We entered Raleigh this morning. Johnston has retreated westward. I shall move to [Ashborough] and Aslisbury or Charlotte. I hope Sheridan is coming this way with his cavalry. If I can bring Johnston to a stand I will soon fix him. The people here had not heard of the surrender of Lee, and hardly credit it. All well.
I might leave my daily summary of Major-General William T. Sherman’s movements to just that message, sent to Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant on April 13, 1865. Raleigh was the third state capital visited by Sherman on the Great March. Though he alluded to further movements to the west that would head off and box-in General Joseph E. Johnston’s force, the march in to Raleigh was for all practical purposes the end of the shortest leg of the Great March, lasting but four days. After April 13, Sherman would make no grand movements as “talking” became the weapon of choice.
The lead of the Federal advance that day was Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry. Through agreement with Lieutenant-General Wade Hampton and Major-General Joseph Wheeler, Kilpatrick’s forces moved unopposed into the city. However, at several points stragglers and others operating on their own took shots at the Federals. Kilpatrick noted, “my staff was fired upon from the state-house yard and corners of the street.”
By 8:30 a.m., Kilpatrick reported, “My advance is two miles beyond the town on the Hillsborough road, heavily engaged with Wheeler and Hampton’s combined forces.” The fighting with the Confederate rear guard continued through the afternoon. At 3 p.m., Kilpatrick added, “We have taken barricade after barricade of the strongest character and with but little loss…. I have been scattering Wheeler’s cavalry all day, driving it off upon the side roads.” The Federal cavalry captured three trains along the railroad and almost netted a fourth. The closing action of the day was a severe skirmish at Morrisville.
Behind the Cavalry, the Left Wing marched into Raleigh and took up camp beyond. Any delays encountered were more so due to line of march traffic control. Major-General Alpheus Williams recorded,
April 13, the division moved in advance at daylight. At the railroad crossing found our road in possession of Fourteenth Corps. After some delay a road was made to the left and the division moved to its camp near the insane asylum two miles south of Raleigh. The day was very unpleasant; estimated march, fifteen miles.
Behind the Left Wing, the Center Wing marched to close on Raleigh. Major-General Adelbert Ames, commanding Second Division, Tenth Corps, recorded camping near Swift Creek that evening.
On the east side of the Neuse River, the Right Wing marched towards a couple of bridges. Major-General Oliver O. Howard noted a rare occurrence on the march – capture of an intact Hinton’s Bridge by the Fifteenth Corps. “We found the bridge a new one, recently constructed. Only a few planks were taken up.” The Seventeenth Corps closed on Battle’s Bridge where that crossing point required more substantial repairs and supplement of a pontoon bridge.
Other than Kilpatrick’s troopers at the fore of the advance, the Federal marches seemed more against terrain and nature than the Confederates. The main part of what remained of the Confederate forces in North Carolina was well west of Raleigh. Johnston could count about 25,000 troops counting all infantry, cavalry, and artillery. The presumption was that Sherman’s force would soon be joined by those moving south from Virginia (though at that time only minor movements were made in that regard). To the west of Johnston, Major-General George Stoneman had descended out of Virginia to turn against the railroads of North Carolina. The military situation seemed to collapse all around Johnston.
On April 13, Johnston attended a conference with members of the Confederate government in Greensboro. Johnston felt the Confederate President, Jefferson F. Davis, did not have a full appreciation of the situation. To address that, Johnston laid estimates of the Federal strengths in front of the cabinet:
I represented that under such circumstances it would be the greatest of human crimes for us to attempt to continue the war; for, having neither money nor credit, nor arms but those in the hands of our soldiers, nor ammunition but that in their cartridge boxes, nor shops for repairing arms or fixing ammunition, the effect of keeping in the field would be, not to harm the enemy, but to complete the devastation of our country and ruin of its people. I therefore urged that the President should exercise at once the only function of government still in his possession, and open negotiations for peace.
Though winning over most of the cabinet, Davis and Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin were unswayed. And we must place ourselves in that moment – the only bargaining chip left in the hands of Davis was Johnston’s army. If it stood, and where it stood, was the physical embodiment of what remained of the Confederacy. So to hear that the senior military commander’s assessment was an admission even that last card was trumped. Yet, even a trumped card was still a card in hand. Thus Davis continued to refuse any military surrender, hoping for a political settlement.
Johnston went further to suggest a military armistice while the political leaders offered terms to end hostilities. This was accepted as the course of action, and Johnston had a letter dictated for dispatch to Sherman, requesting a suspension of active operations, to be delivered the following day.
The guns were not yet silenced, but the pen and paper would be the preferred weapons after April 13.
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 604; Part III, Serial 100, pages 191-2, 197, 198; Joseph E. Johnston, Narrative of military operations directed, during the late war between the states, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1874, pages 398-9. )