In more ways than one, 150 years ago this day the campaign became the Carolinas Campaign. March 7, 1865 was, for many in Major-General William T. Sherman’s marching columns, the last day spent in South Carolina. By the end of the day, only the Right Wing camped short of the North Carolina border. Writing to the Left Wing commander, Major-General Henry Slocum, the day before, Sherman cautioned, with respect to behavior of the men, as they entered North Carolina:
Of course we will dispose of all public stores and property but will spare private houses. Use wheat, corn, meal, bacon, animals, wagons, &c., needed by your command, but try and keep the foragers from insulting families by word or rudeness. It might be well to instruct your brigade commanders that we are now out of South Carolina and that a little moderation may be of political consequence to us in North Carolina.
And while Sherman’s men gained the state line, 120 miles northeast a Federal column, lead by Major-General Jacob Cox, neared Kinston. So not only was Sherman entering North Carolina, his forces were within range of supporting columns from the coast. Cox under orders to push towards Goldsboro and join with Sherman. This was the leading element of what would become Sherman’s “Center Wing,” or Army of the Ohio, under Major-General John Schofield. Now one might look at the map and determine that Wilmington was, at that day, some thirty miles closer than Kinston. To understand why Cox would be at Kinston instead of Fayetteville or other point closer to Sherman, we need to consider the logistics supporting the campaign.
Thus far in the march across South Carolina, the logistics for Sherman’s columns amounted to what was carried in the wagons. But after five weeks, the armies were running low on things which could not be foraged in any quantities – ammunition, hardtack, shoes, uniforms, and military equipment. And Sherman had anticipated that need. Sherman’s Quartermaster, Brigadier-General Langdon C. Easton, not accompanying the march, established depots at three ports in North Carolina – Wilmington, Morehead City, and New Bern. Wilmington presented a problem, as, being just secured from the Confederates, the river channel had to be cleared of torpedoes and the railroad leading inland needed repair. New Bern was far too inland for oceangoing ships, though it could serve as a base for operations.
It was Morehead City, and nearby Beaufort, which offered a port for ocean-going vessels and railroads leading inland (to New Bern). However, the force under Schofield at Wilmington lacked the wagons and other support to move the troops by land to Morehead City or New Bern. Enough was on hand for two divisions under Major-General Alfred Terry would move out of Wilmington. But the other five divisions had to move by water to Morehead City. Schofield began shifting his troops, by water, from Wilmington to Morehead City for his next role in the campaign. However, this movement put more pinch to the already strained shipping resources.
And, as mentioned above, had the effect of moving the much needed link-up point with Sherman further out. Such would provide the Confederates one more “gift” of time. But for the time being, the Confederates had to find ways to delay these two advancing forces from reaching a juncture before their wide spread forces could concentrate.
OK… enough of the logistics stuff and grand operations! What moved on March 7?
The Right Wing made a slow-march that day. A march that Major-General Oliver O. Howard recorded as “without special incident.” Perhaps Howard simply forgot, when later compiling his official report, the day did have its own “special” incidents. I’ll get to that in a separate post, later today. Point being, though, the march was not contested. The Seventeenth Corps moved on a single road and went into camp at Beaverdam Creek, just short of the state line.
The Fifteenth Corps moved by three columns. The First Division moved on a road to the left of Seventeenth Corps, but running east of Crooked Creek. The Fourth Division marched on a road to the left of that. Both lines of march converged at Brightsville. To the left of them, the Third and Second Divisions (in that order) marched through Quick’s Church toward the state line.
However, that last mentioned element of the Fifteenth Corps got a late start. The Twentieth Corps received the right of way on the same road to start their movement, and to create the “echelon” formation Sherman desired. Major-General Apheus S. Williams reported marching fifteen miles and reaching the railroad at Mark’s Station. Not bad for men on short rest. Leading the Corps was Major-General John Geary’s Second Division. Geary recorded:
… marched in advance of the corps, at 6 a.m., on good roads though a very poor, sandy country, the inhabitants of which devoted their chief attention to the manufacture of resin. At noon we reached Station 103, on the Wilmington, Charlotte, and Rutherford Railroad…. The structure is excellent, laid with T-rail of the best English make. Here we destroyed three-quarters of a mile of track, and a quantity of new iron rails which were piled up for shipment to other points. Several large resin factories along our route were destroyed to-day. One alone contained 2,000 barrels of resin lately manufactured.
Geary also reported some of his foragers, united with others from the Fourteenth Corps reached Rockingham. There they skirmished with the Confederate rear guard. That rear guard was also pressed by the Cavalry Division, which moved up to Rockingham that day. Major-General Matthew Butler’s men gave a fight, but only enough to keep the Federals off the columns retreating north.
Behind all this, the Fourteenth Corps completed crossing the PeeDee River. The corps marched ten miles in the direction of Rockingham. However, with another delay crossing a river, the Fourteenth Corps was out of formation. More hard marching was needed to create the echelon and Fayetteville.
For the Confederates, General Joseph E. Johnston issued some direction which had been sorely lacking in the weeks before. Sizable elements of the Army of Tennessee, namely Major-Generals Benjamin Cheatham’s and A.P. Stewart’s commands, were just then arriving at Chester where rail cars could move them to Charlotte. General Braxton Bragg, reluctantly accepting a subordinate position to Johnston the day before, positioned his force in front of Cox’s advance on Kinston. Bragg’s force included the Wilmington garrison reinforced with parts of the Army of Tennessee under Major-General D.H. Hill. And, mentioned above, Lieutenant-General William Hardee’s forces fell back from Rockingham. Hardee turned east towards Fayetteville.
(And let us not forget that in Virginia at this same time, Major-General Philip Sheridan had launched a drive that started at Waynesboro, Virginia. Though given the objective eventually joining with Sherman’s forces in North Carolina, Sheridan would not. That route certainly looks inviting on the map. But I would remind readers there is some rather difficult terrain to traverse between Waynesboro, taking Lynchburg to Danville. Needless to say, Sheridan instead moved to Charlottesville and back to Richmond, thus putting him on a different stage for April’s campaigns.)
On March 7, 1865, large columns began movement into southeastern North Carolina. These concentrations were like gathering storm clouds.
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 690; Part II, Serial 99, page 704.)