Tag Archives: John Schofield

Johnston Surrenders to Sherman a Second Time

April 26, 1865 – General Joseph E. Johnston considered dispersing his Confederate army and waging guerrilla warfare, but he ultimately decided to surrender just as Robert E. Lee had done at Appomattox.

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Johnston had orders from President Jefferson Davis to disband his Confederate army and reorganize it farther south so it could protect the fleeing Confederate government and continue the fight. But Johnston disregarded those orders and instead asked Federal Major General William T. Sherman to meet him again at the Bennett house. Sherman agreed. Johnston later explained why he disobeyed the order of his commander in chief:

“I objected, immediately, that this order provided for the performance of but one of the three great duties then devolving upon us–that of securing the safety of the high civil officers of the Confederate Government; but neglected the other two–the safety of the people, and that of the army. I also advised the immediate flight of the high civil functionaries under proper escort.

“The belief that impelled me to urge the civil authorities of the Confederacy to make peace, that it would be a great crime to prolong the war, prompted me to disobey these instructions–the last that I received from the Confederate Government. They would have given the President an escort too heavy for flight, and not strong enough to force a way for him; and would have spread ruin over all the South, by leading the three great invading armies in pursuit. In that belief, I determined to do all in my power to bring about a termination of hostilities.”

Johnston and Sherman met once more on the 26th. Sherman had told Johnston that he must surrender on the same terms that Ulysses S. Grant had given Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. However, Johnston objected because “the disbanding of General Lee’s army has afflicted this country with numerous bands having no means of subsistence but robbery, a knowledge of which would, I am sure, induce you to agree to other conditions.”

Sherman could offer no other conditions because he had been ordered by Grant to offer nothing more than what had been offered to Lee. Major General John Schofield, commanding the Department of North Carolina, then intervened and suggested that since the surrender would take place within his jurisdiction, if Johnston agreed in principle to the same terms as Lee, Schofield could offer unofficial amendments to the agreement. The Federals then wrote out the terms, beginning with the official portion:

“Terms of a Military Convention, entered into this 26th day of April, 1865, at Bennett’s House, near Durham’s Station., North Carolina, between General JOSEPH E. JOHNSTON, commanding the Confederate Army, and Major-General W. T. SHERMAN, commanding the United States Army in North Carolina:

  1. All acts of war on the part of the troops under General Johnston’s command to cease from this date.
  2. All arms and public property to be deposited at Greensboro, and delivered to an ordnance-officer of the United States Army.
  3. Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate; one copy to be retained by the commander of the troops, and the other to be given to an officer to be designated by General Sherman. Each officer and man to give his individual obligation in writing not to take up arms against the Government of the United States, until properly released from this obligation.
  4. The side-arms of officers, and their private horses and baggage, to be retained by them.
  5. This being done, all the officers and men will be permitted to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by the United States authorities, so long as they observe their obligation and the laws in force where they may reside.

Then the amendments:

  1. The field transportation to be loaned to the troops for their march to their homes, and for subsequent use in their industrial pursuits. Artillery horses may be used in field transportation, if necessary.
  2. Each brigade or separate body to retain a number of arms equal to one-seventh of its effective strength, which, when the troops reach the capitals of their States, will be disposed of as the general commanding the department may direct.
  3. Private horses, and other private property of both officers and men, to be retained by them.
  4. The commanding general of the Military Division of West Mississippi, Major-General Canby, will be requested to give transportation by water, from Mobile or New Orleans, to the troops from Arkansas and Texas.
  5. The obligations of officers and soldiers to be signed by their immediate commanders.
  6. Naval forces within the limits of General Johnston’s command to be included in the terms of this convention.

Johnston agreed to surrender everything under his authority–nearly 90,000 Confederates in the Army of Tennessee and those stationed in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. The only Confederates still operating east of the Mississippi River were small units commanded by Generals Richard Taylor, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and Dabney Maury in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. But most people in both North and South conceded that Johnston’s surrender effectively ended the war east of the Mississippi.

Johnston read the terms, said, “I believe that is the best we can do,” and signed the document. Sherman signed as well. Johnston later wrote to the governors of the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida:

“The disaster in Virginia, the capture by the enemy of all our workshops for the preparation of ammunition and repairing of arms, the impossibility of recruiting our little army opposed to more than 10 times its number, or of supplying it except by robbing our own citizens, destroyed all hope of successful war. I have made, therefore, a military convention with Major-General Sherman, to terminate hostilities in North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. I made this convention to spare the blood of this gallant little army, to prevent further sufferings of our people by the devastation and ruin inevitable from the marches of invading armies, and to avoid the crime of waging a hopeless war.”

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

Sherman returned to his Raleigh headquarters, where Grant was waiting. Grant read the surrender documents and approved. Major Henry Hitchcock of Sherman’s staff wrote to his wife describing the Federal celebrations that took place that night:

“I wish you could look in at the scene here tonight at our Headquarters,–the Governor’s mansion. Quite a crowd of officers have been sitting and standing all the evening on the portico in front; a fine brass band playing in a large yard in front of the house since 8 o’clock; and a little while ago, looking through the front window of the right hand parlor, from the portico, one could see Grant and Sherman sitting at the center table, both busy writing, or stopping now and then to talk earnestly with the other general officers in the room–Howard, Schofield, ‘Johnny Logan,’ and Meigs.”

Grant left the next day to return to Washington with the new surrender documents. Schofield would preside over the Confederate surrender in North Carolina, while Major General James H. Wilson, whose cavalry command had recently captured Mobile and Montgomery, would handle surrenders in Georgia.

The northern newspapers arriving at Sherman’s headquarters, most notably the New York Times, described Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton’s condemnation of Sherman’s attempt to negotiate on political matters with Johnston. Stanton accused Sherman of insubordination and implied that his order to Major General George Stoneman’s cavalry to fall back to Raleigh would allow Jefferson Davis and other high-ranking Confederate officials to escape “to Mexico or Europe.”

Sherman believed he had authority to discuss political matters with the enemy because Stanton had authorized him to do so while occupying Savannah. Also, Sherman was unaware that President Abraham Lincoln had reversed his decision to allow the Virginia legislature to assemble and repudiate secession; this had formed the basis of the Sherman-Johnston agreement. Moreover, Grant had never sent Sherman the message from Lincoln restricting generals to military matters only.

Sherman raged against what he believed was Stanton’s treachery. Staff officers described how Sherman paced “like a caged lion, talking to the whole room with furious invective.” He called Stanton “a mean, scheming, vindictive politician” who refused to accept that what Sherman tried to do had been “right, honest, and good.”

Sherman protested to Grant that the Times article gave “very erroneous impressions.” He explained that Stoneman had been ordered to Raleigh because “I would have had a mounted force greatly needed for Davis’s capture, and other purposes.” He angrily denied being insubordinate: “I have never in my life questioned or disobeyed an order, though many and many a time have I risked my life, health, and reputation, in obeying orders, or even hints to execute plans and purposes, not to my liking…” Sherman demanded that this letter be printed as a rebuttal to Stanton’s condemnation, and he would never forgive Stanton for what he believed was a personal insult.

As for the Federals, they would soon move north from Raleigh to Richmond, and from there to Washington. Federal officials requested the services of 150 bakers from New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore to have bread ready for the troops’ triumphant arrival. After four long years, the war along the eastern seaboard was over.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 222-23; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 22971, 23016-24; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 563-64; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 588; Gates, Arnold, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 683; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 400-01; 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. 682-83; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 736; Sherman, William T., Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, Vol. I (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1889, Kindle Edition), Loc 12528-70, 12578-619; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 393; 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

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 Fall of Goldsboro

March 22, 1865 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals ended their devastating march through the Carolinas by arriving at Goldsboro, North Carolina.

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

Since entering the state, Sherman had planned to lead his 60,000 men to Goldsboro, where they could be resupplied and united with Major General John Schofield’s Army of North Carolina. Following the Battle of Bentonville, Sherman learned that General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate army was falling back northwest toward Smithfield. This left the northeastern path to Goldsborough open, and one of Schofield’s corps under Major General Jacob D. Cox had entered the town on the 21st.

Sherman’s left wing, commanded by Major General Henry W. Slocum, took the lead on the march to Goldsboro. They were followed by the right wing, commanded by Major General Oliver O. Howard. The Federals were slowed by sandy and muddy roads, but they reached the town on the 22nd. Sherman issued a congratulatory order to his troops:

“After a march of the most extraordinary character, nearly 500 miles over swamps and rivers deemed impassable to others, at the most inclement season of the year, and drawing our chief supplies from a poor and wasted country, we reach our destination in good health and condition.”

Sherman met with Schofield on the 23rd, just three days behind the schedule they had drafted in January. In the past 50 days, Sherman’s men had advanced 425 miles through harsh terrain and foul weather, crossing high rivers and “impenetrable” swamps. They cut a swath of destruction 45 miles wide between Savannah and Goldsboro, winning battles at Averasboro and Bentonville on the way. Sherman later wrote, “Were I to express my measure of the relative importance of the march to the sea and of that from Savannah northward, I would place the former at one and the latter at 10 or the maximum.”

Schofield’s Federals had captured Wilmington and won a battle at Kinston. They worked around the clock to restore the railroad line from Goldsboro to New Bern, thus assuring that the troops would be well supplied by the naval vessels on the Atlantic coast. The combined forces of Sherman and Schofield included six army corps totaling 88,948 men. They now dominated North Carolina.

In contrast, Johnston had no more than 20,000 men left in his makeshift Confederate army. Despite this, Johnston took the time to write to General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee to dispel rumors that the proud Army of Tennessee refused to fight any longer: “Troops of Tennessee army have fully disproved slanders that have been published against them.”

Johnston informed Lee that Sherman had linked with Schofield at Goldsboro, and then conceded, “Sherman’s course cannot be hindered by the small force I have. I can do no more than annoy him. I respectfully suggest that it is no longer a question of whether you leave present position; you have only to decide where to meet Sherman. I will be near him.”

Johnston’s Confederates crossed the Neuse River and took positions on the roads leading to Raleigh and Weldon. Johnston expected Sherman to target one of those towns next on his way to join with the Federal Armies of the Potomac and the James laying siege to Petersburg. These were also solid linkage points with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia if Lee abandoned Petersburg and Richmond. Weldon was particularly important because the railroad ran north from that town to Petersburg and, according to a Confederate deserter, “All of the forage for General Lee’s army passes through Weldon.”

Sherman seemed in no hurry to resume his advance. His exhausted men needed rest and supplies, and he needed time to plan his next move. Federal Major George Nicholls summed it up: “Our army (needs) not only to be reclothed, but to gain the repose it needs. Mind, as well as body, requires rest after the fatigues of rapid campaigns like these. These ragged, bareheaded, shoeless, brave, jolly fellows of Sherman’s legions, too, want covering for their naked limbs.”

With his planning still in the preliminary phase, Sherman wrote to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, on the 24th: “I think I see pretty clearly how, in one more move, we can checkmate Lee, forcing him to unite Johnston with him in defense of Richmond, or, by leaving Richmond, to abandon the cause. I feel certain if he leaves Richmond, Virginia leaves the Confederacy.”

Sherman assured Grant that he would be able to field “an army of 80,000 men by April 10. If I get the troops all well placed, and the supplies working well, I might run up to see you for a day or two before diving again into the bowels of the country.”

The next day, supplies began arriving in Goldsboro from the restored railroad to New Bern. This included much-needed new clothing. No more would the troops live off southern civilians. The men were particularly excited when over 500 bags of mail arrived for them, as many had not received mail in months.

Sherman became one of the first passengers on the first eastbound train to New Bern. Leaving the Federals under Schofield’s command, he left to meet with Grant in Virginia to discuss future military strategy. Both Sherman and Grant expressed confidence that the next big campaign could end the war.

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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 22128; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 549-50; 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 17111-21, 17480-510, 17529-49; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 569-70; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (John G. Barrett, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 272; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 76; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 656; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 418-19, 736; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 454; Rhodes, James Ford, History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1917 [Kindle Edition, Reservoir House, 2016], Loc 5479, 5546; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 542

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

The Battle of Kinston

March 8, 1865 – A small Confederate force under General Braxton Bragg tried making a stand east of Kinston to stop Major General Jacob D. Cox’s advance inland from the North Carolina coast.

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

By the morning of the 8th, Bragg had about 8,000 troops under Major Generals Robert F. Hoke and D.H. Hill entrenched on the west bank of Southwest Creek, about three miles east of Kinston. In their front was Major General Jacob D. Cox’s 13,000-man Provisional Corps, detached from Major General John Schofield’s Army of North Carolina and fortified at Wyse Fork. Bragg hoped to destroy Cox’s command before he could be reinforced by larger Federal forces under either Schofield or Major General William T. Sherman.

Bragg’s line consisted of Hoke on the right and Hill on the left. Major General Samuel P. Carter’s division held Cox’s left, while Brigadier General Innis N. Palmer’s division held the Atlantic & North Carolina Railroad on the right. The Federals were not aware that Hill had reinforced Bragg until Carter received a message “that negroes reported some 2,000 rebels had passed down the Trent road early that morning.”

Cox doubted the report’s accuracy and wrote Carter, “The movement on the left can scarcely be more than a reconnaissance.” He instructed Carter to send out cavalry and an infantry regiment, adding, “These reconnoitering parties must go out boldly and learn definitely what they can.” As Cox and Schofield rode for the front, Hoke’s troops attacked Carter’s unprepared Federals.

The Confederates drove an advance Federal brigade back in confusion and then began pushing back the entire Federal left. Hoke’s men captured a gun, nearly the entire 15th Connecticut Infantry Regiment, and gained control of the crossroads near Wyse Fork. Hill advanced and attacked the Federal right, and both of Cox’s flanks began crumbling. It seemed that the Federals would be routed.

However, Bragg ordered Hill to disengage and try moving around into the Federal rear. This inadvertently allowed the Federals to build new defenses and hold their ground. From their newly fortified positions, Cox’s men repulsed several Confederate probes.

As the day ended, the Confederates held the two roads on the Federal left and repaired the Southwest Creek crossings in their rear. Fighting continued the next day near the important railroad, but Bragg could not break through the Federal lines. Cox brought up his third division, led by Major General Thomas H. Ruger, to fill the gap the Confederates had opened between Palmer and Carter.

Bragg tried to turn the Federal left one more time on the 10th, with Hoke’s men attacking just before noon. The Confederates initially drove some of Carter’s men out of their trenches, but Federal artillery proved too deadly and the Confederates had to fall back. At the same time, Hill gained some ground against Palmer, but Ruger’s men came up to reinforce the line. Hill was forced to withdraw.

Bragg learned that the two other divisions from Cox’s XXIII Corps had just arrived at New Bern and would soon reinforce the Federals. Having failed to defeat three of Cox’s divisions, Bragg could not hope to beat five. He therefore ordered his men to withdraw west to Kinston. The Confederates fell back across the Neuse River, burning the bridges behind them. They camped near Kinston that night and then moved on to Smithfield by train.

Cox reported, “The enemy was severely punished, and has during the night evacuated his lines in my front and fallen back toward Kinston.” The Confederates lost 134 men killed, wounded, or missing. The Federals sustained 1,257 casualties, most of which were captured on the 8th. This battle temporarily stopped Cox’s advance from New Bern to Goldsboro, but it did little to prevent Schofield and Sherman from joining forces as planned.

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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. 545; 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 17188-208, 17237-56; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 563-64; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 65-67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 648-50; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 418-19

North Carolina: Battle Looms Near Kinston

March 7, 1865 – General Braxton Bragg hoped to prevent Federals from joining forces in North Carolina by blocking a detachment moving inland from the coast.

Major General John Schofield’s Federal Army of North Carolina had begun moving inland after capturing the vital port city of Wilmington. Schofield’s X Corps under Major General Alfred H. Terry moved north from Wilmington, while a division led by Major General Jacob D. Cox moved via water up the coast to New Bern. Once there, Cox’s command was expanded to three divisions known as a Provisional Corps.

Brig Gen J.D. Cox | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Cox’s new corps established a supply base at New Bern and began repairing the railroad to Goldsboro. Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals moving north from South Carolina were to link with Schofield’s army at Goldsboro, using the railroad as their supply line. After Sherman and Schofield joined forces, they would confront the remaining Confederates in the state now led by General Joseph E. Johnston.

Bragg commanded the Confederate department covering the Wilmington area, which included Major General Robert F. Hoke’s 5,500-man division. Confederate General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee directed that Johnston absorb Bragg’s department into his command. This gave Johnston about 23,500 effectives against nearly 100,000 Federals under Sherman and Schofield. Johnston looked to attack before Sherman and Schofield could unite.

Bragg was disgusted that Johnston now superseded him, and even worse, a man who despised him, John C. Breckinridge, was now Confederate secretary of war. Bragg felt no longer needed in North Carolina and therefore wrote to President Jefferson Davis, “I seek no command or position, and only desire to be ordered to await assignment to duty at some point in Georgia or Alabama.” Davis did not immediately respond due to more pressing matters at hand.

Johnston looked to concentrate all available Confederate forces near Fayetteville, where Sherman was headed, to block him from linking with Schofield. Johnston asked Lee to send elements of the Army of Northern Virginia down from Petersburg to help him “crush Sherman.” Once Sherman was defeated, Schofield would be isolated on the coast, allowing the Confederates to turn north and break the siege of Petersburg.

Lee did not have much faith in this plan, but there were few other options. He only asked that Johnston leave supplies at railroad depots alone: “Endeavor to supply your army by collecting subsistence through the country. That at depots is necessary for Army of Northern Virginia. In moving troops on North Carolina Railroad please do not interrupt transportation of supplies to this army.”

Johnston asked for guidance on how best he could link with Bragg and Hoke near the coast. Lee answered that that “must be determined by you. I wish you to act as you think best.” By the 6th, Johnston realized that Sherman’s army was moving too fast toward Fayetteville to be stopped. He wrote to Lieutenant General William Hardee, whose command was retreating from that town, “It is too late to turn to Fayetteville. (Take) the best route to Raleigh. It may be through Egypt, crossing both Deep and Haw Rivers, near their junction.”

General Braxton Bragg | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Meanwhile, Bragg’s Confederates were close to Cox’s Provisional Corps moving on Goldsboro, and Bragg saw a chance to destroy Cox before Schofield or Sherman could rescue him. Bragg therefore positioned his troops on the Neuse River near Kinston and informed Johnston on the 6th, “The enemy’s advance was this morning nine miles from Kinston. They are in heavy force and moving in confidence. A few hours would suffice to unite the forces at Smithfield with mine and insure a victory.”

The “forces at Smithfield” were 2,000 Confederate veterans from the Army of Tennessee under Major General D.H. Hill. Johnston directed Hill to rush these troops to Bragg and join him in attacking Cox. Hill was then to hurry back to Smithfield so he could reinforce Hardee and stop Sherman between Fayetteville and Raleigh.

The next day, Bragg entrenched Hoke’s division on the west bank of Southwest Creek, about three miles east of Kinston. This important position connected the creek to the Neuse River and blocked Cox’s advance along the Atlantic & North Carolina Railroad. Cox reconnoitered the Confederate positions and informed Schofield that they were “the last point the enemy can make a stand” in front of Kinston.

Cox learned from scouts that the enemy consisted of Hoke’s North Carolina veterans, augmented by junior reserves. Cox did not know that Hill’s Confederates were on their way as well. He directed Brigadier General Innis N. Palmer’s division to guard a crossroads a mile and a half in front of Wyse Fork. Major General Samuel P. Carter’s division came up to support Palmer, and both sides traded artillery fire.

Hoke’s men had destroyed the three nearby creek crossings, but Federal cavalry rode off to the far left and secured a crossing at the Upper Trent Road. Some troopers went farther left and found the Wilmington Road unguarded. Cox reported to Schofield:

“The cavalry was ordered to observe carefully the Wilmington road on the left and to picket the crossings of the creek, giving prompt notice of any movement toward that flank. All the troops were ordered to be on the alert, though the command was not expected to take the aggressive until the railroad should be farther advanced or supplies received by the river, since it had been found impossible to feed the troops regularly where they were.”

Cox stated that his troops “will practically invest the bridge-head at Kinston by occupying the line of Southwest Creek, my right being within reaching distance of the (Neuse) River.” A fight would come the next day.

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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 22103; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 544; 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 17189-218; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 562-63; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 64-65; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 647-48; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 418-19

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

The Fall of Wilmington

February 22, 1865 – Major General John Schofield’s new Federal army captured a once-vital Confederate port city on the North Carolina coast.

General John Schofield | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Schofield’s Federals moved north up the Cape Fear River from Fort Fisher in an effort to capture Wilmington. Schofield hoped to use the city as a military supply base now that the fall of Fort Fisher had rendered it useless for Confederate shipping. But Confederates on the east and west banks of the river blocked the Federals’ path.

To the east, Major General Alfred H. Terry’s X Corps moved north up the peninsula between the Atlantic and the Cape Fear River to face Major General Robert F. Hoke’s Confederates on the Sugar Loaf Line. To the west, Major General Jacob D. Cox’s XXIII Corps moved north along the west bank of the Cape Fear to face Brigadier General Johnson Hagood’s Confederates at Town Creek. Meanwhile, Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Federal naval fleet worked to clear torpedoes and other obstructions from the river.

After Hagood abandoned Fort Anderson, Hoke fell back to a new defense line about three miles south of Wilmington. Terry pursued cautiously, reinforced by Brigadier General Adelbert Ames’s division previously on loan to Cox. Across the Cape Fear, Hagood’s Confederates burned the only bridge over Town Creek and built defenses on the north bank.

The Federals could not ford the creek, so Cox dispatched three brigades to outflank the Confederates while his fourth brigade kept them occupied. The flankers found a flat-bottom boat and used it to cross Town Creek, on the Confederate left. Hagood had anchored his left flank on a swamp, figuring that the Federals could not get around it.

Cox later wrote, “The ground was such that no horses could be used and all officers were dismounted. With some difficulty the command passed through the rice swamps, moving obliquely to the right till we reached dry land about a mile from the place of crossing.” After several grueling hours, the Federals got across.

Hagood discovered the Federal maneuver and ordered a retreat to Wilmington, leaving two regiments as a rear guard. The Federals routed these regiments, taking 375 prisoners and two guns. The rest of Hagood’s men escaped into Wilmington, but the Federals were close behind.

Meanwhile, Terry’s Federals were entrenched in front of Hoke’s defense line, with Porter’s gunboats bombarding the Confederates from the river. That night, the Confederates released about 200 torpedoes from their moorings and sent them floating downriver. Federal naval crews panicked, fearing that these floating mines would destroy their ships. However, Porter had detailed rowboats with netting to catch most of the torpedoes before they reached the main fleet. They ultimately caused no damage.

General Braxton Bragg, who had been unofficially ousted as President Jefferson Davis’s military advisor once Robert E. Lee became general-in-chief, arrived at Wilmington on the 21st to take overall command of the situation. By that time, Hagood’s small force had retreated into the city, and Hoke’s Confederates on the eastern peninsula would soon have to retreat before superior numbers as well.

Bragg reported, “The enemy in force on the west, and our communications south cut. We are greatly out-numbered.” Lee responded, “Destroy all cotton, tobacco, and naval stores that would otherwise fall into the hands of the enemy.” Bragg completed his assessment and wrote, “Our small force renders it impossible to make any serious stand. We are greatly embarrassed by prisoners, the enemy refusing to receive them or entertain any proposition.” Knowing that the Confederate retreat would be hindered by transporting hundreds of prisoners, the Federals refused to discuss exchanging them.

By the end of the 21st, Cox’s Federals had reached the southwestern outskirts of Wilmington, and Terry’s men were poised to launch a full-scale assault southeast of the city. Cox’s advance was delayed by destroyed bridges and Confederate cavalry. During that time, Bragg evacuated all troops, prisoners, and military necessities from Wilmington, and his Confederates destroyed anything of military value they could not take with them.

The general retreat began at 1 a.m. on the 22nd with the abandonment of Fort Strong and all other defensive points. Bragg reported, “By the active and efficient operation of the Weldon and Wilmington Railroad, we succeeded in getting off all the prisoners able to travel and all important stores. Some naval stores and a small lot of cotton and tobacco were destroyed by fire. These could have been saved but for the occupation of the trains in carrying prisoners.”

As the sun rose, Cox saw that the city had been abandoned. He later wrote:

“Bragg had carefully removed all boats from our side of the channel, but citizens anxious to prevent us from firing on the town came over in skiffs, and we learned that the Confederate forces had marched away toward Goldsborough, leaving the way open for Terry’s march into the city, which took place in the early morning of the 22nd, which we were happy to recall was Washington’s Birthday.”

Federal bands blared loud, patriotic music as Terry’s Federals entered Wilmington. Porter reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles: “I have the honor to inform you that Wilmington has been evacuated and is in possession of our troops… I had the pleasure of placing the flag on Fort Strong, and at 12 o’clock noon today shall fire a thirty-five guns salute this being the anniversary of Washington’s birthday.” Mayor John Dawson surrendered Wilmington to Terry the next day.

Federal officials planned to convert Wilmington into another supply base for operations against Lee’s Confederates under siege at Petersburg. The fall of Wilmington freed Schofield to join forces with Major General William T. Sherman’s armies. This combined force would then move northward across the Roanoke River, the last strong defensive line south of Virginia’s Appomattox River.

Schofield directed his men to repair all railroad tracks and equipment in the Wilmington area, but he soon learned that supplies for such repairs were scarce. He therefore ordered Brigadier General Innis N. Palmer to open a supply line from New Bern. The line would extend west to Goldsborough, where Sherman’s Federals were expected to arrive after their march through South Carolina. When Palmer did not move quickly enough, Schofield put Cox in charge of the operation.

Meanwhile, the Confederates scrambled to escape Federal capture. They took the C.S.S. Chickamauga up the Cape Fear River and scuttled her in such a way to block enemy vessels from advancing upriver. Commodore John R. Tucker, who had led 350 Confederate sailors out of Charleston, marched 125 miles to Fayetteville. They joined with another grounded naval force and continued marching north to join the Confederates at Richmond and Petersburg.

General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate Western Theater, believed that Sherman would follow up the fall of Wilmington with an attack on Charlotte. He therefore issued a proclamation urging Charlotte residents to volunteer their slave labor to “destroy and obstruct” the roads to the city. However, Sherman only feinted toward Charlotte while actually moving east to join forces with Schofield at Goldsborough. As February ended, North Carolina seemed doomed.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 830-31; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 537-40; 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 16705-25, 16755-65; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 556-59; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 61; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 641-42; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 418-19, 831; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 184; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 444; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 542

The Fall of Fort Anderson

February 19, 1865 – The Confederate garrison guarding Wilmington, North Carolina, became one of many to fall to overwhelming Federal numbers this month.

Federal Maj Gen John M. Schofield | Image Credit: Flickr.com

As February began, Major General John Schofield’s Federal XXIII Corps was moving from Tennessee to Washington. From there, the troops boarded transports that took them down the Potomac River, into Chesapeake Bay, and then down the Atlantic coast to Fort Fisher, North Carolina.

Schofield’s Federals were to join forces with Major General Alfred H. Terry’s X Corps, which had occupied Fisher ever since its capture in January. The combined force would then work with Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s massive Federal naval fleet to capture Wilmington, north of Fort Fisher. Wilmington was once a vital Confederate seaport, but the fall of Fisher closed it down. From Wilmington, the Federals hoped to open a supply line to Goldsboro, where they would join forces with Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals marching up from South Carolina.

To get to Wilmington from Fort Fisher, the Federals would have to move north up the Cape Fear River. A peninsula to the east featured the Sugar Loaf Line, which was a few miles north of Fisher and manned by Major General Robert F. Hoke’s Confederates. One of Hoke’s brigades under Brigadier General Johnson Hagood held Fort Anderson, across the river to the west. The river was laden with hundreds of torpedoes to block Federal efforts to pass.

On the 8th, elements of XXIII Corps began joining Terry’s troops at Fort Fisher aboard transports escorted by Porter’s warships. Schofield arrived the next day and, as the ranking commander, assumed command of this new Department of North Carolina. Major General Jacob D. Cox took over Schofield’s XXIII Corps. The combined X and XXIII corps totaled about 12,000 men.

Schofield planned for XXIII Corps to outflank Hagood’s Confederates at Fort Anderson while Terry’s X Corps demonstrated against the Sugar Loaf Line to keep Hoke from reinforcing Hagood. Porter’s warships, led by the ironclad U.S.S. Montauk, would support XXIII Corps by neutralizing Fort Anderson’s guns. Porter instructed his officers:

“The object will be to get the gunboats in the rear of their intrenchments and cover the advance of our troops… As the army come up, your fire will have to be very rapid, taking care not to fire into our own men… Put yourself in full communication with the general commanding on the shore, and conform in all things to his wishes.”

The plan changed when Schofield received intelligence that Hoke’s left flank was weak. If true, then Schofield could shuttle Federal troops across Myrtle Sound and land them behind Hoke’s line, thus forcing him to retreat. This new operation began on the 11th when Federal gunboats on the Atlantic side of the Sugar Loaf Line began bombarding Hoke’s Confederates.

When the barrage ended a half-hour later, Terry’s Federals advanced. They broke the Confederate skirmish line, but the men on the left got bogged down in a swamp, and Terry concluded that the enemy’s defenses could not be taken by frontal assault. A nor’easter swept in to remove any doubt, and this plan was cancelled. As the storms raged for several days, Schofield reverted to his original plan, which was for Terry to hold Hoke in place while Cox captured Fort Anderson.

The movement began on the 16th as Cox’s men, reinforced by Brigadier General Adelbert Ames’s division from X Corps, were ferried across the Cape Fear River to Smithville. From there, they began advancing north toward the fort. Meanwhile, Federal gunboats moved upriver and opened a massive bombardment on Hagood’s Confederates.

By the next day, the gunboats had silenced all 12 of the fort’s guns. Lieutenant Commander William B. Cushing directed his sailors to tow a fake ironclad to the front of the gunboat line to draw Confederate fire. This hulk, called “Old Bogey,” was made from a scow, timber, and canvas. Porter had used this ploy successfully on the Mississippi River, and it drew heavy fire from the Confederates this time as well.

Meanwhile, Cox’s Federals continued moving up the west bank of the Cape Fear River. Cox reported, “About three miles from Smithville, we encountered the enemy’s cavalry outposts, which retired skirmishing. The country being an almost continuous swamp, the march was slow.”

As they came to a fork in the Wilmington Road, Cox sent part of his force up each prong, staying with the prong on the right–closest to the river–where he could maintain communications with Schofield and Porter. Ames’s men moved down the left prong. The Federals struggled to cover just 10 miles on the 17th.

The next day, Cox’s Federals approached the defenses outside Fort Anderson. Cox wrote, “The ground in front of the works was entirely open for 200 or 300 yards, and the breast-works themselves were well made, covered with abatis, and commanded by the artillery fire of the fort.”

Schofield arrived on the scene and concluded that the fort could not be taken by frontal assault. He therefore held two brigades in the fort’s front while sending two other brigades around to link with Ames and outflank the Confederates. The roundabout route they were supposed to take would presumably lead them into the Confederate rear.

The Federals drove a small Confederate force away from Governor’s Creek, built a bridge and crossed the waterway after 9 p.m. on the 18th. The next morning, the Federals in front of Fort Anderson reported that the fort had been abandoned. Colonel Thomas Henderson, commanding one of the Federal brigades facing Anderson, reported:

“During the night the fort was evacuated, and on the morning of the 19th, about 5 o’clock, the skirmishers entered the fort without opposition. The evacuation was no doubt induced by the movement of the column under the command of Major-General Cox, which otherwise would have got in rear of the fort and cut off the retreat of the garrison.”

Henderson and the rest of the Federals pursued, as did Cox’s Federals, all moving north toward Wilmington. Cox wrote:

“Pushing on rapidly, the enemy’s rear guard was reached about three miles above Fort Anderson, but it made no attempt to stand until it reached Town Creek, a very deep, unfordable stream, eight miles above the fort and where a heavy line of field fortifications had been prepared some time before the evacuation of Fort Anderson.”

Cox formed a plan of attack, set to begin the next morning.

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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. 527, 529-31, 534-36; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 551-56; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 636-37, 641; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 831; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 444; Wikipedia: Battle of Wilmington