Driving Dixie Down: Stoneman descends upon the North Piedmont Railraod, April 11-13, 1865

Consider again my map of General Joseph E. Johnston’s area of control, generally speaking, as of April 10, 1865:

JohnstonsConfederacy

Two railroads were the arteries which served Johnston in the closing weeks of the war – the North Carolina Railroad, providing a link from Greensboro to Raleigh, and the North Piedmont Railroad, from Salisbury to Danville and providing the links to points southwest.  With Johnston’s army the primary objective for Federal forces, those railroads were important “enabling” objectives. If the railroads were damaged, then Johnston’s lines of supply, reinforcement, and, if needed, retreat, were severed.  And Major-General George Stoneman’s cavalry division was in the right place to inflict that sort of damage.  Furthermore, Stoneman wanted the opportunity to free prisoners thought to be held at Salisbury, redeeming somewhat for failed raids aimed at Andersonville the previous summer.

Recall that on April 9, Stoneman’s raiders departed Virginia and moved to Danbury, North Carolina. Moving through Germantown on the 10th, Stoneman set his next objective as Salisbury and Federal prisoners reported held there.  However, Stoneman detached Colonel William Palmer’s brigade to raid the factories at Salem and the North Piedmont Railroad.  Stoneman’s two-pronged advance landed a telling blow upon the already staggered Confederacy. The map below depicts, generally, the routes taken

StonemanApr10_13

Yes… very complex with all sorts of blue arrows… and I’ve simplified this somewhat without showing the return routes used by the various columns. Let me break down each of the “prongs” in order.

StonemanApr10_13_A

Palmer’s column reached Salem on the afternoon of April 10.  That evening, Palmer issued marching orders.  Colonel Charles Betts, commanding the 15th Pennsylvania, would send detachments to strike the railroad at Reedy Fork Creek, north of Greensboro, and Jamestown, to the south, in addition to threatening Greensboro itself.  The 10th Michigan Cavalry, led by Colonel Luther Trowbridge, sent detachments to High Point and the bridge over Abbott’s Creek, near Lexington.  Before midnight, the troopers were starting out on their assignments.

Moving quickly to Kernersville, Betts sent off a detachment from that point towards Jamestown.  Arriving early on April 11th, that force set fire to the Deep River bridge outside Jamestown, burned the railroad depot, ransacked several railroad cars, burned a woolen mill, and destroyed a small arms factory.  Betts, with the main body of the 15th Pennsylvania overran a battalion of the 3rd South Carolina Cavalry near Friendship (Betts would later receive the Medal of Honor for leading the action).  Past that point, Betts sent a squad to destroy the bridge over Buffalo Creek, just north of Greensboro, and cut the telegraph lines.  Another detachment of the 15th Pennsylvania arrived at the railroad bridge over Reedy Creek around mid-morning.  They almost captured a rail-train, but did capture a wagon train.  All this accomplished, the 15th Pennsylvania had broken the line in three places.  Later it was learned that President Jefferson Davis had passed over those bridges a few hours before the raiders arrived, offering a “near miss” of the sort to spice up veterans reunions.

Trowbridge dispatched one battalion of the 10th Michigan to High Point.  Arriving there at breakfast on the 11th, that detail destroyed track, a telegraph station, supplies and cotton.  The other two battalions approached the railroad bridge over Abbott’s Creek.  Though the raiders managed to destroy the bridge, they stirred up a hornet’s nest in the form of a cavalry brigade under Brigadier-General Samuel Ferguson marching from Georgia.  Trowbridge conducted a masterful retirement by alternate squadrons.  But greatly outnumbered, Trowbridge was hard pressed and sent word back to Palmer at Salem.  This prompted Palmer to hurry the recall of Betts in case Ferguson continued the pursuit.  Able to disengaged, Trowbridge arrived at Salem that afternoon, having succeeded in dropping one bridge and drawing forces away from the main effort against Salisbury.

In Salem, Palmer destroyed Confederate property but left most of the mills and other facilities intact.  After the return of his far ranging detachments, Palmer left the town early in the evening of April 11th.  Behind them, the railroad from Danville to Lexington had four destroyed bridges. Stoneman would later laud Palmer’s work, “This duty was performed with considerable fighting, the capture of 400 prisoners, and to my entire satisfaction.”   Palmer moved off to rejoin the main force at Salisbury.

StonemanApr10_13_B

While Palmer’s brigade struck along the rail lines, Stoneman marched the main body through Bethania, across Shallow Ford, to Mocksville on a rapid overnight march . The Federals captured a guard at Shallow Ford near dawn on the 11th and brushed aside home guard at Mocksville later that day. Pausing for a few hours, Stoneman searched for crossing points of the South Yadkin River.  He found only Halle Ford suitable to his needs.  Over that barrier, the raiders continued the advance in the early morning hours of April 12, as recorded by Brigadier-General Alvan Gillem:

One-quarter of a mile south of the [South Yadkin], the road forked, both branches leading to Salisbury. The west road was chosen for the main column as being in better condition. One battalion of the Twelfth Kentucky Cavalry was sent by the eastern or old road, with orders to make a determined demonstration of crossing Grant’s Creek two miles from Salisbury, and if successful to attack the forces defending the upper bridge in rear.

At sunrise, the Federals reached Grant’s Creek.  After driving back Confederate pickets, Stoneman’s men attacked the main Confederate defenses of Salisbury.

Brigadier-General Bradley T. Johnson commanded about 5,000 Confederates defending Salisbury.  The force consisted of a varied force of prison guards, home guards, and reserve units, and detachments from the Army of Tennessee.  Among those in Johnson’s force was Lieutenant-Colonel John C. Pemberson, formerly Lieutenant-General and defender of Vicksburg.   The most significant portion of Johnson’s force were twelve 12-pdr Napoleon guns in four batteries. Three were Army of Tennessee veterans – Captain Van Den Corput’s Cherokee Artillery, Captain Rene Beauregard’s South Carolina Battery, Captain Lucius G. Marshall’s Tennessee Battery – all part of Major John Johnston’s battalion.  Complementing this was a battery maned, reportedly, by “Galvanized Yankees.”  Six other artillery pieces, manned by reserves, were on the lines elsewhere around Salisbury.  However, inexperienced infantry cancelled any advantage Johnson might have held with artillery firepower.

Federal scouts found “the flooring had been removed from two spans of the bridge and piled on the enemy side” of Grant’s Creek.” This, coupled with the steep banks and artillery placement, precluded a direct assault.  Instead, Stonemen ordered a demonstration to the Confederate front while flanking the line to the west. At least four separate detachments would precede Colonel John Miller’s brigade.  Gillem recounted the assault:

So soon as the parties sent across [Grant’s Creek] became engaged and the rattling fire of the Eleventh Kentucky Cavalry Spencer rifles announced that the enemy’s left had been turned I ordered Colonel Miller to advance on the main road.  The flooring of the bridge was found to have been taken up, but was laid by a detachment of the Eighth and Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry, and Miller’s brigade charged across.  The enemy by this time was falling back along their entire line.

Gillem’s brief account does not mention the stand of Marshall’s battery, nearly two hours, covering the railroad bridge (Western North Carolina Railroad) over Grant’s Creek.  Thus the attack at Salisbury was a bit more than a skirmish, and far more involved than Gillem recalled. However, once forcing their way through the Confederate left flank, the Federals drove and scattered the defenders.   By noon, Stoneman and his troopers held Salisbury.

Stoneman then attempted a “clean sweep” and dispatched a force to destroy the railroad bridge over the Yadkin River, northeast of Salisbury.  However a scratch force commanded by Brigadier-General Zebulon York occupied a well sited fort on the far bank of the river.  From that position, York’s artillery was able to keep the Federals from gaining the bridge. The Home Guard, militia, and “Galvanized Yankees” were able to hold position throughout the afternoon.  York thus denied Stoneman one last prize on April 12th.

In Salisbury, Stoneman inventoried the spoils.  For the remainder of the afternoon and into the 13th, the raiders rounded up supplies, materials, and prisoners.  They also destroyed facilities and railroad lines.  The skies around Salisbury were filled with smoke.  Shells in the burning magazines sounded throughout the day and into the night.  Gillem later tallied:

10,000 stand of arms, 1,000,000 rounds of ammunition (small), 10,000 rounds of ammunition (artillery), 6,000 pounds of powder, 3 magazines, 6 depots, 10,000 bushels corn, 75,000 suits of uniform clothing, 250,000 blankets (English manufacture), 20,000 pounds of leather, 6,000 pounds of bacon, 100,000 pounds of salt, 20,000 pounds of sugar, 27,000 pounds of rice, 10,000 pounds of saltpeter, 50,000 bushels of wheat, 80 barrels turpentine, $15,000,000 Confederate money, a lot of medical stores, which the medical director said were worth over $100,000 in gold.

In addition, the raiders captured “18 pieces of artillery with caissons, forges, and battery wagons complete, 17 stand of colors, and between 1,200 and 1,300 prisoners and the possession of the town….”  Stoneman would leave with eleven of the artillery pieces, destroying the rest for lack of teams to draw them.  However, what was missing among the inventory of spoils were any freed Federal prisoners.  Most of the POWs held at Salisbury were shipped to Wilmington in March, as part of the exchange program.  Thus Stoneman was denied another laurel.

Stoneman remained in Salisbury until 3 p.m. on the 13th.  By April 15, the column reached Lenoir.  There Stoneman waited a day to form a column to send the prisoners to Tennessee.  Stoneman himself would proceed with the column.  But Gillem and his division would remain in North Carolina to continue working against the Confederates.  Thus “Stoneman’s Raid” did not end at Salisbury and the raiders would have more operations worthy of note as April turned to May.  Not the least of which was the pursuit of President Jefferson Davis.

However, the main objectives of the raid were accomplished between April 7 and 13.  Some have relegated Stoneman’s raid as an effort just too late to have an impact.  Personally, I look back at what was “Lee’s Confederacy” and then “Johnston’s Confederacy.”  After Salisbury, Johnston’s reach was most significantly impaired.  His corner looked something like this:

Johnstons_ConfederacyApr14_1865

Again, not saying that the Confederates didn’t occupy Charlotte, North Carolina or Bristol, Tennessee or other points.  Nor to say the Confederacy west of the Appalachians had collapsed.  But what I am saying is that in the sense of the Confederacy’s government, the only force it might wield with any authority was that within Johnston’s range of command.  And, given Stoneman’s work on the railroads and Sherman’s advance to Raleigh, on April 14, 1865, the forces that Johnston could positively command, via rail and telegraph, were diminished to but a small section of north-central North Carolina.  We might debate where to place some of those “reach” boundaries.  But all, I trust, would acknowledge that “Dixie” was driven down as Stoneman made his way out of Salisbury.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 49, Part I, Serial 103, pages 324 and 335-6.)

 

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April 14, 1865: The war turns full circle as “the same dear flag” is raised over Fort Sumter

By all contemporary accounts, April 14, 1865 was a momentous day at Fort Sumter.  For weeks, Federal authorities planned a ceremony at the fort, timed to the fourth anniversary of the surrender which started the Civil War.  Dignitaries, reporters, sketch artists, and photographers gathered for the much anticipated moment.  And, thanks to the latter, we have a wealth of photographs dated to April 1865 from the Charleston area.

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As I draft this post, the Library of Congress’ website is throwing some odd errors with thumbnails.  Otherwise I’d fill this post with images taken on, or about, April 14, 1865 at Charleston.

One of those photographs, taken at Fort Strong, a.k.a. Battery Wagner, captured members of the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery going through inspection.

Wagner3b

On Morris Island, members of the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery prepared to play a role in the ceremonies.  Having served through the long siege of Fort Sumter and Charleston, the 3rd was aptly tasked to provide details of honor guards and, most prominently, manned the guns to fire ceremonial salutes.

The 3rd Rhode Island regimental history recorded the day’s events:

April 14. At the hour named the army, the navy, the national authorities of Washington, dignitaries of every civil and professional rank, and eminent strangers – a multitude of notables – by war-ships, transports, and boats, landed on the war-swept walls.  Full 3,000 persons, men and women, crowded on the ruin.  And now commenced the services: –

I. Prayer by Rev. Matthias Harris, Chaplain United States Army, who offered the prayer at the raising of the flag when Major Anderson removed his command from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, Dec. 27, 1860.

II. Reading the Scriptures by Rev. R. S. Storrs, Jr., D.D., and the audience alternately, from sheets prepared at The New South office, and distributed for use. The selected portions were [Palms 126, 47, 98, and part of 20]; closing with a doxology. A profound impression was made by this reading, following the Chaplain’s prayer, that recalled the past.

III. Reading of Major Anderson’s dispatch to the Government, dated Steamship Baltic, off Sandy Hook, April 18, 1861, announcing the fall of Fort Sumter. The reading was by Brevet Brig.-Gen. E. D. Townsend, Assistant Adjutant General, United States Army.

IV. At the full hour of noon – all things in readiness – the battlements thronged with excited beholders – Major Anderson again lifted to its lawful place on the walls and to the breath of heaven, the same dear flag that floated during the assault of 1861.  Who can describe the scene? Who can utter the deep feelings that choked the bravest men and wet the eyes of all the thousands present.

Fort Sumter 4 Aug 11 1556

V. And now came the eloquence of artillery. Rhode Island opened the ponderous lips and spoke the thundering notes. Lieut. J.E. Burroughs and his men (Company B), pronounced the “one hundred” with the guns of Sumter. Capt. J.M. Barker and his command, Company D, answered with the national salute from Morris Island. Lieut. C.H. Williams and his men, Company B, responded from Sullivan’s Island.  And the air-reading chorus came in from the guns of Fort Johnston. Meanwhile, what cheers and tears, what joys and shouts, what waving of flags, hats, and handkerchiefs. Memorable hour!  Exultantly did our veterans emphasize it, and count it an honor to handle the captured heavy guns in avenging the flag of the free and the brave.

We need not ask how this music sounded to the Charlestonians. Where now was historic disgrace and shame?

VI. The band – the joyous band – struck and played as never before, while the host of army, navy, and citizens present, joined in singing The Star Spangled Banner.

“O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light” –

…. …. ….

Like a billow of inspiring sound rolled the chorus: –

“And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.”

Such a rapturous hour was worth fighting for. How the hearts of all soldiers, and of the loyal millions in our land, beat with a thankful unutterable joy that our flag’s humiliation was now canceled.

Aloft, behold their banner rose!

Fit the ensign for the land we prize;

A flag the breezes fond, caress,

The flag that freemen ever bless,

And stars of heaven delight to kiss;

Henceforth in spotless fame to wave,

The pledge of freedom to the slave,

The standard of the free and brave.

A history, Dear Flag, is thine,

Sung on the mountain and the sea;

Thy folds, like heaven’s pure stars, shall shine

Till earth is lit with Liberty.

VII. Now followed the eloquent, patriotic, inimitable address by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher; the vast multitude hanging on his lips, and well-nigh the fort itself, rocking to the greatness of his thoughts and the grandeur of the occasion.

VIII. The whole host, led by the band, in the grand tune of Old Hundred, then lifted up to the heaven the doxology: –

“Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.”

IX. The closing prayer of thanksgiving and the benediction were by Rev. R. S. Storrs, Jr., D.D.

Poets have been moved to sing of sieges. We wonder if, in the bright years to come, a poet will not arise to celebrate in melodious phrase, the scenes of Sumter and the siege of Charleston.

At least to my knowledge, no poet has done so.  And the reason was not to any failing of the moment.

The ceremony was designed from the start to celebrate the grand victory over the rebellion and showcase the triumph of the Union.  This was, with all the bunting and bands, a “Mission Accomplished” moment. The scene was perfect.  And there were ample number of scribes, artists, and photographers to record the moment.  The ceremony was intended to serve notice for all – the rebellion was crushed.  This was to be the “big news” of the week.

But at 10:15 that evening, everything changed.  What happened at Fort Sumter on April 14, 1865 was eclipsed to rate only passing comment.

(Citation from Frederic Denison, Shot and Shell: The Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery Regiment in the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Providence, R.I.: Third Rhode Island Artillery Veterans Association, 1879, page 308-9.)