Sherman’s March, March 4, 1865: Bridging the PeeDee River and an expedition to Florence

Movements on March 4, 1865 placed Major-General William T. Sherman’s forces in position to bound the PeeDee River.  In a letter to Major-General Oliver O. Howard that evening, Sherman again expressed hope that forces out of Wilmington were moving out to points in North Carolina to effect an early juncture.  “I know Grant’s anxiety for us, and he will move heaven and earth to co-operate.”  However, while Sherman speculated that Major-General John Schofield might be near Fayetteville, reality was those columns were no where near that place.   Still, in anticipation of linking up, Sherman instructed, “Get a good scout or two ready for me to send a messenger to Wilmington as soon as any of your heads of column is across the Lumber River.”  Sherman’s intent was to cross the PeeDee, then cross the Lumber, and then reach Fayetteville and the Cape Fear River.  Either there or somewhere beyond, he’d reestablish supply lines for the final push which he hoped would end the war.

SCMarch_Mar4

(Yes, I’ve had to switch my base map….)

For the troops, March 4 was another day of “closing up.”  The Seventeenth Corps continued to work in Cheraw, sorting through captured equipment and supplies, destroying Confederate and public property, and foraging.  Despite Major-General Frank Blair’s orders, there were reports of pillaging.  The Fifteenth Corps closed up to Cheraw and went into camp around the city that day.

Looking to the next phase of the operation, Blair ordered Major-General Joseph Mower to cross his division, pending completion of the pontoon bridge.  While waiting, Mower requested mounted men be sent down river “to give warning of the approach of the rebel gun-boat Pedee, should it attempt to come up.”  The gunboat had made an appearance the day before, but it is not clear if the ship had used its guns.   (And a side note, the CSS  PeeDee has made the news of late, as archeologists recover more of the ship’s remains.)  Mower crossed shortly after 3 p.m. and promptly ran into Major-General Matthew Butler’s cavalry again.

The Left Wing concentrated at a point just south of Sneedsborough.  The intent was to cross the PeeDee at Haile’s Ferry.  And once again, it was Major-General Jefferson C. Davis who would run afoul of pontoon problems.

A location was selected for the bridge across the river, and the pontoniers immediately set at work; but again, owing to a want of proper management and energy on the part of the officers and lack of material to lay so long a bridge (920 feet), it was not completed until late in the evening of the 6th.

Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Moore was unable to direct his pontoon train, due to an attack of rheumatism.  Brigadier-General George Buell again stepped in.  Moore reported:

The bridge was commenced at 1 p.m., the river being 920 feet in width, and, as we only had in train some 820 feet of boat and 460 of balk and chess, we were necessarily compelled to procure a greater portion of material.  The men worked all night, but on account of the rapidity of the stream and considerable difficulty in getting anchors to hold we progressed slowly, and the bridge was finally finished at 3 p.m. [on March 6].

Delays placing this bridge prompted changes to the movements of the Left Wing.

Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry saw more of their Confederate counterparts on the 4th for a change.  Advancing in three columns across the state line, the Federals skirmished at Phillip’s Cross-roads and stopped just sort of Wadesborough.  Another column reached Lebanon Church to the east and turned to Wadesborough.

I would point out that the 4th of March marked a change of temp in the cavalry operations along the march.  While Lieutenant-General Wade Hampton had been in charge of the cavalry since the middle of February, several factors kept him from making a significant impact.  My opinion is that it took Hampton a couple of weeks to get acclimated to the new command and the theater of operations.  But once he did get a handle on this, Hampton hit hard.  These are interesting actions, leading up to March 10.  Eric Whittenberg devoted over 200 pages (not counting conclusions and appendices) describing this aspect of Sherman’s March in detail.  And, not that he needs me shilling his book, but you can pick it up in hardback, paperback, and kindle for a good price.

So, after sending you on a quest for Eric’s book, let me save a little space in today’s installment to focus on a lesser known action involving the mounted arm… this more so mounted infantry than “proper” cavalry.  As the Right Wing closed on Cheraw, Howard organized a separate detail to accomplished one of the secondary objectives set by Sherman.  All the mounted men from the Right Wing were organized under Colonel Reuben Williams for a dash on Florence.  Like Branchville, Florence featured in many Federal schemes earlier in the war which aimed at breaking Confederate railroads.  And in early March 1865, Sherman wanted to prevent Confederates using that junction to speed troops or supplies in response to the movement into North Carolina.

SCMarch_Mar4Williams

Williams’ force, numbering 546 men, consisted of the 7th and 9th Illinois Infantry, 29th Missouri Mounted Infantry, and a detachment of foragers under Major Samuel Mahon.  Williams marched out from the crossroads seven miles outside Cheraw at 11 a.m. on the 4th.  That evening, the force went into camp seven miles north of Darlington near Dove’s Station.  The short half-day movement setup a longer march the next day toward Florence.   I’ll pick up the story of this expedition in tomorrow’s installment.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 99, pages 427, 432; Part II, Serial 99, pages 676, 680.)

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