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee for suggestions “in this, our hour of necessity…”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21975; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 522-24; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 548; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 630

The South Carolina Campaign Begins

January 19, 1865 – Major General William T. Sherman issued orders for his Federal troops to start moving north, out of Savannah and into South Carolina.

Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Sherman’s force consisted of two armies and a cavalry division, numbering about 60,000 men:

  • Major General Henry W. Slocum’s Army of Georgia, which mainly occupied Savannah, included XIV and XX corps under Major Generals Jefferson C. Davis and Alpheus Williams respectively.
  • Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee, which had already begun moving up the coast, included XV and XVII corps under Major Generals John A. Logan and Francis P. Blair, Jr. respectively.
  • The cavalry, led by Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick, occupied Robertsville.

Slocum turned over occupation duty in Savannah to Major General John G. Foster’s Department of the South on the 18th, and then moved to join Howard’s forces near the South Carolina state line. Sherman planned to march northward in two wings:

  • The right wing (Howard) would advance up the Atlantic coast, then move inland to capture Pocotaligo on the railroad between Savannah and Charleston.
  • The left wing (Slocum) would move up the Savannah River’s west bank, feinting an advance on Augusta.

Sherman directed Howard, “Break up railroad at leisure and either send away the iron or disable it absolutely… accumulate food and forage at Pocotaligo and establish a depot at Hilton Head.” Howard ordered Blair to collect all available railcars at Pocotaligo “and there pile them up for future use.” If this was not possible, “you will please go on and destroy the road as indicated in the order.” In Slocum’s wing, Davis was to move toward Springfield and cross the Savannah River at Sister’s Ferry, while Williams occupied Purysburg.

The troops were in high spirits, eager to invade South Carolina since it had been the first state to secede. It was generally assumed that the Federals would ravage this state more than they did Georgia. The initial objective would be the state capital of Columbia. Sherman later wrote:

“Of course, I gave out with some ostentation, especially among the rebels, that we were going to Charleston or Augusta; but I had long before made up my mind to waste no time on either, further than to play off on their fears, thus to retain for their protection a force of the enemy which would otherwise concentrate in our front, and make the passage of some of the great rivers that crossed our route more difficult and bloody.”

The Confederate high command fell for Sherman’s deception and planned for an attack on either the important port city of Charleston or the vital supply center at Augusta. Major General D.H. Hill was sent to take over the small militia force guarding Augusta; Secretary of War James A. Seddon ordered him to arrange “the removal of cotton, whether of the Government or of private individuals, from Augusta. To promote removal and to be prepared for contingencies, make preparations to burn whatever cotton may be in the city in event of its evacuation or capture. It must not fall into the hands of the enemy.”

At the same time, a Federal prisoner told his captors that his comrades “have in the main the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Army Corps; that Sherman is in Beaufort and the whole force will be over in a few days; that part of Sherman’s army is marching from Savannah and thinks part of it has already arrived at Coosawhatchie; thinks Sherman is aiming for Charleston direct.”

Major General Lafayette McLaws, commanding the Confederate division holding defenses outside Charleston, reported on the 21st–

“… that yesterday two divisions of the Seventeenth Army Corps, the First and Fourth, marched out from Pocotaligo with two days’ rations and sixty rounds of ammunition, and came down to the river with a large pioneer force, stopping at a place called Blountville until 10 o’clock last night, when they returned to Pocotaligo. I think they returned because the waters were rising and because they heard the cheers of our troops. I regret to add that my troops fired upon each other in the swamp, the mistake being caused by the nature of the country in which they were operating.”

According to McLaws, reports indicated that Federals “are taking up the iron from the railroad between the Salkehatchie and Pocotaligo Station.” Major General Joseph Wheeler, commanding the Confederate cavalry, submitted his scouting report:

“A citizen who was a prisoner at Hardeeville on the 19th thought that there was at least a corps at Hardeeville, and said that he had heard drums in the direction of Purysburg, but was unable to learn from the enemy the name of the commanding general or the corps. He saw little cavalry, but large crowds of infantry; could hear nothing of any crossing the Savannah River. Had heard nothing of any boats coming as high up as Purysburg.”

General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate army under siege at Petersburg, Virginia, reluctantly detached Brigadier General Matthew C. Butler’s cavalry troopers without their horses to reinforce their fellow South Carolinians. Lee made it clear that detaching this division was “with the understanding that it is to return to me in the spring in time for the opening of the campaign.”

Slocum’s men began moving out of Savannah on the 20th, but heavy rain made the dirt roads nearly impassable, and the Federal advance slowed to a crawl over the next two weeks. During that time, Sherman transferred his headquarters from Savannah to Beaufort.

Sherman ignored War Department orders to force Confederate sympathizers out of Savannah before leaving. Even so, Foster’s occupation force deported many families with Confederate ties, a bitterness compounded by the arrival of three black regiments to rule over the city. A week later, a large fire swept through Savannah, destroying about 200 homes and leaving Federals and Confederates to blame each other for the destruction.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 519-20; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 15923-43; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 545; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 626-27; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 160-61; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 445