Sherman’s March, March 13, 1865: “The bulk of my army is across Cape Fear River”

Major-General William T. Sherman’s forces spent a second “partial rest” day around Fayetteville, North Carolina on March 13, 1865.  The day was spent continuing the tasks, to include destruction of the arsenal, and moving formations across the Cape Fear River.


On the move was the Seventeenth Corps, filing in behind the bridgehead created the day before.  The corps moved out about three miles from the river.  From there scouts fanned out to the front.  Orders were to prepare for the next move towards Beaman’s Crossroads.   Behind them, the Fifteenth Corps remained in camps around Fayetteville, waiting their turn.  While waiting, Major-General John Logan drew a foraging detail from Major-General Charles Woods’ First Division across the east side of the Cape Fear River.

The Cavalry Division also remained in camps around Fayetteville for another day.  Resting… refitting… and recovering….

On the Right Wing, Twentieth Corps moved over the river on the upper pontoon bridge.  Trains crossed later in the evening.  As the troops moved through the city, they formed up properly and marched through with bands playing.  Sherman stood out to review some of the commands.

The Fourteenth Corps passed over its First Division, joining the Second which had established the bridgehead the day before.  But the Third Division, under Major-General Absalom Baird, remained in Fayetteville with duty to guard the city.  Baird wrote:

Having been directed to take command of the city and garrison it with my command the three brigades were at once posted in advantageous positions in the suburbs, and furnished guards not only for public buildings, but for nearly every private house. On our arrival I found the stragglers from all portions of the army who had pushed in with the advanced guard committing many disorders, but as soon as they could be cleared out good order was established and maintained during our stay in the place.

At the end of the day, Sherman sent a message to Major-General Alfred Terry in Wilmington, boasting that “the bulk of my army is across Cape Fear River.…” Sherman wanted the requested supplies – particularly uniforms and shoes – before moving beyond to the next objective.  Sherman was willing to hold empty wagons at the river until the 15th.  But Terry didn’t have any of that sort of supply on hand.  Most of what he’d had was used refitting recently exchanged prisoners.  The Quartermaster for the Department of North Carolina wrote that he had 20,000 pairs of shoes, but in Beaufort (North Carolina), as part of the depot established there.  Clearly, if Sherman’s men were going to get new shoes, they’d have to walk across the state to get them.

Still many miles downstream was Terry’s “plan B” for linking up with Sherman – the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry.  These troopers left Wilmington several days earlier and reached Elizabethtown, downriver from Fayetteville, on the 13th.  Sherman ordered them to cross the Cape Fear (and would have Terry provide a steamer to aid that) and move towards Faison’s Station.  That place, on the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad, featured prominently in Sherman’s dispatches of the day.  The station was about mid-way between Kinston and Fayetteville, and also astride the transportation system out of Wilmington, yet not far from Goldsboro.

Looking that far out, Sherman wrote to Major-General John Schofield outlining his intent for the next movements:

Re-enforce your movement all you can and you can take Terry’s command from Wilmington if you want them. Secure, if possible, the crossing of Neuse near Kinston and get all the timbers ready for the bridge. I will in a day or two so threaten Raleigh that the enemy will be forced to move from your front toward Raleigh, when you can press forward toward Goldsborough.

Terry, working ahead of this, dispatched two regiments and a pontoon bridge Captured from the Confederates to prepare for an overland march out of Wilmington to link up with Schofield.  And Cox, stalled for a few days after fighting off the Confederates at Wyse Fork, prepared to move forward towards Kinston on the 14.  Still, Schofield warned that the railroad would not be past Kinston, at best, before the 20th.

The crossing of the Cape Fear River didn’t just open another leg of Sherman’s march, it changed the dynamic of the campaign.  No longer were the columns moving across the map targeting Confederate infrastructure.  The campaign now turned to a race to see which side would concentrate fastest in the Coastal Plain between the Cape Fear and Neuse Rivers.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 551; Part II, Serial 99, pages 813 and 817.)


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