Tag Archives: Robert F. Hoke

The Battle of Bentonville: Day Two

March 20, 1865 – The fight that began yesterday in North Carolina ended as Major General William T. Sherman scrambled to unite his Federal army to oppose General Joseph E. Johnston’s makeshift Confederate force.

Generals W.T. Sherman and J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Bing public domain

By daybreak on the 20th, Johnston’s Confederates had returned to their original line behind Mill Creek, north of the Goldsboro road. Having sustained about 2,000 casualties in yesterday’s fighting, Johnston could field no more than 16,000 men. His left flank guarded the Mill Creek Bridge, which was the Confederates’ only escape route if retreat became necessary.

The left wing of Sherman’s army–Major General Henry W. Slocum’s XIV and XX corps–held positions near Bentonville, while Sherman rushed his right wing–Major General Oliver O. Howard’s XV and XVII corps–westward to reinforce them. According to Sherman, “I ordered General Howard to proceed with due caution, using skirmishers alone, till he had made junction with General Slocum, on his left.” Once Sherman’s wings were united, the force would number close to 60,000 men.

Confederate cavalry troopers harassed Howard’s marching Federals, but Howard wrote that they were “unable to offer any serious opposition until our head of column encountered a considerable body behind a barricade at the forks of the road near Bentonville, about three miles east of the battlefield of the day before. This body of cavalry was, however, quickly dislodged, and the intersection of the roads secured.”

The Confederates “reported that the right wing of the Federal army, which had struck the road on which we were some miles to the east, was rapidly moving down on our rear and left flank.” Johnston responded by refusing the line on his left flank until his line resembled a misshapen “V”. Major General Robert F. Hoke’s infantry and Lieutenant General Wade Hampton’s cavalry manned the left. Hampton wrote:

“Our line was a very weak one, and our position was extremely perilous, for our small force was confronted, almost surrounded, by one nearly five times as large. Our flanks rested on no natural defenses, and behind us was a deep and rapid stream over which there was but one bridge, which gave the only means of withdrawal. Our left flank–far overlapped by the enemy–was held along a small stream which flowed into Mill Creek, and this was held only by cavalry videttes stationed at long intervals apart.”

Johnston expected Sherman to attack, but the Federals spent the day mostly probing the Confederate defenses. As Howard’s troops arrived on Slocum’s right (i.e., the Confederate left), Howard wrote:

“We came upon the enemy infantry between 10 and 11 a.m. He had a position at the forks where the right hand road leads to Bentonville and the straight forward road on toward Averasborough… In this place he was carefully intrenched. The ground was for the most part low, swampy, and covered with woods.”

All four of Sherman’s corps arrived by midday, and any chance Johnston may have had to defeat Sherman’s army while separated was gone. Howard’s troops now comprised the Federal right, with XVII Corps on the flank. Major General Joseph A. Mower’s division of XVII Corps held the end of the line. The Federals conducted several reconnaissances in force, and according to Johnston:

“The Federal army was united before us about noon and made repeated attacks, between that time and sunset, upon Hoke’s division… In all, the enemy was so effectually driven back, that our infirmary corps brought in a number of their wounded that had been left on the field, and carried them to our field-hospitals.”

Hoke praised his North Carolina Junior Reserves, referred to as “the seed corn of the Confederacy,” for standing firm against “every charge that was made upon them.” But the left was still in danger, and as such Johnston shifted Major General Lafayette McLaws’s division to that sector.

Johnston hoped that Sherman would commit a blunder by attacking his fortified positions. However, Sherman’s top priority was not to defeat Johnston, but to get to Goldsboro, join forces with those of Major Generals John Schofield and Alfred H. Terry, and rest his exhausted men after their grueling march through the Carolinas.

As rain opened the 21st, the troops continued watching each other from opposing lines. Mower received permission to conduct a reconnaissance, but as he later reported, “Learning that a road leading from the right of the line crossed Mill Creek by a ford, I pushed my command down that road for the purpose of closing on the enemy’s flank.” Thus, instead of just a reconnaissance, Mower would try moving two brigades around the Confederate flank to seize the vital Mill Creek Bridge.

As Federal pickets closed in on the Confederate line, Hampton recalled:

“I immediately rode down to report this fact to General Johnston, and I told him that there was no force present able to resist an attack, and that if the enemy broke through at that point, which was near the bridge, across the main stream, our only line of retreat would be cut off.”

Hampton scrambled to put every available Confederate unit on the line to stop the Federal movement. Lieutenant General William Hardee then arrived on the scene and, being the ranking commander, ordered the Confederates to charge. Hampton wrote that “the attack was so sudden and so impetuous that it carried everything before it, and the enemy retreated hastily across the branch.”

Hardee himself participated in the attack and said, “That was Nip and Tuck, and for a time I thought Tuck had it.” He survived, but his 16-year-old son Willie was killed. Earlier that day, Hardee had reluctantly allowed Willie to see action with the 8th Texas Cavalry.

The Federals were momentarily stopped, but they were still within just a mile of the bridge, and Mower was poised to counterattack. But just then Sherman ordered him to stop where he was and build defenses. An assault might have cut off Johnston’s line of retreat and possibly forced him to surrender. Sherman later admitted:

“I think I made a mistake there, and should rapidly have followed Mower’s lead with the whole of the right wing, which would have brought on a general battle, and it could not have resulted otherwise than successfully to us, by reason of our vastly superior numbers; but at the moment, for the reasons given, I preferred to make junction with Generals Terry and Schofield, before engaging Johnston’s army, the strength of which was utterly unknown.”

The armies disengaged, and according to Johnston:

“At night all the wounded that could bear transportation had been removed; so that we had no object for remaining in a position made very hazardous by the stream behind us, rendered unfordable by recent rain. The army was therefore ordered to cross Mill Creek by the bridge at Bentonville before daybreak of the 22nd.”

This battle was well fought by both sides. The Federals sustained 1,527 casualties while the Confederates lost 2,606, a much greater loss in proportion to their total number. Never before or after did the Confederacy field so few men under so many high-ranking officers: Generals Johnston and Braxton Bragg; Lieutenant Generals Hardee, Hampton, and Alexander P. Stewart; and Major Generals Hoke, McLaws, D.H. Hill, Joseph Wheeler, and William W. Loring.

Although the Confederates fought hard against heavy odds, they could not stop Sherman’s march to Goldsboro, where his force combined with Schofield’s and Terry’s would number nearly 90,000. Johnston would never be able to muster more than 20,000 men. The fight at Bentonville marked the Confederates’ last effective opposition to the relentless Federal sweep into North Carolina.

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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 22128; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 548-49; 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 17335-45, 17433-43; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 568-69; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (John G. Barrett, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 271-72; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 70-75; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 653-56; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 736; 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. 829-30; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 453; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 362-63

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 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

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

Battles at Fair Oaks and Hatcher’s Run

October 27, 1864 – Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal forces moved to assault both ends of the Confederate siege line stretching from Richmond to Petersburg.

After failing to dislodge the Federals from north of the James River, General Robert E. Lee, commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, warned his top officers, “We must drive them back at all costs.” The Federal forces, under Grant’s overall command, continued trying to extend the ends of their line both east of Richmond and southwest of Petersburg. Lee notified Adjutant General Samuel Cooper that if Grant stretched the Confederate defenders any further, “I fear it will be impossible to keep him out of Richmond.”

Panicked Confederate officials hurriedly conscripted all able-bodied men in Richmond and forced them into the fortifications outside the city. Citizens loudly protested this as an act of tyranny, and the press reported that most of the “involuntary soldiers” deserted as soon as they could.

Meanwhile, Lee’s Confederates gave up trying to take back Fort Harrison and built fortifications closer to Richmond that minimized the fort’s usefulness to the Federals. On the 13th, the Federal X Corps under Major General Alfred H. Terry (Major General David B. Birney had relinquished corps command due to illness and died later this month) advanced and discovered these new defenses. Lieutenant General Richard H. Anderson’s Confederates inflicted heavy losses on the Federals north of the Darbytown Road and drove them off.

Both sides settled back into the tedium of the siege outside Richmond and Petersburg. Lieutenant General James Longstreet returned to active duty as Lee’s top corps commander. Longstreet had been severely wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness, which partially paralyzed his right arm and forced him to learn to write with his left hand.

Longstreet resumed command of the First Corps, which had since been commanded by Anderson. These troops defended the siege lines north of the James River. Lee gave Anderson command of a new Fourth Corps, which consisted of two divisions. Its duty was to guard Petersburg against a direct assault should the siege lines be broken.

The siege lines now stretched from north of the James (southeast of Richmond), southward around the east and south of Petersburg, and then curled to the southwest below the city. The Federals had not been able to cut either the Boydton Plank Road or the South Side Railroad, which entered Petersburg from the southwest and west to supply the Confederates.

Major General George G. Meade, commanding the Federal Army of the Potomac besieging Petersburg, suggested to Grant that the Confederate right on the Boydton Plank Road was vulnerable to attack. And if the road was captured, the Federals could continue moving and seize the South Side Railroad. Grant approved Meade’s request to attack and developed a plan:

  • II Corps under Major General Winfield Scott Hancock on the Federal left would cross Hatcher’s Run on the Vaughn Road and then move north to seize the Boydton Plank Road.
  • IX Corps under Major General John G. Parke on the Federal right would attack the Confederates defending the road north of Hatcher’s Run.
  • V Corps under Major General Gouverneur Warren and a cavalry division under Brigadier General David M. Gregg would support Parke.

The attack force consisted of 43,000 Federals, while the Confederate defenders numbered no more than 12,000. To gain an even greater advantage, Grant planned to strike the other end of Lee’s defense line at the same time. He directed Major General Benjamin F. Butler to lead elements of X and XVIII corps to the Darbytown Road and Fair Oaks, east of Richmond.

The Federals moved out against Lee’s left (southeast of Richmond) and right (southwest of Petersburg) on the 27th. When news of these movements reached Richmond, Confederate officials put their last reserves on the defense lines. Longstreet’s troops held Lee’s left as Butler’s Federals moved along the Darbytown Road and north toward Fair Oaks.

Confederates under Major Generals Charles W. Field and Robert F. Hoke repelled the Federal attackers and neutralized Fort Harrison in just a few hours. This was the easiest Confederate victory in this sector of the siege line to date. Butler lost 1,103 men, including about 600 taken prisoner, and 11 battle flags. Longstreet lost just 451.

Meanwhile, the Federal force southwest of Petersburg moved out at 7:30 a.m. in heavy rain. Hancock advanced as planned and seized the road near Burgess’ Mill by noon. Per his orders, Hancock waited there until Parke and Warren joined him. But Parke met strong resistance from Major General Cadmus M. Wilcox’s Confederates, and Warren’s men struggled over the rough terrain before being repulsed by Wilcox south of Hatcher’s Run.

Federals attack works at Hatcher’s Run | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, Vol. VIII, No. 412 (19 Nov 1864)

The failure of Parke and Warren to achieve a breakthrough left Hancock isolated. Lieutenant General A.P. Hill directed a counterattack led by Major General Henry Heth’s infantry and Major General Wade Hampton’s cavalry. They came upon Hancock’s flank, which Warren had not come up to protect. Hancock managed to fend off the assaults, and Meade let him decide to either fall back or hold firm until Warren and Parke reinforced him. Having no faith in either Warren or Parke, Hancock withdrew that night, relinquishing the road.

The Federals sustained 1,758 casualties (166 killed, 1,028 wounded and 564 missing). The Confederates lost about 1,000 men, a much greater proportion of those engaged (8 percent versus the Federals’ 4 percent). Confederate losses included two of Hampton’s sons, Lieutenants Wade (wounded) and Preston (killed).

On the morning of the 28th, the Confederates discovered that Hancock was gone and took back the Boydton Plank Road. This ended combat operations on the Richmond-Petersburg lines for the year. The works now stretched nearly 35 miles, with both sides spending the fall and winter patrolling, picketing, sharpshooting, and continually strengthening defenses.

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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 22242; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 154-57; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 475-76, 479; 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 13231-41, 12023-43; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 509-10, 514-15; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7975-88, 8000-12; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 584, 589-90; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 169, 179-80, 393; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 95-96, 204-05

Virginia: More Fighting and Prisoner Exchange

October 6, 1864 – General Robert E. Lee discussed prisoner exchanges and made one more effort to take back Fort Harrison, southeast of Richmond.

Lee’s Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was rapidly shrinking due to combat, illness, and desertion. He therefore contacted Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, to discuss the possibility of informally renewing the prisoner exchange cartel.

Lt Gen U.S. Grant and Gen R.E. Lee | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Grant had suspended prisoner exchanges because the Confederates had refused to include slaves-turned-soldiers. This suspension had caused a widespread manpower shortage in the Confederacy, but it also doomed thousands of Federal prisoners to disease and death in southern prison camps, where officials lacked the necessities to care for them. In all, about 100,000 Federal and Confederate soldiers currently languished in various makeshift prisons.

As fighting raged around Peebles’ Farm, Lee wrote Grant, “With a view of alleviating the sufferings of our soldiers, I have the honor to propose an exchange of prisoners of war belonging to the armies operating in Virginia, man for man, or upon the basis established by the cartel.” Grant replied on the 2nd:

“I could not of a right accept your proposition further than to exchange those prisoners captured within the last three days, and who have not yet been delivered to the commanding General of Prisoners. Among those lost by the armies operating against Richmond were a number of colored troops. Before further negotiations are had upon the subject, I would ask if you propose delivering these men the same as white soldiers.”

Lee responded the next day:

“In my proposition of the 1st inst., to exchange the prisoners of war belonging to the armies operating in Virginia, I intended to include all captured soldiers of the United States, of whatever nation and color, under my control. Deserters from our service and negroes belonging to our citizens are not considered subjects of exchange, and were not included in my proposition. If there are any such among those stated by you to have been captured around Richmond, they can not be returned.”

Grant finally answered on the 20th:

“I shall always regret the necessity of retaliating for wrong done our soldiers, but regard it my duty to protect all persons received into the army of the United States, regardless of color or nationality; when acknowledged soldiers of the Government are captured, they must be treated as prisoners of war, or such treatment as they receive inflicted upon an equal number of prisoners held by us.”

Thus, Grant and Lee were still at an impasse on the subject of whether former slaves now serving in the Federal army would be treated like all other soldiers.

Meanwhile, Lee met with President Jefferson Davis at Chaffin’s Bluff on the 6th. Unable to launch a major offensive before winter due to his dwindling numbers, Lee said, “We may be able, with the blessing of God, to keep the enemy in check until the beginning of winter. If we fail to do this the result may be calamitous.”

However, Lee was still determined to take back Fort Harrison, which the Confederates had lost last month. Leaving a token force in the trenches between the fort and the capital, Lee planned to attack the Federals guarding the Darbytown and New Market roads. These Federals were commanded by Major General David B. Birney and Brigadier General August V. Kautz. Under Lee’s plan:

  • Brigadier General Martin Gary’s cavalry brigade and Brigadier General Edward A. Perry’s infantry brigade would attack from the north, hitting the Federals on their right flank and in their rear.
  • Major General Charles W. Field’s division would launch a frontal attack on the Federals from the west.
  • Major General Robert F. Hoke’s division would support the frontal attack on Field’s right (south).

If successful, the Confederates would roll up the Federal right and force them to retreat south toward the James River, abandoning Fort Harrison along the way.

At dawn on the 7th, the Confederates hit the Federal right and front, pushing Kautz’s 1,700 Federals southward as planned and capturing all eight of their guns. The Federals fell back from the Darbytown Road and joined Birney’s X Corps, which was firmly entrenched on the New Market Road and ready.

Field’s Confederates charged, but Federal artillery thinned their ranks. Field sent his entire division forward, but the Federals repelled this attack as well. Brigadier General John Gregg, commanding the famed Texas Brigade, was killed. Hoke did not come up as planned, causing confusion among the Confederates until Lee finally ordered them to fall back.

The Confederates sustained 1,350 casualties in their failed effort to take back Fort Harrison and drive the Federals to the James. The Federals lost just 399 men. Lee soon ordered his men to build fortifications closer to Richmond.

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References

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21532, 21539-57; Davis, William C., Death in the Trenches: Grant at Petersburg (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 153-54; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 467, 470; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 506-07; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 7975; 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. 799-800; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 177, 393; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 204-05