The weather always seemed to dog Major-General William T. Sherman’s march through the Carolinas harder than the Confederates. From the first days of January all the way through March, rains and floods periodically threatened to strand Sherman’s campaign. On March 8, 1865, the rains came again.
While some columns reported an impact, others posted significant progress. For example, Major-General Absolam Baird, Third Division, Fourteenth Corps, wrote, “March 8, reached Lumber River, having marched twenty miles through piney woods.” The Second Division of the same corps covered twenty-five miles. And the First Division made up thirty miles on the same day. A somewhat remarkable march, all things considered, which put the Fourteenth Corps at the fore of the “echelon” Sherman was trying to achieve. One might consider, given the distance, terrain, and weather, the Fourteenth’s march on the 8th to be among the more significant “march days” in a war filled with long marches. The corps reached Love’s or Blue’s Bridge that day. “The bridge across Lumber River at this point was secured by the gallant conduct of Lieutenant [Benjamin] Dewey, Thirty-eighth Indiana Infantry, in command of a foraging party, in attacking the enemy’s guard over it and driving them away before they could burn it,” recorded Major-General Jefferson C. Davis.
The Twentieth Corps also moved up to the Lumber River. Running into the Fourteenth Corps’ columns, Major-General Alpheus Williams had his men construct a new corduroy road across swamps to reach McFarland’s Bridge. The lead brigade, that of Brigadier-General James Robinson, found the bridge burned. “The Lumber is a deep, narrow, and difficult stream, rarely fordable at this season of the year. It was therefore necessary that the bridge be reconstructed,” related Robinson.
To the left of these movements, Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s Cavalry Division moved from Rockingham on a parallel route. The cavalry crossed at McLeod’s Bridge, upstream from the Fourteenth Corps, then sparred with Confederate cavalry, to the north of the river. While a lodgement on the far side of the Lumber River was made, the troopers had to cross some of the worst swamps encountered on the campaign.
As I know Eric Wittenberg will have something to offer on the cavalry aspects of this campaign, let me briefly mention something of the nature of these operations. The same conditions that had delayed Federal movements across the PeeDee likewise delayed Lieutenant-General Wade Hampton. Not until March 9 was the full Confederate mounted force able to operate together. However, starting on March 8 were a series of movements and skirmishes as both sides attempted to gain ascendency on what amounted to a covering force battle. Remarkably, however, the Confederate cavalry did not offer any significant resistance in front of the main Federal march, particularly at the Lumber River bridges. I’ve always felt due to the issues crossing the PeeDee, Hampton was out of position to cause Sherman a headache on the Lumber, but instead did his best to harass the left flank… to good measure, that is.
The Right Wing also closed on the Lumber River while dealing with horrible roads on the 8th. Major-General Frank Blair sent the 9th Illinois Mounted Infantry forward to secure Campbell’s Bridge at Gilopolis. Behind them, Third Division closed up and crossed. But the corps was soon astride a flooding river. “The river rose so rapidly,” wrote Blair, “that we found it impossible to cross troops during the night and without considerable additional bridging.” The Lumber would prove another difficult river to cross.
The Fifteenth Corps was most effected by the rains that day. Moving in two columns converging on Laurel Hill, the divisions made but a few miles. Major-General John Logan observed, “About midday a severe storm set in, continuing without intermission during the rest of the day and night; the roads becoming almost impassible for our trains, the greatest exertions were necessary to bring them into camp by morning.” Logan continued, “The roads became so bad that it was necessary to corduroy nearly the whole distance before the trains could be gotten up.” Thus the first length of road passed over by the Fifteenth Corps in North Carolina was one of their own making. Call it an early implementation of the interstate system (though US 74 crosses east-west through Laurel Hill, instead of north-south, as the Fifteenth Corps moved).
In addition to these movements by the Right Wing, Major-General Oliver O. Howard had sent out a couple of couriers – Sergeant Myron Amick, Fifteenth Illinois Cavalry, and Private George Quimby, Thirty-second Wisconsin Infantry – with the mission of reaching Wilmington. Howard instructed them to keep south of the main forces to avoid the main Confederate forces. Howard reported later, “[Amick] traveled night and day, succeeded in deceiving parties of the enemy that he met, and accomplished his journey in forty-eight hours.”
But, as discussed yesterday, it was not from the direction of Wilmington that Sherman’s relief would come. Rather, in order to provide better logistical support, those columns marching to join Sherman were along the Neuse River. And while Sergeant Amick was riding towards Wilmington, a major engagement brewed up just outside of Kinston at a place called Wyse Fork. The outcome would delay Major-General John Schofield’s planned link-up with Sherman by several days. Lieutenant-General Braxton Bragg opened the fight there with a hard attack on the Federal left. And that attack made good progress, shattering parts of two Federal divisions. But Major-General Jacob Cox managed to rally and stabilize the line.
An interesting fight and an interesting battlefield, which I’d recommend if you have not visited. I’ll also look around the feeds today. If I have time and no other sesqui-blogger has offered, I’ll write up a short description of the first day of that battle.
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 99, pages 231, 382, 432, 551.)