Tag Archives: William Hardee

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

Confederates Make a Stand at Bentonville

March 18, 1865 – General Joseph E. Johnston concentrated all the Confederates he could muster near Bentonville, North Carolina, to oppose the advancing left wing of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal army.

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

Following the Battle of Averasboro, the two wings of Sherman’s army were separated by about a half-day’s march. Johnston did not know whether Sherman planned to advance on Raleigh or Goldsboro, so he kept most of his forces between the two towns at Smithfield and waited for Lieutenant General Wade Hampton’s cavalry to scout the Federal advance.

Early on the 18th, Hampton notified Johnston that the Federals had crossed the Black River and were headed for Goldsboro, not Raleigh. Hampton also confirmed that Sherman’s wings were spread out and therefore vulnerable to attack. Each of Sherman’s wings numbered about 30,000 men, while Johnston could assemble no more than 18,000 in all. Johnston therefore looked to attack Sherman’s left wing before the right could come to its aid. Johnston’s makeshift Army of the South included:

  • General Braxton Bragg’s command, consisting of Major General Robert F. Hoke’s division and Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s corps from the Army of Tennessee, which was at Smithfield.
  • Lieutenant General William Hardee’s command, consisting of two divisions under Major General Lafayette McLaws and Brigadier General William B. Taliaferro, which had fallen back from Averasboro to Elevation.
  • Another corps from the Army of Tennessee under Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham was on its way but not expected to arrive in time.

Johnston issued orders for all commanders to bring their forces to Bentonville, a village about 20 miles west of Goldsboro. Bragg’s command arrived at Bentonville on the 18th, but Hardee’s was delayed. According to Johnston, “The map proved to be very incorrect, and deceived me greatly in relation to the distance between the two roads on which the Federal columns were marching, which it exaggerated very much, and that from Elevation, which it reduced almost as much. General Hardee found it too great for a day’s march.

General Wade Hampton | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Meanwhile, Hampton led his cavalry troopers and some guns out to meet the Federal advance, led by Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry. The Confederates held until overwhelmed by numbers; they then fell back to the crest of a wooded hill and prepared to make a stand. Hampton later wrote, “I knew that if a serious attack was made on me the guns would be lost, but I determined to run this risk in the hope of checking the Federal advance.”

Hampton informed Johnston, “I can hold him here for several hours more, and I do not think his advance will get beyond this point tonight.” However, Hampton later recalled that some of his troopers did not share his confidence, with one saying, “Old Hampton is playing a bluff game, and if he don’t mind Sherman will call him.” Hampton wrote:

“It was near sunset when the enemy moved on this position, and recognizing its strength, not knowing also, I suppose, what number of troops held it, they withdrew after a rather feeble demonstration against us. We were thus left in possession of the ground chosen for the fight.”

Johnston rode up to meet Hampton that night. Hampton told him that XIV Corps of Sherman’s left wing was leading the advance down the Goldsboro Road. Hampton proposed attacking them in the densely wooded marshes two miles south of Bentonville.

Anxious for Hardee to arrive, Johnston wrote him, “It is of great consequence that you should be here as early as possible tomorrow morning. Please say at what hour you went into camp.” Hardee quickly replied, “This house is five miles from Bentonville. My command is about a mile in rear. I shall start at 4 o’clock, so as to reach Bentonville at an early hour in the morning. I did not reach camp till after dark, but if it be necessary I can start my command at an earlier hour.”

Johnston left the battle plan to Hampton, who was more familiar with the ground. Hampton planned to send the cavalry forward the next morning, with an infantry force deployed across the Goldsboro road and another “obliquely in echelon to the right of the first.” The cavalry would then withdraw through the infantry line and take positions on the extreme right. The attack was planned for “as soon after dawn tomorrow as possible.”

Johnston reported to General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee: “The troops will be united today, except two divisions of Cheatham’s corps not yet arrived. Effective totals, infantry and artillery: Bragg, 6,500; Hardee, 7,500; Army of Tennessee, 4,000. Should Sherman move by Weldon would you prefer my turning to Clarksville?” Clarksville was about 80 miles west of Weldon, giving Johnston a direct line northeast to join Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Petersburg if necessary.

On the Federal side, Sherman did not expect Johnston to put up a right at Bentonville. He wrote, “All the signs induced me to believe that the enemy would make no further opposition to our progress, and would not attempt to strike us in flank while in motion.” Sherman therefore planned to travel with his right wing and try establishing communications with Major General John Schofield’s Army of North Carolina, which he was to join with at Goldsboro.

Unbeknownst to Sherman and his left wing, Johnston’s entire makeshift army was waiting for them just five miles ahead.

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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 22119; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 548; 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; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 567; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (John G. Barrett, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 268-70; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 70; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 653-54

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 Battle of Monroe’s Cross Roads

March 10, 1865 – Lieutenant General Wade Hampton’s Confederate cavalry caught Federal horsemen by surprise in a fight separate from the main Federal thrust into North Carolina.

Gen Hugh Judson Kilpatrick | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

As Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies moved into North Carolina, Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry division screened the advance. Federal infantry began crossing the Lumber River, while the cavalry rode ahead to harass Lieutenant General William Hardee’s Confederate rear guard. According to a Federal trooper named Smith Atkins:

“At times on the march we encountered terrible roads; from Rockingham to Solemn Grove it was swamp after swamp; artillery and ambulances were dragged through the mud and water armpit-deep, and frequently bridges, hundreds of feet in length, were constructed by using pine trees or stringers and rails for flooring.”

Kilpatrick’s lead brigade under Colonel George E. Spencer reached Solemn Grove ahead of the remaining troopers, where Spencer learned that Hardee “had passed that point the day before with his corps of infantry, and was marching as speedily as possible to Fayetteville.” Kilpatrick then discovered that Wade Hampton’s Confederate cavalry was heading to Fayetteville as well. Kilpatrick reported:

“By scouts I learned that Hampton was marching upon two roads, the Morgantown road and a road three miles farther to the north and parallel to it just south and east of Solemn Grove. I posted upon each a brigade of cavalry, and learning that there was a road still farther north upon which some of the enemy’s troops might move I made a rapid night’s march with Colonel Spencer’s little brigade of three regiments and 400 dismounted men and one section of artillery, and took post at the point where the road last mentioned intersects with the Morgantown road.”

Hoping to isolate and destroy Hampton’s force, Kilpatrick rode with Spencer’s men to Monroe’s Cross Roads, an intersection surrounded by forest and swampland, and awaited Hampton’s arrival. Kilpatrick narrowly missed being captured by a detachment of Hampton’s force under Major General Matthew C. Butler. The Federals bivouacked without posting pickets, and Kilpatrick took up quarters in an empty house with Mary Boozer, “an exceedingly pretty young girl” of questionable repute.

Meanwhile, Butler’s Confederates seized some troopers from the 5th Kentucky, who told their captors that Spencer’s brigade was waiting ahead. Butler reported this news to Hampton, who discovered that the brigade was not adequately guarded. Hampton quickly resolved to counter the Federal ambush by isolating and destroying Spencer. Confederate cavalry under Major General Joseph Wheeler would join in as well.

The Confederates attacked at dawn on the 10th and caught the Federals by complete surprise. Many were still sleeping when the enemy was upon them, with the commander of the 5th Kentucky reporting: “We were awakened from our slumbers by the deadly missiles and fiendish shouts of the rebel cavalry.” Some Federals were trampled, some surrendered, some were shot, and others fled into the woods.

Kilpatrick heard the commotion and came out of the house wearing only his nightshirt and boots. When a Confederate rode up to him and demanded to know where Kilpatrick went, the general quickly replied, “There he goes on that black horse!” As the trooper rode off, Kilpatrick bolted into the swamp. Mary Boozer also fled to safety.

The attack soon stalled as Confederates dismounted to loot the Federal camp, while Joe Wheeler’s troopers were bogged down in the swamps and unable to join the fight. This gave Kilpatrick time to call up his two remaining brigades to rescue what was left of Spencer’s command. The Federals from these brigades came up and opened on the Confederates with horse artillery and repeating rifles.

Butler reported that “Kilpatrick’s 1,500 dismounted men had recovered from the shock of our first attack and gathered themselves behind pine trees, and with his rapid firing Spencer carbines attacked us savagely…” Hampton ordered a withdrawal, and the fight ended.

Confederate General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee received reports of the engagement and notified Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge:

“General Hampton attacked General Kilpatrick at day light this morning, and drove him from the camp, taking his guns, wagons, many horses, several hundred prisoners, and relieving a great number of our men who had been captured. The guns and wagons could not be brought off for want of horses. Many of the enemy were killed and wounded. Our loss is not heavy.”

When Federal infantry arrived to reinforce the troopers, they jokingly called the fight “Kilpatrick’s shirt-tail skedaddle.” Others called it “the Battle of Kilpatrick’s Pants.” According to Kilpatrick himself: “This battle speaks for itself and needs no comment from me.”

Kilpatrick reported that his losses were 190 (19 killed, 68 wounded, and 103 captured), though the Confederates claimed to have inflicted at least 500 casualties. Kilpatrick also stated, “The enemy left in our camp upward of 80 killed, including many officers, and a large number of men wounded. We captured 30 prisoners and 150 horses with their equipments.” He did not mention that the Confederates had captured his uniform, sword, and pistols.

The Federals thwarted Hampton’s effort to destroy Kilpatrick’s isolated brigade. But they failed to secure the road to Fayetteville, thereby enabling Hardee’s Confederates to escape to that town. They also failed to destroy Hampton, thereby enabling him to link with Hardee.

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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. 544-45; EmergingCivilWar.com, “Kilpatrick’s Shirttail Skedaddle, The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads,” Parts I, II and III; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 563-64; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 649-50; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 506; SonofTheSouth.net, Harper’s Weekly article excerpt from 25 Mar 1865

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 South Carolina Campaign Ends

February 27, 1865 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals continued their devastating northward march and approached the North Carolina state line by month’s end.

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

As one of Sherman’s army corps captured the South Carolina capital of Columbia, the other three continued north. Once in North Carolina, Sherman planned to repeat his Charleston-Columbia strategy by feinting toward Charlotte while actually targeting Goldsboro. From there, he hoped to join forces with Major General John Schofield’s Federals moving inland from Wilmington. This combined force would then continue north to join with the Federal armies under Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant laying siege to Petersburg, Virginia.

Sherman’s troops enjoyed moving through fertile central South Carolina, but their march grew harder as they entered the more barren region to the north. They were further hampered by the growing number of fugitive slaves, Confederate deserters, and civilians seeking food, shelter, and protection. Confederate forces put up a defense at Camden, but the Federals drove them off after a hard fight. Nearby residents burned their cotton to prevent Federal seizure.

Gen Hugh Judson Kilpatrick | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Federal “bummers” continued plundering the countryside, and Confederate cavalry exacted revenge on troops straying too far from the main line. Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick, the Federal cavalry commander, received reports that Confederates were killing Federals beyond the scope of the war. Kilpatrick responded:

“An infantry lieutenant and seven men murdered yesterday by the Eighth Texas Cavalry after they had surrendered. We found their bodies all together and mutilated, with paper on their breasts, saying ‘Death to foragers’… I have sent Wheeler word that I intend to hang 18 of his men, and if the cowardly act is repeated, will burn every house along my line of march… I have a number of prisoners, and shall take a fearful revenge.”

On this subject, Sherman wrote to Major General Oliver O. Howard, commanding one of the Federal army wings:

“Now it is clearly our war right to subsist our army on the enemy… If our foragers act under mine, yours, or other proper orders they must be protected. I have ordered Kilpatrick to select of his prisoners man for man, shoot them, and leave them by the roadside labeled, so that our enemy will see that for every man he executes he takes the life of one of his own… I will not protect them (foragers) when they enter dwellings and commit wanton waste… If any of your foragers are murdered, take life for life, leaving a record in each case.”

Sherman protested the killing of Federal foragers to Lieutenant General Wade Hampton, commanding Confederate cavalry in the area. Sherman stated that several Confederate prisoners had been executed in retaliation, to which Hampton replied that “for every soldier of mine murdered by you, I shall have executed at once two of yours, giving in all cases preference to any officers who may be in our hands.”

Hampton explained that his government had authorized him to execute any Federal caught wrecking private property, adding, “This order shall remain in force so long as you disgrace the profession of arms by allowing your men to destroy private dwellings.” Hampton then ordered his own officers “to shoot down all of your men who are caught burning houses.”

Rear Adm J.A.B. Dahlgren – Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Meanwhile, Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the Federal naval fleet off the South Carolina coast, dispatched a gunboat squadron under Captain Henry S. Stellwagen to capture Georgetown, which would facilitate Sherman’s march from Columbia to Fayetteville. Marines occupied Fort White at the entrance of Georgetown Bay, after it was abandoned by the Confederates.

The gunboats U.S.S. Catalpa and Mingoe continued into the bay to Georgetown proper, where a party led by Ensign Allen K. Noyes accepted the town’s surrender and raised the U.S. flag over the city hall. A small Confederate force tried taking the town back, but Federal reinforcements quickly arrived to drive them off. Dahlgren inspected the area and instructed Stellwagen before departing:

“I leave here for Charleston, and you remain the senior officer. The only object in occupying the place, as I do, is to facilitate communication with General Sherman, if he desires it here, or by the Santee… Let parties be pushed out by land and water, to feel the rebel positions, and drive back his scouts and pickets.”

On the 23rd, Federals of XX Corps crossed the Catawba River near Rocky Mount while Howard’s Federals crossed the Wateree. Heavy rains hindered the Federal advance, and two days later Sherman ordered a halt to “close up the column.” Kilpatrick reported on Federal depredations in the area:

“Stragglers and foraging parties of the Twentieth Corps were here yesterday, eight miles from their command, committing acts most disgraceful… I shall now allow no foraging parties to pass through or out of my lines, and I shall dismount and seize all horses ridden by infantrymen who enter my column… foraging parties burned sufficient forage on this road to have fed my entire command.”

The Confederates scrambled to oppose Sherman in some way, as Lieutenant General William Hardee’s troops fleeing Charleston tried joining with General P.G.T. Beauregard’s troops fleeing Columbia. If they could unite, they hoped to link with the scattered Confederates in North Carolina under General Braxton Bragg. If anything, they might be able to stop Sherman from linking with Schofield.

General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee informed President Jefferson Davis that he had “directed all the available troops in the Southern Dept to be concentrated, with a view to embarrass, if they can not arrest Sherman’s progress.” Beauregard proposed a “grand strategy” to defeat the Federal armies:

“I earnestly urge a concentration of at least 35,000 infantry and artillery at (Salisbury), if possible, to give him battle there, and crush him, then to concentrate all forces against Grant, and then to march on Washington and dictate a peace. Hardee and myself can collect about 15,000… If Lee and Bragg can furnish 20,000 more, the fate of the Confederacy would be secure.”

Lee replied, “The idea is good, but the means are lacking.”

By month’s end, Sherman’s Federals had reached the North Carolina line, and there seemed to be no weather or opposing force that could stop them. The havoc they had wreaked in South Carolina was far worse than what they had done in Georgia. A South Carolinian wrote, “All is gloom, despondency, and inactivity. Our army is demoralized and the people panic stricken… The power to do has left us… to fight longer seems to be madness.”

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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 22075; 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 16667-77, 16705-25; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 556, 558-59; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 61; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 153; 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. 826-27