Sherman’s March, May 14-17, 1865: Passing through old battlefields and crossing the Rappahannock

The last important river barrier for the armies of Major-General William T. Sherman in their march to Alexandria, Virgina was the Rappahannock River.  To gain crossing, the armies would cross through Spotsylvania and Stafford Counties, with one column traversing Orange and Culpeper Counties.  That area of Virginia was the stage for so much of the war in the east, with numerous battles fought.  For some members of Sherman’s command, this was a return to fields contested just a couple years earlier.  For most, however, this was a chance for the “Westerners” to see where the “Easterners” had fought.

The four corps fanned out in their march north, each taking a separate line for the most part:


The Right Wing used the direct route to Fredericksburg.  The Fifteenth Corps remained east of the Richmond & Potomac Railroad, generally using the Stage Road (the officers in Sherman’s command referred to this as the “Fredericksburg Road”).  Meanwhile, the Seventeenth Corps marched on the west side using the Telegraph Road.  Major-General Mortimer Leggett was in temporary command of the Seventeenth Corps, with Major-General Frank Blair at the time in Washington. Of these administrative marches, the commanders filed mundane reports of movement.  Typical was that of Major-General William B. Hazen, commanding Second Division, Fifteenth Corps, for May 16, 1865:

I have the honor to report that this division broke camp at 7 a.m., moving in the center of the column, the First Division being in advance and the Fourth Division in the rear, and went into camp about five miles from Fredericksburg at 4:30 p.m., having made a distance of twenty-two miles.

Yes, somewhat more distance than Sherman had preferred.  But the march was made over terrain familiar to military movements and where roads were well prepared.  While Hazen camped outside Fredericksburg that evening, Major-General Charles Woods’ First Division held a camp on the north bank of the Rappahannock River.   I believe the camp location used by Woods’ men was in proximity to the “Slaughter Pen” of the December 1862 battlefield.  But the records I have defy exact positioning.

The following day, Major-General John Logan officially assumed command of the Right Wing.  The Fifteenth and Seventeenth Corps crossed the Rappahannock using a pontoon bridge left by the Army of the Potomac at Franklin’s Crossing… yet another place name harkening back three years.  But only wagon traffic delayed the progress of the men as the Army of the Tennessee bounded the Rappahannock with relative ease, compared to crossings by Federal forces earlier in the war.

The Left Wing had a wider line of march.  To avoid congesting the roads through the Wilderness, the Fourteenth Corps took a route through Orange County to Raccoon Ford and thence into Culpeper County.  This route took the Fourteenth Corps, under Major-General Jefferson C. Davis, through one of the most heavily contested areas of the Civil War.  But the soldiers were not sight-seeing.  For them, a camp outside Stevensburg on May 15 was just one of over a hundred camps they made during the long war.   But it was the last made during the war in Culpeper County…  which had also seen hundreds of such camps.

The following morning, the troops marched north to Kelly’s Ford to cross the Rappahannock.  Again, lost on the soldiers on the march was the significance of that point on the map.  Armies had fought over and crossed that ford repeatedly over the four previous years.  The Fourteenth Corps was the last military command to splash through.  Just another river crossing for the soldiers, but a significant mark in the passing of the war.  The corps continued its march through places named Bristoe Station, Manassas Junction, Centreville, and Fairfax Court-house.  All of which were simply waymarks of the march home for these men.

Either by design or by serendipity, the men of the Twentieth Corps – formerly the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps – marched through Spotsylvania.  Major-General Alpheus Williams, commanding First Division, Twentieth Corps, recorded the progress:

May 14, the division having the advance marched, the same hour as yesterday, crossed the North Anna on pontoon bridge, and took a circuitous route toward Spotsylvania Court-House.  The Mat, Ta, and Po, and several other smaller creeks were crossed during the day’s march; encamped south of Spotsylvania Court-House after a march of sixteen miles.  Many officers and men embraced the opportunity to visit the famous battle-fields in this vicinity.

Yes, the Twentieth Corps’ men had reason, by connection, to be sight-seeing.  The next day’s march traversed Chancellorsville. Williams, who’d commanded a division of Twelfth Corps during the fighting there in May 1863, noted more “sight-seeing.”

May 15, the division moved out at 5 a.m. toward Chancellorsville.  The route was a portion of the section known as the Wilderness.  At Chancellorsville the division was halted for three hours upon the battle-ground to enable the officers and men of the division to visit the scenes of that memorable contest in which most of the regiments took part.  The division encamped for the night at United States Ford; marched fifteen miles.

Sherman himself traveled over to visit the Twentieth Corps that day, with Major-General Henry Slocum providing some orientation.

The next day, the Twentieth Corps crossed the Rappahannock at United States Ford… in different circumstances from the last time those men had crossed at that point.  The remainder of the march toward Alexandria took the Twentieth Corps through places such as Hartwood Church, Brentsville, and Fairfax Station. In more ways than one, the Twentieth Corps was going home.

On May 19 the Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia reached their designated camps outside Alexandria.  There, near the banks of the Potomac, the Great March which had started in Atlanta came to its last pause.  The last short march required of these soldiers was a Grand Review in the nation’s capital – a formal closure to the march… and the war.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 605; Part III, Serial 100, page 509.)

Sherman’s March, May 10-13, 1865: The Bummers march through Richmond

Just as my blogging pace has eased as the Civil War Sesquicentennial winds down, Major-General William T. Sherman’s troops moved at a relaxed pace as they proceeded towards Washington, D.C. in the month of May 1865.  Imagine, if you will,  being a soldier in the ranks.  These were warm days and the marches were still very much physical exertions.  At the same time, there must have been a great sense of anticipation just to have the journey end.  Perhaps somewhat like present-day soldiers returning from deployment… though for the present, that anticipation is spent in airport terminals and processing stations.  For the men of Sherman’s armies, every footstep on the road was that much closer to Washington, a big parade, and muster out.

On May 10, 1865, the Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia were camped around Manchester, Virginia.  The force spent several days resupplying in preparation for the last leg of the march, which would move through Richmond, over the Rappahannock River, and thence into camps near Alexandria.  The quartermaster supplied forage, ten days’ full rations, and “400 head of fine beef-cattle for each corps, or about eight days’ rations of fresh beef.” Plenty of protein for those marching.

Special Field Orders No. 69, issued on May 10, placed the Left Wing, under Major-General Henry Slocum, in the lead, crossing over the James on pontoon bridges to Hanover Court-house.  Major-General Oliver O. Howard’s Right Wing would “follow at leisure.”  Sherman himself would accompany the Left Wing through Richmond.  He further specified that “The troops must be marched slowly, not to exceed fifteen miles a day, unless specially ordered by a corps commander.”  Additional orders specified that any sick or lame solders would get a boat ride to Alexandria.

While waiting for the movement, soldier were allowed, on official business, to visit Richmond:

In consideration of the necessity of procuring clothing, mess supplies, &c., for officers, the complete prohibition to enter Richmond by officers and men of this army is removed. Officers and soldiers with their side arms on, and with a pass for each, approved by direction of the corps commander, may visit the city between sunrise and sunset until further orders.

With respect to “sightseeing” in Richmond, Sherman’s troops received allowances not too dissimilar to those afforded the Army of the Potomac a few days earlier.  Speaking of which, another reason for the delay moving Sherman’s force was the wait for Major-General Philip Sheridan’s cavlary to cross the same pontoons.  Around Richmond was a concentration of Federal troops of the likes never seen before.  Yet… it being an administrative movement, we don’t get the sense of the grandness of the passing.

Let me again pull from the Official Atlas to demonstrate the movements of Sherman’s command.  And in this case, I’ll use the “color” version:


The key here is – Fourteenth Corps in green; Twentieth Corps in purple; Seventeenth Corps in red; and Fifteenth Corps in orange.

The Left Wing (Army of Georgia) moved out of Manchester at 7 a.m. on May 11.  In the lead was Fourteenth Corps.  The Twentieth Corps followed at 10 a.m. that morning.  Commanding First Division of that corps, Major-General Alpheus S. Williams recorded:

May 11, the corps marched at 10 a.m. toward Richmond, this division leading. In the village of Manchester the command was received with military honors by General Devens’ division, of the Twenty-fourth Corps, drawn up in line. Crossed over the pontoon bridge at 12 m. and marched through the city in column, with colors displayed and bands playing. The line of march passed the Libby Prison, Castle Thunder, the State capitol, and through the principle streets. The division encamped in a heavy thunder-storm near Brook Creek on the Hanover pike; marched ten miles.

Both corps (and those of the Right Wing to follow) used the same road immediately north of Richmond to reach Hanover Court-house.  Beyond there, the Fourteenth and Twentieth Corps split up to use separate routes.  To cross the Pamunkey River, the Fourteenth Corps brought up the Left Wing’s pontoon bridge on the night of May 11.  The rains mentioned by Williams brought cooler temperatures, but also left the roads muddy.  Although not too terribly difficult, compared to some of those roads of the Carolinas traversed only a few months before.

The Seventeenth Corps passed through Richmond on May 12 without incident, following the path taken by the Left Wing the day before.  That left the road clear for the Fifteenth Corps to march out of Manchester and through Richmond on May 13.  Sherman’s bummers thus crossed the James River and marched past Richmond.  The Right Wing initially followed the route used by the Fourteenth Corps until across the Pamunkey.  North of that river, the corps used separate lines of march towards Fredericksburg.

While this movement transpired, a command change took place. Under special instructions, Howard visited Washington while the armies were camped around Manchester.  On May 12, news of Howard’s next assignment came down – “assigned to duty in the War Department as commissioner of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands.”  In Howard’s place, Major-General John Logan assumed command of the Army of the Tennessee.  Logan had gone from being a volunteer with a musket at First Manassas to commanding a victorious corps marching north in just under four years.

The march of Sherman’s troops through the middle of May traversed many of the battlefields contested by the Eastern Armies during the previous three years.  For some, particularly those of the Twentieth Corps, this was a return to troublesome fields.  For those who’d fought in the west, they had an opportunity to visit some places only read about in the newspapers.  So some sight-seeing was in order.  Among those early “battlefield stompers” was Sherman himself.  As he wrote to Logan on May 12, “I feel anxious to see the ground about Spotsylvania Court-House and Chancellorsville….”

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 605; Part II, Serial 100, pages 455, 456, and 477. )

Sherman’s March, April 13, 1865: Federals enter Raleigh; Johnston urges negotiations

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. )

Sherman’s March, April 11, 1865: “I will push Joe Johnston to the death”; Sherman advances on Smithfield

In the second week of April, 1865, for the third time in seven months Major-General William T. Sherman started his army group out of camp into a marching campaign.  The movement out from the Goldsboro, North Carolina area differed somewhat from that of the movements out of Atlanta and Savannah.  This time, instead of aiming for a point on the map, the soldiers were marching directly against a Confederate foe.  The aim of the next leg of Sherman’s March was General Joseph E. Johnston’s force… the last major Confederate field formation east of Alabama.

The order of movement evolved somewhat between April 5 and the time of execution.  When Special Field Orders No. 48 was issued on April 5, few details of the victory at Petersburg and the fall of Richmond were in Sherman’s hands.  So the objective of movement at that time was described as “to place this army with its full equipment north of Roanoke River, facing west, with a base for supplies at Norfolk, and at Winton or Murfreesborough on the Chorwan, and in full communication with the Army of the Potomac….”  The scheme of maneuver had the armies advancing to skirt around Raleigh and march almost due north to concentrate around Warrenton, North Carolina.


This arrangement was overtaken by the news from Virginia.

On April 7, Sherman refined the orders.  Instead of a general northward movement, the army wings would focus on Smithfield as the initial march objective, then Raleigh. The movement would be typical of those made by Sherman during the marches, and arranged to allow supporting columns to flank any opposition encountered:

The Left Wing, of Major-General Henry Slocum, had the center of the advance, and would march up the roads on the left bank of the Neuse River. Sherman asked Major-General Oliver O. Howard’s Right Wing to move initially to Pikeville, then sweep west to support the Left Wing in front of Smithfield. The Center Wing, under Major-General John Schofield, would advance on the right bank of the Neuse River, through the old Bentonville battlefield, in position to make a flanking movement at Smithfield, if necessary.  Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s Cavarly Division was to move on the left of Schofield, but reach out to the railroad behind Smithfield.  To Kilpatrick, Sherman added, “… you may act boldly and even rashly now, for this is the time to strike quick and strong.”

Above all, Sherman felt the need, as expressed to Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant on April 8, to keep the pressure on Johnston’s Confederates, knowing his superior was doing the same to Lee’s army:

I will follow Johnston, presuming that you are after Lee, or all that you have left to him, and if they come together we will also.  I think I will be at Raleigh on Thursday, the 13th, and shall pursue Johnston toward Greensborough unless it be manifest that he has gone toward Danville.  I shall encourage him to come to bay on or to move toward Danville, as I don’t want to race all the way back through South Carolina and Georgia.  It is to our interest to let Lee and Johnston come together, just as a billiard layer would nurse the balls when he has them in a nice place.

On the same day, in a message to Major-General Montgomery Meigs, Sherman added, “I will push Joe Johnston to the death.” Of course, Sherman’s assessment was again overtaken by events the next day.  But his objective, Johnston’s army, remained the same regardless of events on April 9 in Virginia.

Preliminary movements began on April 10, as depicted on the map below:


The main effort of the first leg of this movement lay with the Left Wing.  All others oriented off Slocum’s advance on Smithfield.  Slocum placed the Twentieth Corps,by then commanded by Major-General Joseph Mower, with Major-General Alpheus S. Williams returning to command First Division in that corps, on the River Road.  The Fourteenth Corps advanced on a road near the North Carolina Railroad.

Mower met some opposition on the 10th at Moccasin Swamp.  Major-General Jefferson C. Davis’ Fourteenth Corps briefly fought with Confederate cavalry near Boon Hill. Major-General James Morgan’s Division (Second Division, Fourteenth Corps) lost two killed and five wounded.  Otherwise the advance made good time and covered between ten to fifteen miles.

Supporting the Left Wing, the 23rd Corps of the Center Wing concentrated at Goldsboro to wait for the roads to clear.  The Tenth Corps, south of the Neuse moved up to a point opposite Cox’s Bridge, on the road to Bentonville.  Kilpatrick’s cavalry reached Mill Creek that evening with no incident.

The Right Wing’s movements were much delayed on the morning of the 10th, as the Left Wing had the right of way on roads in Goldsboro.  Still the corps made good time.  The Seventeenth Corps reached Whitley’s Mill by nightfall.  The bridge over Little River there was partly destroyed by Confederates.  But, as at so many other river crossings along the march, the Federals were quick to repair the bridge.

The Fifteenth Corps reached Lowell Factory on the Little River and found a bridge there.  Major-General John Logan, under orders, had detached the 1st Division of the corps, under Major-General Charles Woods, to conduct a feint march through Nahunta Station on the Weldon Railroad.  Woods encountered Confederate cavalry just south of that point, but drove them out without much pause.  Skirmishing continued west of Nahunta but Woods again cleared the road.  By day’s end, Woods reported the Confederate force which had camped around the station numbered 1,500, but had posed no significant delay or inflicted any casualties upon the Federals.

On the Confederate side, these advances were expected but at the same time overwhelming.  Confronting such wide ranging lines of march, the Confederates could not make a meaningful stand at Smithfield.  So Johnston withdrew on the 10th.  Cavalry would contest the Federal advance, but the infantry was husbanded for a hopeful stand elsewhere.

In possession of Lowell Factory, Logan inquired as to its disposition that evening.  Howard related that inquiry to Sherman, who responded on the morning of the 11th:

You need not have the Lowell Factory destroyed.  I will wait our reception at Raleigh to shape our general policy.  You may instruct General Logan to exact bonds that the factory shall not be used for the Confederacy.  Of course the bond is not worth a cent, but if the factory owners do not abide by the conditions they cannot expect any mercy the next time.

The march for the 11th continued with the concentration around Smithfield:


Continuing with the feint on the right of the advance, Woods’ division moved toward Beulah that morning.  At the causeway over Great Swamp, the Federals met Confederate cavalry.  The Rebels attempted to burn the bridge, “and they would have succeeded had it not been for Colonel [Joseph] Gage’s command; his men, after driving the rebels off, soon cleared the bridge of the burning rails….” Woods continued to spar with the Confederates up to Beulah and beyond.  Reaching Folk’s Bridge at 11 p.m., Woods found 1,500 Confederates on the other side and the bridge destroyed.  The Confederates were uncovered by other elements of the Fifteenth Corps, but Woods was not able to cross until 4 p.m. due to the need to rebuild the bridge.

The rest of the Fifteenth Corps had another delayed march. The bridge at Lowell Factory proved to0 weak to hold up the military traffic.  So Logan ended the day with his corps astride the Little River until alternatives were found.  As for the rest of the Right Wing, the Seventeenth Corps reached Pine Level on the 11th without major incident.

The Left Wing reached Smithfield around noon on the 11th.  First elements entering the town were Third Division, Fourteenth Corps.  They fought through several barricades setup by Confederate rear guards, but were able to secure the town by mid-afternoon.  The bridges over the Neuse were destroyed, so the Federals went to work laying pontoons to facilitate the next day’s march.

For the Center Wing, the 23rd Corps stopped about eight miles short of Smithfield that evening, following the Left Wing’s advance.  The Tenth Corps faced terrible roads, but reached a point just beyond Bentonville by nightfall.

Further to the right of the advance, Kilpatrick reported camping on Middle Creek that evening.  His march was somewhat delayed by Confederate actions, though no fighting was reported.  Due to burned bridges over Black Creek, Kilpatrick made a wide advance around, nearly to Elevation, to reach a point opposite Smithfield.  “My command is not sufficiently well up, owing to the long march and bad roads, to make a successful dash on the enemy’s columns, even if I was within striking distance.”  So much for bold and rash action.

While Federal troops were entering Smithfield that day, to the west in Raleigh Johnston received word of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.  Sherman would not receive word until the next morning.  April 12 would see the continuation of military operations.  But both commanders saw the writing on the wall.  Though marching and fighting would continue, it was not at the pace seen a year, or even a month, earlier between these two armies.  There was an exit ramp somewhere beyond Raleigh that everyone wanted to take.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 249; Part III, Serial 100, pages 102, 123, 129, 165, and 171.)

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.)

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.


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.


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.)

Sherman’s March, March 19, 1865: “Major-General Slocum needs aid quick” and the Right Wing turns to Bentonville

Major-General Henry Slocum fought the most important battle of his military career at Bentonville on March 19, 1865.  Away from Slocum’s battle, Federal columns began the morning continuing the advance towards Goldsboro from several directions.  By day’s end, events at Bentonville prompted changed orders and an alternate plan for March 20th.  Allow me to approach these movements in terms of the times they occurred, so as we might consider how the situation at Bentonville altered the lines of march:


Far to the south, Major-General Alfred Terry’s column continued marching along the railroad line, reaching Naunouga Creek.  Around mid-day from Magnolia station, Terry sent notice to his lead division, under Major-General Adelbert Ames, “Artillery firing has been heard in a northwest direction from here last night and this morning.”  Terry asked Ames to push his march.  Terry himself road forward to Faison’s Depot and then sent an update to Sherman, forecasting his infantry would reach Mount Olive the next day.  Terry also mentioned railroad workshops and engines on the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad which might ease some of the supply issues.  Terry’s would not be the only column moving to the sound of the guns on the 20th.

The Fifteenth Corps moved by the Goldsboro Road that morning, and had to contend with a terrible crossing of Falling Creek. At around 11:30 the lead division, Major-General John Smith’s Third Division reached Falling Creek Church.  Major-General Oliver O. Howard, establishing the Right Wing’s headquarters at that advanced post.  What Howard assessed did not please him.  The Fifteenth Corps was badly strung out along the road.  So he ordered a halt while the column caught up.

But he was not going to keep all his arms idle.  Howard promptly dispatched the 7th Illinois Mounted Infantry, lead by his recently escaped scout Captain William Duncan, to the State Bridge (or Neuse Bridge).  Howard dispatched another mounted column under Lieutenant-Colonel William Strong toward the north to seize Cox’s Cross-Roads.   Lastly, concerned about the firing he heard to the west, Howard sent Major Thomas Osborn to inform Slocum that if assistance was needed, the Left Wing could call upon the Fifteenth Corps.  Specifically, Osborn was to release the last division in the march, that of Major-General William Hazen, if Slocum required.

These three officers accomplished mixed results. Upon Duncan’s arrival at the bridge, the Confederates fired the bridge. Osborn met Sherman while on the way to Slocum, only to have Howard’s orders countermanded.  And Strong ran into Confederate cavalry just a few miles north of the church.   To reinforce Strong, Howard first added the 10th Iowa Infantry, then the rest of Colonel Clark Wever’s brigade.  That force drove the Confederates off Cox’s Cross-Roads.  Wever setup a strong defensive position that evening.

Meanwhile to the south, the Seventeenth Corps advanced beyond the Wilmington Road, with Major-General Joseph Mower’s Division in advance.  The trains of both the Right and Left Wing continued with their escorts in the rear of the infantry that morning.  Brigadier-General William Woods (not to be confused with Major-General Charles Woods, commanding the First Division, Fifteenth Corps), reported reaching “Beaman’s Cross-Roads at 4 o’clock this morning.” Then by 7 a.m., the trains of the Fifteenth Corps were crossing the Big Cohera River, behind Seventeenth Corps.

At Kinston, Major-General John Schofield had to hold Major-General Jacob Cox for another day as rations and supplies were accumulated for the Twenty-Third Corps.

Around 2 p.m., Sherman arrived at Falling Creek Church and met with Howard.  Sherman assured Howard that Slocum only reported meeting cavalry and all was in hand.  Shortly after arriving at Falling Creek Church, Sherman wrote to Schofield, urging him to “extend the railroad as fast as possible, and I expect you to move toward Goldsborough even if it be unnecessary, as I don’t want to lose men in a direct attack when it can be avoided.”

Meanwhile, a message arrived from the Left Wing, stating Slocum “convinced that the enemy are in strong force” to his front.  Specifically, Slocum noted “Johnston, Hardee, Hoke and others present.” This and another message from Slocum caused Sherman to pause.  After explaining the positions of the Right Wing, Sherman cautioned Slocum, “If you hear firing to the front not explained by your own acts you must assault and turn the enemy, for it will not do to let him fight us separately.”

Sherman then ordered direct action, with a flurry of directives going out between 4:30 and 5 p.m.  Countermanding his earlier overruling of Howard’s orders regarding Hazen’s division.  General John Logan sent orders directly to Hazen, “Major-General Slocum needs aid quick.” Hazen commenced a night march of twenty miles to report to Slocum the next morning.

Howard sent orders to Major-General Frank Blair, Seventeenth Corps:

General Sherman has concluded to concentrate here.  Please mass your trains close where they are, and move up here with at least two divisions disencumbered…. Please start at 3 a.m. to-morrow.

With that, Blair recalled Mower and began reorganizing his column.

To Major-General John Geary, escorting that 1,000 wagon train from the Twentieth Corps, Sherman ordered, “Rush your train.  Leave one brigade and move with two others to General Slocum to-night.”  A similar order came from the Twentieth Corps commander, Major-General Alpheus Williams, informing Geary, “We have in front the whole of Johnston’s command, and have had very serious fighting all day.  Send your ambulances, putting all sick in wagons.”  Similar orders went to Major-General Absalom Baird, Third Division, Fourteenth Corps, escorting that corps’ train.

Sherman also directed, at 5 p.m., Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry to remain with Slocum, though he confided to the cavalryman, “I cannot think Johnston would fight us with the Neuse to his rear.”

To Schofield, Sherman amended his earlier notice, informing the Center Wing commander instead  “You must secure Goldsborough and fortify.”  The Twenty-Third Corps already had marching orders to start movement at 6 a.m. on the 20th.  Sherman’s plans were to have the Left and Right Wing converge at Cox’s Bridge, but that would wait until the emergency in front of Slocum was resolved.

At 8 p.m. that evening Slocum sent a report to Sherman.  That note arrived at Falling Creek Church around 2 a.m., informing Sherman, “I feel confident of holding my position, but deem it of greatest importance that the Right Wing come up during the night to my assistance.”  There was some celebration among the Federals around the church at that early morning hour.

Slocum had held.  This would allow the Right Wing to turn and confront the Confederates.  With nearly three times the numbers that General Joseph E. Johonston could muster, Sherman had the opportunity to deliver a knock-out blow.  But to do so, he had to put his plans to resupply and refit around Goldsboro on hold for a few days.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part II, Serial 99, pages 899, 903, 904, 907, 908, 909, 910, and 911.)