Author Archives: Craig Swain

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:

NCMarch_March24

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.)

Sherman’s March, March 23, 1865: Sherman shuffles his command; Johnston throws in the towel

Over March 23-24, 1865, Major-General William T. Sherman ordered movements to close the Carolinas leg of the Great March.  I’m mixing definitions there a bit, as “Great March” was somewhat a post-war term applied by the veterans as they recalled the roads from Atlanta to Washington, D.C.  On the other hand, at the time, operationally speaking, Sherman saw the march through South Carolina up to Goldsboro as the first phase in a larger movement to reach the trenches outside Petersburg.  We often forget, as we know how the movie ends, the high-level objectives in mind as the month of March closed.  Sherman was not so much concerned about crushing General Joseph E. Johnston at Bentonville, but rather keeping that force out of his way for the next march north to Virginia.

First priority for Sherman was to refit those four hard-marching corps which had tracked up from Savannah to Goldsboro.  To accomplish this, he planned to have the Left and Right Wings camp around Goldsboro where they would draw supplies off the railroads – both to Wilmington and New Bern, when both were repaired.  The Cavalry Division would camp near Mount Olive where forage appeared to be plentiful.  The Twenty-third Corps would move back to Kinston where it would be responsible for guarding the railroad line back to Morehead City.  And the Tenth Corps (Major-General Alfred Terry) would camp around Faison’s Depot to cover the railroad to Wilmington.  That general disposition of the force, now constituting three wings with Major-General John Schofield taking the “Center Wing,” would be in effect for several weeks through the middle of April.

NCMarch_March23

The Fourteenth Corps crossed the Neuse the day before, being the lead of the Left Wing.  The Twentieth Corps took a little more time to move up.  One delay was the movement of the Fifteenth Corps across their line of march.  Though there were two pontoon bridges at Cox’s Bridge, the passage of three corps (plus the trail of the Tenth Corps) meant a lot of feet had to compete for time on the roads.

The Right Wing departed the works at Bentonville with the Fifteenth Corps in the lead.  Major-General William B. Hazen’s division crossed the Twentieth Corps’ line of march, but the remainder of the Right Wing waited for the Left Wing formations to pass. By the end of the day, the Right Wing camped around Falling Creek Post-office.  Well in advance, empty wagons of the Right Wing closed the depots south of Kinston to retrieve much desired supplies. Lieutenant-Colonel Ephraim Joel, Seventeenth Corps quartermaster, reported:

The road I came on is very good, and I will send the train back on the same road loaded with five days’ rations for the corps, and one-quarter of clothing at this point, which amounts to 600 hats, 3,000 blouses, 3,000 pants, 600 cavalry pants, 7,500 shirts, 3,000 drawers, 9,300 shoes, 1,800 boots, 4,500 stockings, and a few other articles of no consequence. The above is hardly enough for one division, but Colonel Conklin assures me I can get all the stores I want, consequently I will remain here until I do receive them. The railroad bridge is not finished across the river at this point. Stores will be slow in coming to the front. You will please order all the wagons to be emptied and sent at once to this point. I will see they are loaded with something. I will have all the wagons here loaded before I go to bed to-night, to be ready to start at daylight to-morrow morning. I have just heard that a large mail will be here some time during the night. I will retain wagons and send it as soon as I can.

For the soldiers on the march, good news was shoes and mail were soon to arrive.  But until the railroad was repaired, moving those supplies depended upon the wagon trains.

While the Right and Left Wings moved, Terry advanced the remainder of the Tenth Corps across the Neuse and into position to cover the crossing.  Around mid-morning, Terry sent a warning about Confederate cavalry which had crossed about two miles above Cox’s Bridge.  Though a small force, and with plenty of Federal troops on the roads, Terry was concerned, “these people may get around them and do some mischief.” Howard sent word to hold movements that afternoon while the Confederates were located.  The cavalry in question were likely from Brigadier-General Evander Law’s command who’d been posted along the River Road on the left bank of the Neuse.  From these patrols, Lieutenant-General Wade Hampton could report accurately the movement of the Federal forces.

In somewhat contrast to the work done by Confederate cavalrymen, Terry would inquire “Can you tell me where General Kilpatrick is?”  After covering the withdraw of the Right Wing, Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s force made for Mount Olive as ordered.  Though we might fault Kilpatrick for being out of position – again.  But the fault was just as much Sherman’s for directing the cavalry out of the way in the first place.  At any rate, the Right Wing’s “organic” cavalry, consisting of mounted infantry regiments, were employed to screen movements.

General Johnston remained near Smithfield on March 23rd.  He also faced a logistic problem that took precedence over continued movement for his command.  Returns for his patchwork concentration (sometimes identified as the “Department of the South” or “Armies of the South”) indicated some 13,363 men, effective total. Those included the Army of Tennessee (Lieutenant-General A.P. Stewart), Lieutenant-General William Hardee’s Corps, and Department of North Carolina Troops (General Braxton Bragg).

Johnston first needed to draw upon the depots further up the railroad lines to resupply his force.  General P.G.T. Beauregard, Johnston’s second in command, was resourceful, but lacked resources.  Beauregard acquired some 30 wagons from the state to aid movement.  But the pressing matter was prioritization of the railroad assets.  Johnston’s back was now up against the depots which supplied General Robert E. Lee’s army in Virginia.  Any disruption of the railroads would be felt on the lines outside Petersburg.  Sort of a logistical conundrum.

At 1:30 p.m. on the 23rd, Johnston reported the outcome of the battle of Bentonville to Lee.  “Troops of Tennessee army have fully disproved slanders that have been published against them,” Johnston could boast.  But the overall reality was Johnston had failed to inflict any serious injury on Sherman. Nor could Johnston conceive a means to do such damage in the future:

Sherman’s course cannot be hindered by the small force I have.  I can do no more than annoy him.  I respectfully suggest that it is no longer a question whether you leave present position; you have only to decide where to meet Sherman. I will be near him.

To this blunt assessment, Lee responded:

I am delighted at the conduct of Tennessee army.  I hope you will be able often to repeat your blow and finally shiver enemy.  Still we must meet the question.  Where, in your opinion, can we best meet Sherman?

Beyond Lee’s question was a practical one.  Could the Army of Northern Virginia shake free of the Federals around Richmond-Petersburg?  Well, on this same day, Major-General John B. Gordon recommended a surprise attack on Federal lines at a point called Fort Stedman.  Lee would approve this plan.  I don’t think that was just coincidence.  You see, by this time in the war EVERYTHING was related.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, pages 973, 974, and 1454.)

Sherman’s March, March 22, 1865: Johnston withdraws and Sherman beings refitting his army

While the last charge and counter-charge of the Battle of Bentonville played out on March 21, the other two columns in Major-General William T. Sherman’s army group made march progress.

NCMarch_March21

Going with commander’s names on the map to simplify the annotations today.

Most important for Sherman’s plans, Major-General John Schofield moved forward to secure Goldsboro.  Schofield reported that afternoon, “I have the honor to report that I occupied Goldsborough this afternoon with only slight opposition.”  Schofield was ready to move to support Sherman at Bentonville, and was preparing to lay a pontoon bridge over the Neuse River, but the reason given for waiting was the need to decipher Sherman’s orders.  It seems the cipher clerk was in the rear of the advance.

One “sidebar” I should mention here in the discussion of Twenty-Third Corps’ advance on Goldsboro.  Major-General Jacob Cox’s column consisted of two divisions of the corps, plus a division formed of replacements and soldiers returning from leave.  These were all bound for the four corps moving with Sherman.  Instead of having those soldiers wait at some holding area, Cox organized them into provisional battalions.  For the advance on Goldsboro, those were grouped into a division under the command of Brigadier-General George S. Greene… yes Mr. Culp’s Hill, himself.  Greene was seriously wounded in the Battle of Wauhatchie in October 1863.  After a long recovery, Greene arrived just in time to serve as a volunteer staff officer during the fighting at Wyse Fork. Cox then put Greene in command of the provisional troops for the advance on Goldsboro.  In his journal for March 20, Cox noted, “He is an old West Point officer, having graduated in 1828 (the year I was born), and having been out of service for a long time until the beginning of the war.”  The age difference was actually larger than Cox reported, as Greene graduated with the class of 1823!  Second in his class of 35 cadets.

Major-General Alfred Terry’s two divisions, constituting the Tenth Corps, reached Cox’s Bridge on the 21st.  Sherman ordered Terry to wait for the Left Wing’s pontoon bridge and then secure a bridgehead.  Reaching Cox’s Bridge at 7 p.m., Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Moore’s pontooniers went to work.  By 11 p.m. that night, they had a bridge 260 feet in length across the Neuse.  Brigadier-General Charles Paine, commanding Third Division of Terry’s corps, crossed Second Brigade under Brigadier-General S.A. Duncan and formed the required bridgehead.

Other movements outside the battlefield on March 21 included the transit of the Right Wing’s wagon train to the east.  Sherman directed a depot be established east of the railroad and use a crossing somewhere around Jericho.  Only late in the day did the Left Wing’s trains move towards their appointed depot in the vicinity of Cox’s Bridge.

Throughout the night of March 21 and early morning hours of the 22nd, the two sides kept up artillery and skirmish line fire.  Federals noticed the intensity from the Confederate side diminishing after 2 a.m.  At daylight elements of the Fifteenth Corps pressed forward to find empty works in their front.  Colonel Robert Catterson’s brigade, the “skirmishers” of the First Division, advanced to the Mill Creek bridge:

On the morning of the 22d my skirmishers again moved forward at daylight and found the enemy’s works evacuated.  Two companies of the Twenty-sixth Illinois, supported by the remainder of the regiment, were moved forward as skirmishers on the road leading to Bentonville, and reached the bridge across Mill Creek, near that place, in time to extinguish the flames (the enemy having fired it), and in a very few moments after the enemy’s rear guard had crossed.  I immediately crossed with my brigade, and skirmishing again commenced, we driving our opponents in wild confusion beyond Hannah’s Creek.  The bridge over this stream was also on fire, and was saved only by the fearless daring of my men, who rushed forward and extinguished the flames.  At this point I received orders to recross Mill Creek and take a position covering the bridge.

Catterson’s pursuit, against Confederate cavalry as a rear guard, was the last action in the battle of Bentonville.  Sherman was content to let General Joseph E. Johnston to retire.  Sherman’s chief concern, as it was during the previous days, was refitting the army for the next appointed movement to Virginia.

NCMarch_March22

Toward that end, Sherman ordered the Left Wing to retire from the field towards Cox’s Bridge.  Though a short eleven mile march across ground controlled by the Federals, this was no easy task.  Major-General Jefferson C. Davis wrote,

Owing to the exceedingly miry ground on which the troops were encamped, rendered impassable to artillery and wagons by the recent rains, the trains and artillery were slow in getting into the road, and Cox’s Bridge was only reached by the rear of the column by night….

Major-General Alpheus S. Williams made less progress with the Twentieth Corps and camped south of Falling Creek that evening.

That afternoon, the 1st Missouri Engineers set a pontoon bridge across the Neuse opposite Goldsboro near the railroad bridge.  At dusk on the 22nd, Shermans’ logistical woes were being resolved.  Sherman had two bridges over the Neuse (three if one counts the bridge at Kinston). He had Goldsboro.  A railroad ran from outside Kinston to Morehead City.  Another railroad from Faison to Wilmington was being repaired.  All manner of supplies were waiting at the depots for issue to the long marching troops of the Army of the Tennessee (Right Wing) and the Army of Georgia (Left Wing).  Sherman now promised some rest for those weary troops.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 259, 436, and 934; Part II, Serial 99, page 942.)