Sherman’s March, March 24, 1865: The armies close on Goldsboro, commanders reflect on the achievement

I’m going to offer up a map showing the movements for March 24, 1865, but only to support the short summary offered:


For the 24th, the Left Wing went into position on the west and north of Goldsboro.  The Right Wing, moving on two roads and crossing on two pontoon bridges, reached camps to the east and south of the town.  The Twenty-Third Corps started a march back to Kinston, where it would camp for a few weeks.  Major-General Alfred Terry’s command maintained a front west of Goldsboro while the Left Wing went into position.  During the day, Brigadier-General Charles Paine’s Third Division of that corps fought with Confederate cavalry.  But that evening, Terry’s command commenced recrossing the Neuse River and began their march to Faison’s Depot.  Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick reported all his cavalry closed on Mount Olive on the 24th.  The brigade of Brigadier-General Smith Atkins moved as far south as Clinton.  Kilpatrick found the forage in that area very plentiful.

Thus the elements of Major-General William T. Sherman’s command went into camp for a deserved rest and refit.  As the formations transitioned to these camps, the commanders began to catch up on their paperwork.  Within days, reports were filed recounting the movements which started, for some, in January.  With those came a wealth of statistics.  The observations and statistics offered in that period of late March are important to consider, as they offer a measure of the impact of the campaign… and appear well before post-war claims which attempted to exaggeration on some points.

Major-General Oliver O. Howard indicated that the Right Wing marched 463 miles from February 1 to March 24.  The average rate of march per day was thus 8.19 miles.  Though Howard also pointed out that counting only “marching days” the average was 13.23 miles!  On the Left Wing, Major-General Alpheus S. Williams indicated his Twentieth Corps marched 465 miles, while his trains covered 456.10 miles.  Thus both wings covered the same distances.  Williams felt at least 3/5ths of the route of march was corduroyed. On the other hand, Howard indicates the Right Wing only corduroyed 106 miles.

Brigadier-General Orlando Poe, Sherman’s breveted Chief Engineer, recorded the Right Wing laid 3,720 feet of pontoon bridges, and the Left Wing laid over 4,000 feet (engineers on the Left Wing indicate that figure was actually 5,490 feet).  Howard tallied 31 bridges laid to support the Right Wing’s movements.  All impressive numbers considering the rate of march and the weather encountered.

And what damage was inflicted on the Confederates? According to Howard, the Right Wing captured nearly 2.5 million pounds of foodstuffs.  Add to that 4.8 million pounds of corn forage and 2.7 million pounds of fodder.  The Wing destroyed 15,000 bales of cotton and 42 miles of railroad (a figure far less than that inflicted on Georgia).  Howard’s command captured 3,049 horses and 3,766 mules. In terms of military stores, the Right Wing captured and/or destroyed 70,000 pounds of powder, 67 pieces of artillery, over 18,000 artillery projectiles, over 13,000 rifles and muskets, and over 1.2 million small arms cartridges.  Such figures do not account for the equally active Left Wing.

Any of these measures should be considered against several situational factors that existed in March 1865.  Foremost, by the winter of 1865, the Carolinas were the supply base for the forces engaged in Virginia.  Every pound and every horse that Howard included within his total was a pound or an animal not available to General Robert E. Lee.  The loss of thousands of muskets, tens of artillery pieces, and tons of powder were military supplies the Confederacy could not recoup.  In terms of logistics, the march through the Carolinas caused the Appomattox Campaign.

Another facet to consider with these figures is just how much remained in the Carolinas through the winter of 1865 – enough for Sherman to feed 50,000 men for upwards of six weeks.  That stands in sharp contrast to the lack of supplies reaching Richmond-Petersburg, the shortage of animals for Confederate troops moving to oppose Sherman, or the limited rations given Federal prisoners.  This lends the conclusion that the logistical problem in the Confederacy was not lack of foodstuffs, but rather the lack of transportation resources and the inability of the Confederate commissary to gather those supplies.   Sherman’s men had neither of those problems as they proceeded through the Carolinas.

Another measure compiled at the time was the casualty figures.  Howard reported the loss of 963 killed, wounded, or missing throughout the march.  Major-General Henry Slocum, who’s Left Wing carried most of the burden for the two major engagements of the campaign, reported 242 killed, 1,308 wounded, and 802 missing (for a total of 2,352).  Kilpatrick reported an aggregate of 604 casualties from the cavalry division during the march.

Confederate figures are hard to establish, given the split nature of the commands.  Likely in terms of killed and wounded, the total figures were similar to that of the Federals.  However the Federals reported capturing far more prisoners during the campaign.

In summation of the march, Major-General John Geary offered this paragraph in his March 26 report:

The Carolina campaign, although in its general military features of the same nature as that from Atlanta to Savannah, was one of much greater labor, and which tested most thoroughly the power of endurance and elasticity of spirit among American soldiers. The distance marched was much farther, through regions presenting greater natural obstacles, and where a vindictive enemy might naturally be expected in force sufficient to harass our troops and interfere frequently with our trains. The season was one of comparative inclemency, during which the roads were in the worst condition, yet my command marched from Savannah to Goldsborough without serious opposition, and without a single attack upon the trains under my charge. The spirit of my troops throughout was confident and buoyant, expressive of that implicit trust in their commander-in-chief, and belief in themselves, which are always presages of military success. It was their common experience to march at dawn or earlier, corduroy miles of road, exposed to drenching rains, or standing waist-deep often in swamps lifting wagons out of mire and quicksand where mules could not obtain a foothold, and, when the day’s work was through, encamp late at night, only to repeat the process with the next day. Then again there were many days of pleasant march and attractive bivouac. Through this all they evinced a determination and cheerfulness which has added greatly to my former high appreciation of the same qualities shown by them on so many battle-fields of the past four years.

Geary, like many of the men who made the march, were justly proud of their accomplishments.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 695.)

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

2 thoughts on “Sherman’s March, March 24, 1865: The armies close on Goldsboro, commanders reflect on the achievement

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