Fortification Friday: Abattis and Slashings, let us get a clear VIEW these OBSTACLES

Last Friday we considered Abattis (Mahan’s spelling, which I’ll honor in this discussion) and how those obstacles were placed to enhance the defense.  We also considered descriptions offered by Colonel Junius Brutus Wheeler in his 1882 edition of the West Point curriculum on field fortifications.  The material used to construct an abattis was, of course, felled trees.  But we also should considered there were many applications for felled trees beyond just abattis.  This week, let’s look at another section of Wheeler’s instruction:

Slashing. – In compliance with the principle that all houses, trees, brushwood, etc. within range of the work, which could be used as a shelter and a place of concealment by the enemy’s sharpshooters, should be removed, it is essential that the trees within six hundred yards of the work should be cut down.

So we have “slashing” as a verb here… meaning to clear the field of fire and/or field of view. But note that Wheeler does not describe the process of slashing as one designed specifically to create an obstacle.  Thus we have some semantics in play:

As it is not practical to remove immediately the trees from the spot, it is custom to cut them down so that they shall form, while laying on the ground, and obstacle which may be used in the defense of the work.

Trees cut down so as to fall in all directions, form what is known as a slashing.  It is better, where the trees are intended to be used as an obstacle, that they be cut so as to fall towards the enemy; and, in the case of the smaller trees, which might be moved by a few men, the trunks should not be cut entirely through, but only enough to allow the trees to fall.

A thick and well arranged slashing forms an excellent obstruction to an enemy’s free movements. It has the serious defect of being easily burned when dry.

Wheeler offered Figure 72 for this method:

WheelerFig72

There’s a play of words here, which I will stress.  Slashing, as a verb, was the act of felling the trees for the purpose of improving the field of fire/view from a fortification. The defender may leave those felled trees in place was to create a slashing, used as a noun, that could – stress could – be utilized as an obstacle.

For what it is worth, Mahan did not mention slashings as an obstacle.  But circle back to his discussion of an abattis.  He did offer the defender might “…fell the trees so that their branches will interlace, cutting the trunk in such a way that the tree will hang to the stump by a portion uncut.”  That sounds like, though no figures were offered to illustrate, like Wheeler’s slashing.  However, we must keep in frame Mahan’s definition of the abattis included these instructions, “The smaller branches are chopped off, and the ends, pointed and interlaced with some care, are presented towards the enemy.”  Such implies deliberate preparation of the trees, be those simply felled and left in place… or those moved to a necessary location to create an obstacle.  Wheeler’s description of slashing does not include instructions to clear off smaller branches or leave ends pointed.  And there in lay one difference between an abattis and a slashing (where used as a noun).

Another difference, as we saw above, was the intent of the work.  A commander, if he was using the book definition, would order a slashing (verb) to clear trees at an undesirable location.  He might then order the felled trees left in place, to save labor, which would create a slashing (noun), which simply leave the ground cluttered but not necessarily obstructed.  However, he might order the felled trees arranged to obstruct enemy movements, which Wheeler still called a slashing (noun).  And the commander might order more work to transform those felled trees into what Mahan considered a form of abattis.  You see, by the book the words were used for specific intents.

Oh, but that only applies where the commander knew what the words meant and actually used the words in accordance with the teachings.  How often does that happen?  Well, for the Civil War, perhaps often enough.  First, consider a quote from Major-General John Peck, describing work to be done at Washington, North Carolina, in August 1863 (emphasis mine):

At Washington I examined the old and new lines, both of which are well arranged. The second or interior line has many advantages over the exterior, especially in its command and the requiring of a lesser force for its defense. Some guns should be added, and some slashing done for the better protection of the artillerists against riflemen.

Peck used slashing as a verb here specifically to indicate he recommended moving the tree line back in order to afford a better field of view.  Later, in March 1864, Peck used slashing as a noun when describing works at another point in North Carolina (again, my emphasis here):

The slashing between Fort Jack and the river adds materially to your strength by enabling your flank works to cover that side of the river.

There is no mention of how that slashing might obstruct the Confederates.  The importance of the referenced slashing was to allow the defenders to see the ground and fire upon it.

Later in the war, we see more references to field works and thus slashing (be that as a noun or verb) comes into play more often.  One might say that 1864 was a “golden age” for slashing.  Major-General Quincy Gillmore reported, during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, on May 21, 1864:

As the woods are now being cut in the ravine on my right, I would recommend not to build the parapet for the 30-pounders until we ascertain the best position for it. The slashing may open out our view considerably.

Slashing, as a noun, to describe an area of felled trees which would be done specifically to clear the view… and allow 30-pdr Parrotts to do what they do so well.  So understanding the difference between a slashing and an abattis provides us some insight into the commander’s intent.

But we find other references where slashings was done with a mind to obstruct. Maybe not the primary purpose, but at least with some intent to obstruct.  Colonel Ario Pardee, in the later stages of the Atlanta Campaign, reported the activity of the 147th Pennsylvania:

Each regiment this day and the days following until the 2d of September were engaged in fortifying their positions and slashing the timber in their front, so as to make the position held by the troops as nearly inaccessible as possible.

Pardee’s intent, apparently, was to create a clear area filled with obstacles in front of his works, thus to make his position “nearly inaccessible as possible.”  Really good obstacles!

I should point out that Peck and Gillmore benefited from a military education.  And Pardee, as best I can tell, learned the trade in the field.  So we should consider that while casting interpretations.  But before we start drawing distinctions here, there’s Brigadier-General John Geary, not a West Pointer but somewhat versed in military affairs, whose writing indicates he knew the difference, describing the activity of his command after the fall of Atlanta:

Our corps, being left to hold Atlanta, we commenced the construction of an inner line of forts and rifle-pits, our camp still remaining near the old outer line, which we had strengthened and improved by slashing and abatis.

Sure, he didn’t like Mahan’s double “t”, but he reported two different types of constructions  – slashings and abattis.  Similarly, Colonel (later Brigadier-General) John Hartranft, with a background in civil engineering but not military engineering, related the activity of his command in July 1864, during the “Fifth Epoch” of the Overland Campaign:

Continued slashing and building abatis until the evening of the 23d, when I was relieved by part of the Tenth Corps.

Here we have two verbs – slashing and building – which indicate the command considered those distinct activities performed during the period.  So knowing the difference between slashings and abattis is important when interpreting a unit’s reported activity.

Though you might be saying that it is a trivial matter to worry if the soldiers cut the trees, then moved them… or just left them hanging from the stumps.  A fair criticism, I concede. Knowing a commander’s intent and the unit’s activity are nice to know, though not always vital in context. But consider the report of Major-General Winfield S. Hancock describing the Confederate positions encountered at Spotsylvania:

 The enemy held a strong line of intrenchments about one-half mile in front of and parallel to the works we had stormed on the 12th. His position was concealed by the forest and protected by heavy slashing and abatis.

Hancock was describing what he was up against.  Those words paint a picture for us, 150 years later, to understand what those Confederate works looked like.  And we have a West Point trained officer, who studied Mahan’s text, clearly indicating there were two sort of obstacles in place that used felled trees.  Thus, by weighing the subtle difference between the two terms, we have a sharper view of just what those obstacles were.  Not only allowing us to share Hancock’s view, but also to consider the level of effort undertaken by the Confederates to construct those defenses.

Now this is not to say everyone who ever used the terms slashing or abattis were employing Mahan’s or Wheeler’s definition of those terms. But it is to say that we should weigh the context of the use of those terms when we encounter them.  As someone famous is reported to have said… a noun is the name of a thing.  It is important, more often than not, that we identify the right thing.

(Citations from Junius B. Wheeler, The Elements of Field Fortifications, New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1882, pages 177-8; OR, Series I, Volume XXIX, Part 2, Serial 49, page 81; Volume XXXIII, Serial 60, page 768;  Volume XXXVI, Part 1, Serial 67, page 338; Volume XXXVI, Part 3, Serial 69, page 69; Volume XXXVIII, Part 2, Serial 73, page 159; .Volume XXXIX, Part 1, Serial 77, pag 668; Volume XL, Part 1, Serial 80, page 578.)

 

Sherman’s March, May 1-5, 1865: Leaving North Carolina and entering Virginia on the way to Washington

At the end of last month, I offered a summary of the orders issued by Major-General William T. Sherman upon the final-final surrender agreement with General Joseph E. Johnston.  Considering the “Great March,” as the veterans called it, in phases, this was the last phase of the movement of the Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia.  Their transit across the northern part of North Carolina and through Virginia to Washington was far less of a tactical movement, and more so an administrative march.  No need for skirmishers.  Foraging was prohibited.  But the march was still a military affair with the daily rhythm of an army on the move.

And move they did.  Let me “steal” a section of the Plate CXVI from the Official Records Atlas:

Sherman_March_Raleigh_RoanokeR

One of these days I might trace the march in a day-by-day format, looking to the various places the troops marched.  But for now allow me to to wave the hand over the map, and say they moved up from Raleigh in the typical formation seen since Atlanta – Fourteenth and Twentieth Corps on the left, Seventeenth and Fifteenth Corps on the right.  Absent, of course, was the cavalry which was left behind with Major-General John Schofield.

Even though the march was unopposed, the Federals still had to survey and repair roads.  And where needed, the engineers had to lay pontoon bridges to cross rivers.  Brigadier-General Orlando Poe estimated some 3,000 feet of pontoons were laid to support the movement from Raleigh to Washington.  That figure, though similar in magnitude to the amount laid in the Atlanta and Savannah Campaigns, was over a greater distance.   After all, the Confederates were no longer burning bridges behind them to slow the Federal march.  Likewise, Poe recorded only 20 miles of corduroy laid to facilitate this last march.  In summary, Poe wrote, “Of course there was no especial merit in anything done by the engineers during this march any more than there would be during any other march in a time of profound peace.”

More concerned with the bridges was Major-General John Geary, commanding Second Division, Twentieth Corps.  On April 30, Geary encountered issues crossing the Neuse River, “on a rickety bridge at falls of Neuse Paper Mills.”  Geary complained, “The bridge, which had been repaired by the division preceding me, broke down before all my trains had crossed.  The remaining wagons forded the river below, and reached camp during the night….”  Although Geary found “an excellent bridge” over Cedar Creek the next day, he had to cross the Tar River on a pontoon bridge, finding the original washed away.  On May 3, Geary’s division would cross the Roanoke River at Taylor’s Ferry on a set of pontoon bridges measuring 385 yards.  Thus about 1,000 feet of Poe’s estimated 3,000 feet of bridging allowed Geary’s division to pass that barrier.

Once over the Roanoke River, the Armies approached Petersburg:

Sherman_March_RoanokeR_Petersburg

This line of march brought them close to many familiar place names associated with the long siege of that city and the Appomattox Campaign of a month earlier.  The Fourteenth Corps approached Nottoway Court-house; the Twentieth Corps reached Blacks and Whites Station; the Army of the Tennessee passed through Dinwiddie and used the Boyton Plank Road.  Some elements of the Fifteenth Corps reached Reams’ Station.

Now the urgency of the war was past so marches were supposed to be “easy”… as if any fifteen mile march with pack and provisions would be “easy.”  But there was still the urge to “get there first” and turn the march into a race against other formations.  Corps commanders had to govern the march to prevent this.  On the evening of May 5, Major-General Frank Blair, from Spain’s Plantation,  issued instructions for the next day’s march:

The command will move forward to-morrow at daylight in the same order as to-day. If the day is clear and hot the command will halt at 11 a.m., and starting again at 2 p.m. Will march until sundown.

Look a bit behind the words here.  Sure, Blair is prescribing a break (that refreshes) in the middle of the day.  But more important are the times prescribed here.  Only a month earlier, a similar movement order would have given a specific time of day.  For the military planner, “daylight” is ambiguous.  It would be like saying “Oh, sometime once you get up.”  Normally, field orders were issued with the reliance on synchronized watches from the corps down to the regimental level.  Given tables issued from the Naval Observatory, the staff could accurately determine sunrise, sunset, and other times based on astrological observations.  In short, there was a “standard” time that commanders used as a reference in their orders. It was not the “atomic clock” stuff we have today, but was within tolerances and effective.

However, that evening Blair was not concerned with the exact time to start the march or even end the march of May 6.  He was concerned about ensuring his troops had a three hour rest period during the day.  And I would expect somewhere a junior staff officer had the task of riding the line of march between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. that day to determine who, if any, were violating the commander’s order. A far bit removed from the days of struggling through the swamps of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.  Priorities changed, you might say.

As the Armies neared Richmond, a question was in the air.  Would Sherman’s men be allowed to march through Richmond?  I’ll look to that in the next installment.

Also…. Let me also mention, looking further down the route of march, that Noel Harrison, at Mysteries and Conundrums, has an excellent post up touching upon the passage of Sherman’s Armies through Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg.  Good read!

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 175 and 700-1; Part II, Serial 100, page 403.)

Sherman’s March, March 20, 1865: “I cannot see why he remains” – Second day at Bentonville

The first day in the battle of Bentonville had gone the Confederate’s way.  Knocking the Federal Left Wing on its heels, General Joseph E. Johnston’s attack came up short of eliminating that force… well short.  But Johnston launched his March 19, 1865 attack at long odds knowing a lot of luck was needed.  At the close of the day, he still held the upper hand and could maneuver away.  But instead he stayed put.  No just for the 20th, but the 21st as well.  Johnston would mention the need to “cover the removal of our wounded” in a report to General Robert E. Lee on the 21st.   While that justification holds partly, unstated were more likely reasons – forcing Major-General William T. Sherman to concentrate and hoping that Sherman would attempt “Kennessaw” outside Bentonville.

Sherman was indeed concentrating his armies, but he was decidedly against another “Kennessaw.”  With two divisions each from the Fourteenth and Twentieth Corps, along with the battering from the 19th fresh in his memory, the last thing on Major-General Henry Slocum’s mind was an offensive.  He had the Left Wing entrench along a line centered on the Morris Farm.  Slocum would be ready in case Johnston renewed the attack on the 20th, but would hope for timely arrival of reinforcements.

NCMarch_March20

As detailed in the second post yesterday, in the late afternoon of March 19, Sherman issued a series of orders directly to subordinates to converge in support of Slocum’s Left Wing.  Already moving at the early hours on the 20th were Major-General William B. Hazen’s Division from Fifteenth Corps, to report to Slocum without delay.  Marching through the night, Hazen made twenty miles distance from his afternoon camp to report to Slocum at dawn on the 20th.   After a brief rest, the troops moved up on the right of Fourteenth Corps.

Also moving in the early morning hours, Major-Generals John Geary and Abaslom Baird left one brigade each to mind the trains of the Left Wing and pushed the remainder of their respective divisions to Bentonville. Geary marched eight miles and arrived at 4:30 a.m.  Baird didn’t get orders to move until 5 a.m. that morning, but pressed his two brigades to link up by mid-morning.  While Geary’s men would be in reserve the rest of the battle, Baird’s division would be heavily engaged on March 20th.

But it was the Right Wing that Sherman most wanted at Bentonville.  Preliminary movement started as ordered at 4 a.m. with the divisions on the move an hour later.  The Fifteenth Corps, under Major-General John Logan, lead the wing.  Logan arranged his march with Major-General Charles Woods’ division (minus a brigade under Brigadier-General William Woods, escorting the Corps’ trains), followed by those of Major-Generals John Corse and John Smith.  Following the Fifteenth Corps was the Seventeenth Corps.  This force moved with only ordnance wagons and ambulances, leaving the rest of the trains in a temporary depot in the vicinity of Falling Creek.

To prevent any Confederate force from reaching the Right Wing’s rear, Logan had Colonel Clark Wever’s brigade (from Smith’s division), supported by a section of artillery, to attack Cox’s Bridge.  Wever’s objective was not to capture the bridge, but to ensure it was destroyed.  Opposing Wever was a brigade of North Carolinians under Colonel John N. Whitford.  Smith later reported:

After a sharp skirmish for one hour our men penetrated the swamps and thickets, and, obtained a good position, succeeded in driving the enemy to the other side of the river. The enemy used artillery freely, having four guns in position, completely covering the bridge and narrow road leading to it.  Our guns could not be used with effect, as we could not get a position in range for them.  At 7:45 a.m. we had possession of the bridge and completed its destruction, which had already been commenced by the enemy, who fired it as they retired to the opposite bank.

Everyone was happy with Cox’s Bridge destroyed.

Logan turned the rest of Woods’ division west along the road to Bentonville.  Within a few miles, the Federals ran into cavalry from Butler’s Division, that day under the command of Brigadier-General Evander M. Law.  While Law worked to delay the march, they lacked the strength to stop the Fifteenth Corps.  At 9:50 a.m., Law reported to Johnston, “The enemy’s infantry and artillery is advancing rapidly from the direction of Cox’s Bridge.  He is now about two miles from Flower’s House.”  Law suggested infantry might check the Federal advance.

The mechanics behind Law’s observation lay in the tactics applied by the Fifteenth Corps that morning.  Right Wing commander Major-General Oliver O. Howard directed Logan to use only skirmishers to push the cavalry. So the Federal fight with Law was one of constant flanking, repositioning, and flanking. This had the effect of eliminating any delays while regiments and brigades formed on line.  But to pull it off, Logan had to recognize when his skirmishers met the main Confederate line, and then quickly deploy his infantry in battle line.  Otherwise, he invited one of those dreaded “feed his command into battle piecemeal” actions.   Nothing better than having an “ace” to play in a difficult situation.  Logan’s ace in this case was Second Brigade of Woods’ Division, under Colonel Robert F. Catterson.

Among the seven regiments, small though they were, that made up Catterson’s command all but one carried repeaters – either Spencer or Henry rifles.  This firepower allowed Catterson’s skirmishers to overwhelm an enemy force with a flurry of fire.  The advantages and disadvantages of repeating arms was on full display that morning.  Though able to drive Law’s cavalrymen, some of the Federals burned through ammunition quickly, as Catterson noted in his report:

Six companies of the Ninety-seventh Indiana were thrown forward as skirmishers, rapidly driving the enemy about three miles, when it was relieved by the Sixth Iowa, which drove the enemy briskly to within about three miles of Bentonville, where he made a determined stand. The ammunition of the Sixth Iowa having become exhausted it was relieved by the Forty-sixth Ohio. During its deployment the enemy was discovered turning the left of my skirmishers, having already gained their rear. The One hundredth Indiana was hurried forward to check this move, and they accomplished their work with dispatch and marked gallantry. During this time the Forty-sixth Ohio moved forward on double-quick, driving the enemy from his strong barricade of rails in splendid style. I immediately moved the brigade forward to the position thus gained, and fortified it, at the same time advancing my skirmishers half a mile, when it was halted, and in this position I awaited further orders.

Catterson’s brigade cleared a path through to the Flowers House.  And behind them the Fifteenth Corps deployed.  In response to Law’s report, Johnston moved Major-General Robert Hoke’s Division back from in front of the Fourteenth Corps to face east against the Right Wing.  This move prompted some of the Fourteenth Corps to push forward towards Hoke’s old position.  And at the same time Hazen’s Division moved forward on their right.  Late afternoon, Hazen came in contact with the left of Woods’ division.  At that point the Federals had one solid front – south of and east of Johnston’s.  You Easterners, with a mind to Gettysburg, will notice some irony here.  Howard arrived on March 20 to relieve Slocum.

With some pressure released as Hoke’s Division repositioned, Slocum moved forward to regain some of the ground contested on the 19th. With that, Baird’s Division ended up in the fields around the Cole Farm. And just as happened the day before, that became a “hot spot” under Confederate artillery fire.  Elsewhere, Kilpatrick felt out for the Confederate flank and portions of the Twentieth Corps gained the ground lost on the Federal left flank the day before.  Presence of Federal skirmishers forced Johnston to refuse his right.

By sunset, Johnston had retracted his position to face Federals on three sides, forming a salient.  The only way out of that salient was a lone bridge across Mill Creek.  A risky, dangerous position to hold.  Good military sense called for Johnston to withdraw in the night.  That’s what Sherman expected.  Writing to Slocum that evening, Sherman expressed:

Johnston hoped to overcome your wing before I could come to your relief. Having failed in that, I cannot see why he remains and still think he will avail himself of night to get back to Smithfield.  I would rather avoid a general battle if possible, but if he insists on it, we must accommodate him.

Sherman called for Slocum to clear a good road to the east, which would allow him to set his line with the Right Wing. Sherman wanted his back to the Weldon Railroad and Goldsboro.

Major-General Alfred Terry’s column made good progress that day, reaching a point just south of Falling Creek.  Sherman probably could not have planned this any better.  Not only were Terry’s men in position to cover the Right Wing’s trains, they were within range of Cox’s Bridge.  Sherman ordered Terry to proceed there to meet Slocum’s pontoon train and effect a crossing.

At Kinston, the much delayed advance of the Twenty-Third Corps began that morning also.  Schofield headquartered at Rockford that evening, about half the distance to Goldsboro.  Sherman did not expect any opposition at that point.  After describing the situation at Bentonville, Sherman laid a contingency plan for Schofield, “if you hear nothing to the contrary, join a part of your forces with General Terry’s and come to me wherever I may be.”

At day’s end on the 20th, Johnston and Sherman occupied lines of solid earthworks opposing each other in a manner seen the previous spring at points in Northern Georgia.  For Johnston, this was a gamble of sorts.  A roll of the dice with the decision to stay one more day.  Sherman did not indulge the temptation to strike.  He was happy to give Johnston the “golden bridge” escape.  Sherman’s focus was on resupplying his command for the next leg of the campaign.  However, that view was not shared by all of Sherman’s subordinates.  And that difference lead to more action the following day and a large “might have been” to play out at Bentonville.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 259, 321 and 1055; Part II, Serial 99, pages 919, 922, and 1443.)

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:

NCMarch_March19

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.)

Sherman’s March, March 16, 1865: Averasborough and lost time for Sherman’s march

After evacuating Fayetteville, Lieutenant-General William Hardee setup a defensive position north of the city along the road to Raleigh.  Hardee’s line had flanks protected by the Cape Fear and Black Rivers, where the two were just a couple miles apart and through which the plank road to Raleigh passed. The line, actually a defense in depth, was maned by troops who had spent most of the war around the Charleston defenses.  Behind them was the village of Averasborough. At the high level, Hardee’s position was much like similar stances made earlier in the campaign – easily by-passed and insufficient in strength to force the Federals to action.   But down to the tactical level, Hardee’s stand was in the idea place to cause Major-General William T. Sherman pause and thus gain some time for Confederate forces.

As mentioned yesterday, Sherman’s columns moved out of Fayetteville with the Left Wing advancing four divisions in light march order to the north as a feint against Raleigh.   It was this feint, under Major-General Henry Slocum, which would run into Hardee’s delaying action.  The Left Wing had, for most of the Carolinas Campaign, not faced any serious opposition from the Confederates.  March 16, 1865 would be a sharp contrast for those men in the Fourteenth and Twentieth Corps.

But before diving into the action at Averasborough, consider the other moving pieces in the Federal columns that day:

NCMarch_March16

Sherman’s concept of movement was to keep the Right Wing, with at least three unencumbered divisions, within range to support the Left Wing should trouble arise.  This, and the need to cover several trains of wagons, caused the Federal march to break down into divisional columns.   And it is important to understand that the movement of these divisions governed the overall pace of march (not just on the 16th, but for the week to follow).

On the far right of the march, the Seventeenth Corps escorted its own trains, the Right Wing headquarters’ trains,  the Wing’s pontoon train, and the consolidated column of refugees.  Having forced a crossing over South River the day before, First Division of the corps maintained its position.  The Fourth Division moved up to Big Swamp and laid a 180 foot bridge.  Lead elements of that division proceeded to Owensville by night.  Otherwise the focus of the corps was getting all the vehicles across South River and Big Swamp, keeping a compact column, and facilitating a longer march the next day.  Hopes were to turn the refugee column off towards Wilmington on the 17th.

The Fifteenth Corps’s movements were a bit more complex.  Of the three “light” divisions, Fourth Division under Major-General John Corse continued its advance on the Goldboro Road, some six miles, to reach Little Cohera Creek.  Again, after a brief skirmish with Confederates, Corse effected a crossing.  Behind Corse, the Second and Third Divisions took a road to the left off the Goldboro Road to reach the Fayetteville-Bentonville Road.  This turn was accomplished to clear the way for the Left Wing’s trains.  But it also points to, for lack of a better description, the traffic control problems arising behind South River where the trains of three corps were stacking up on a couple of roads.

The Fifteenth Corps trains, guarded by Major-General John Woods’ First Division, proceeded on what was by then the muddy and well worn Goldsboro Road to gain crossing of South River that evening.

On the Bentonville Road, Major-General John Geary had the 1st Michigan Engineers repair the South River bridge that day.  Geary had other portions of his command work to close up all the wagons assigned to his protection.  “My train was very long, containing over 1,000 vehicles, and to ensure its safety I picketed strongly all the roads and other approaches from the left.” Geary had charge of all of Twentieth Corps’ wagons, the Cavalry Division wagons, and the majority of the Wing’s headquarters wagons.  Added to Geary’s column that day, the pontoons for the Left Wing arrived at South River. Closing up behind Geary, and adding to the traffic, was the division of Major-General Absalom Baird with the trains from the Fourteenth Corps.  All this rolling stock had to pass over one bridge across South River (Black River is a tributary to that stream, putting in perspective where the fighting was occurring further north at Averasborough).

But Geary did not push the trains over the South River that day.  With the action at Averasborough, he held the column to within supporting range of the light divisions, should they become more heavily engaged.  Late in the evening, Geary received orders to send empty wagons and ambulances to the light divisions to transport wounded, along with “twenty wagon loads infantry ammunition, six of artillery ammunition, two brigade cattle herds, and all the rations possible from the corps supply train.”  Such was a measure of the intensity of fighting at Averasborough.

averasborough

Now with this “traffic jam” considered, circle back to the morning hours and Slocum’s front.  As related yesterday, on the evening of March 15, Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick found the Confederate lines along the Raleigh Plank Road and called for support.  Brigadier-General William Hawley’s brigade from the First Division, Twentieth Corps, moved up to support the cavalry.  And on the morning of the 16th, when initial cavalry probes ran into the Confederate infantry again, it was Hawley’s brigade which moved up to press the rebel lines.  But Hawley did not gain much, “The enemy being found strongly intrenched and with artillery I deemed it prudent to await the arrival of more troops before pressing them too hard.”

Behind Hawley, Third Division, Major-General William Ward, of the Twentieth Corps moved up.  Three brigades from that division deployed to Hawley’s left starting around 9 a.m.  Meanwhile, the other two brigades from Brigadier-General Nathaniel Jackson’s division dressed to the right of Hawley.  But this infantry line took time to shake out.

While this was going on, Sherman came up in person to observe.  He suggested Kilpatrick move up cavalry to help develop the situation.  The response from the cavalry chief was “how?”  While the cavalrymen would turn good service that day, their leader was notably unable to do what a good cavalry leader should do in this such situation – develop the enemy lines.  As such, much time was spent by the Federal infantry groping to find some purchase on the Confederate line.  Kilpatrick would simply report, “After thoroughly reconnoitering the enemy’s entire position I decided it was not prudent to attack, and sent back for infantry reinforcements.”   Sherman would conduct the battle of Averasborough himself, almost in spite of the presence of Kilpatrick and Slocum.

The “development of the position” which Sherman desired was actually gained by the artillery.  Major John Reynolds brought up the artillery of the Twentieth Corps up behind Ward’s Division:

Batteries I and M, First New York Artillery, and C, First Ohio Artillery, took position in an orchard to the left of the road, about 500 yards from the enemy’s line.  They soon silenced [the Confederate] artillery, blowing up one limber, killing all the horses, and driving the cannoneers from their piece.

With that going on, Sherman personally ordered the left-most brigade, that of Colonel Henry Case, of Ward’s Division forward through a swamp.

As we pressed forward we encountered a skirmish line of the enemy on the interior edge of the swamp, which we speedily drove back, killing two on the line, and, passing the swamp, found ourselves in a ravine.  I immediately advanced to reconnoiter and found that my brigade was exactly on the right of their works.

Case returned to his men and ordered a charge at the double quick. This, coupled with an advance on the Confederate front, caved in the first line of defense at Averasborough.  As the Federals moved through the Confederate fortifications, they captured and turned two artillery pieces.

The Federals then faced an even more formidable line, with some 8,000 Confederates to include some of Major-General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry.  Again, the Federals worked to develop the line.  Sherman ordered up the Fourteenth Corps to file into the left of the Twentieth Corps.  But the space allowed only Brigadier-General James Morgan’s Second Division of the Fourteenth to get into position.  Morgan was able to press the Confederate skirmishers back to their works.

Sherman outnumbered Hardee at this point in the battle.  But Sherman lacked the space to maneuver or employ all his forces.  Heavy rains that picked up as the afternoon drug on was turning all the field into a sea of mud.  And after fighting all morning, the Federals were in need of resupply.  The battle of Averasborough fell off to heavy skirmishing before nightfall.

Under cover of the night, Hardee withdrew, having succeeded in his task of delaying Sherman for a day.  But he’d lost over 800 casualties.  The 1st South Carolina Heavy Artillery, men who’d defended Charleston for so many long months, suffered 215 of that total.

The Left Wing counted 682 casualties, of which 533 were wounded.  That, going back to Geary’s halt for the day, explained why empty wagons were diverted to the battlefield as ambulances.  Although Hardee would give Sherman the battlefield the next day, the effect was not only a one day delay on the battlefield, but additional hours as wagons were redirected and countermarched to support the divisions engaged on March 16.  I’d personally weight the scales closer to “two days” lost because of Hardee’s stand at Averasborough.

NOTE:  I’ve given a brief examination of the tactical action at Averasborough, choosing to allocate space to explain how the other portions of Sherman’s forces moved and adjusted position during the day.  Sort of fits more into the “march” theme I have been pursuing.  Civil War Daily Gazette has a post offering more of the battle details.  Also see the battle’s resource page on the Civil War Trust’s site.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 637, 693, 789, 847, and 862.)

 

Sherman’s March, March 12, 1865: A day of “partial rest” at Fayetteville

The arrival of Major-General William T. Sherman’s in Fayetteville earned the soldiers a well-earned break from days of hard marching and difficult work on the muddy roads.  But saying “break” is not to say the soldiers would lounge around doing nothing.  Sherman had tasks to complete while in Fayetteville. Many of which would setup the next moves on his campaign.  These tasks included closing up the army, establishing contact with Wilmington, destroying facilities in and around Fayetteville, preparing the armies for the next leg of the march, and gaining bridgeheads on the east side of the Cape Fear River.

NCMarch_Mar12

Some of Sherman’s forces had to complete movement to Fayetteville on March 12th.  Major-General John Logan recorded:

On the 12th of March the corps moved to position around Fayetteville, where the troops were granted a few days partial rest after the arduous work of the past week.  At this point a thorough inspection of the corps was ordered in compliance with instructions from superior headquarters, directing the reduction of the mounted foragers…. The crossing of the pontoon was chosen as the most fit place for the execution of the order, and the corps underwent a thorough cleansing as to unauthorized animals.

Once again, the Federals would cull out unfit animals and put them down.  Archeologists looking to pinpoint Sherman’s river crossing sites would do well to look for horse bones.

The other formation catching up that day was Major-General John Geary’s division of Twentieth Corps.  Moving on the Plank Road, Geary’s men closed the dozen miles needed by 1 p.m.

The previous day an Army tug and the gunboat USS Eolus arrived at Wilmington to establish contact with Sherman.

For once, the flooding worked in favor of the Federals.  High waters on the Cape Fear River carried away obstructions left by the Confederates.  This contact allowed a flurry of dispatches from Sherman, reporting to Washington and several subordinate commanders.  Aside from brief details of the march and damaged inflicted upon the Confederacy, Sherman reported, “The army is in splendid health, condition, and spirit.”  Beyond that, to Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant, Sherman forecast, “If I can now add Goldsborough without too much cost, I will be in position to aid you materially in the spring campaign.”  Regarding Confederate forces under General Joseph Johnston, Sherman only expressed a concern about a flank attack on isolated corps.  To thwart that, Sherman planned to keep his columns tight (and we shall see how that worked later).

Sherman also took the time to brag about the materials captured from the Confederates:

Forty-three guns at Columbia, 25 guns at Cheraw, 17 guns at Fayetteville, total, 85, of which four-fifths were field guns, and all were serviceable; 50 field and siege gun carriages, 30 caissons, 5 battery wagons, 3 traveling forges.

I have not mentioned Major-General William F. Barry, Chief of Artillery, or Colonel Thomas G. Baylor, Chief Ordnance Officer, at any length in my narrative, as the artillery was not employed heavily above the division level.  But I will call attention to the detailed reports offered by those officers.  For Fayetteville, Baylor gave these particulars (which differed from Sherman’s report in aggregate number):

Cannon.–Two 10-inch columbiads, four 8-inch columbiads, two 42-pounder smooth-bores, two 4.6-inch rifle guns, two 8-inch siege howitzers, one 5.7. inch smooth-bore, four 6-pounder smooth-bores, one 12-pounder field howitzer, two 12-pounder smooth-bores (iron), one 12-pounder (brass), one 20-pounder Parrott, one 10-pounder Parrott, one Eprouvette mortar, two boat howitzers (navy); total cannon, twenty-six.

A nice cross section of weapons used by the Confederacy.  And useful for those of us who track down the history of some of the guns.  Of note, several heavy cannon were at Fayetteville.  One should wonder why a couple of 10-inch Columbiads were there instead of in battery along the coast.  Most of these weapons were destroyed or dumped into the river.  Only a handful were retained as trophies or passed to the batteries.

In addition to all those cannons, Sherman’s men found 2,000 serviceable muskets in Fayetteville.  As with the cannon, what was not useful for the Federals was destroyed.  Meanwhile, Johnston’s officers would report several hundred men in the Confederate ranks without arms.  One has to wonder exactly what bureaucratic snarls prevented the issue of those weapons before the fall of Fayetteville.

As for the Fayetteville Arsenal, Sherman reasoned,

We cannot afford to leave detachments, and I shall, therefore, destroy this valuable arsenal, for the enemy shall not have its use, and the United States should never again confide such valuable property to the people who have betrayed a trust.

Captain (Brevet Brigadier-General) Orlando Poe supervised this task:

At Fayetteville it was found that the enemy had greatly enlarged the capacity of the old U.S. Arsenal. The major-general assigned to me the special duty of destroying it. The Michigan Engineers were at once set at work to batter down all masonry walls, and to break to pieces all machinery of whatever kind, and to prepare the two large magazines for explosion. The immense machine-shops, foundries, timber sheds, &c., were soon reduced to a heap of rubbish, and at a concerted signal fire was applied to these heaps, and to all wooden buildings and piles of lumber; also to the powder trains leading to the magazines. A couple of hours sufficed to reduce to ashes everything that would burn, and the high wind prevailing at the time scattered these ashes, so that only a few piles of broken bricks remained of that repossessed arsenal. Much of the machinery here destroyed had been brought at the beginning of the war from the old arsenal at Harper’s Ferry.

In addition to the arsenal and other public facilities, Sherman had portions of the Fourteenth Corps and the Cavalry wreck the railroad running north out of the city.

At Fayetteville, the army needed clothing above all else.  Sherman complained that the men had been in the water practically every day since the first of February.  The uniforms and shoes were worn out.  “My command will need an entire equipment of clothing,” Sherman wrote to his quartermasters.

Another task to refit the army was to trim the column down somewhat.  Some reduction was accomplished by sending sick and wounded personnel to Wilmington.  But the largest reduction was to send the vast contraband and refugee column to that port.  Sherman hoped that enough steamers were on hand to handle all.  But this proved far short.  In addition to the tug, the Right Wing had captured a steamer.  The Left Wing eventually tracked down a couple more.  But these could only handle a few dozen passengers at a time.  A drop, comparatively speaking, to the number of civilians needing transportation.  “There were 4,500, mostly negroes, from my wing alone,” indicated Major-General Oliver O. Howard.  Estimates varied up to 20,000 in total.

To move these refugees to the coast, Sherman ordered each division to provide fifty men, preferably recently released prisoners or men due to be discharged.  With a detail of officers, this detail would escort the civilians to Wilmington.  (If you ask me, there’s a research project that might turn into a fascinating story.)  This slimmed Sherman’s column, eliminating the need to protect and feed the refugees during the movements ahead.

At the same time, Sherman was looking for reinforcements.  He sent orders to Major-Generals John Schofield, Alfred Terry, and Jacob Cox in regard to concentrating the force.  Specifically to Schofield, Sherman directed “On making junction with you, I want you to make your command 25,000, and will call it the Center, thus restoring our old Atlanta organization.”  Terry was directed to move overland to New Bern.  And Cox would work to establish a base of supply as far forward as possible – Goldsboro preferably, but Kinston if necessary.

One odd letter from Sherman went out addressed to Major-General John Foster, commanding “Department of the South.”  In the letter, Sherman noted,

The enemy still has much railroad stock and munitions on the track about Sumterville and Florence, and if you can make up a force of 2,500 men out of your Charleston and Savannah garrisons I want you to reach that road and destroy everything possible and exhaust the country of supplies.

Sherman asked him to call upon the Navy for support of a movement out of Georgetown, “but the distance from Georgetown does not exceed sixty miles, and we look on sixty miles as a pleasant excursion.”  Aside from that suggestion, Sherman wanted all troops from the garrisons that could be spared sent to New Bern.

This message indicates just how much had changed since Sherman left the coast.  Foster, as we know, had been on convalescent leave for a month.  Major-General Quincy Gillmore was in command.  Georgetown was already in Federal hands.  However, Gillmore had for the last month been pestered by orders to reduce his garrisons.  The movement of any troops from Georgia or South Carolina was frustrated by the lack of transports.  On March 11th, Gillmore had in fact written Sherman to announce, “There are about 7,000 men here belonging to your army that I wish to forward to North Carolina… but I am not able to commence yet for the reasons that my transports are all engaged moving part of my own command to Wilmington.”  The men Gillmore referenced were new recruits and returning convalescents.   But for the want of a few transport hulls….

But Sherman’s directive to Gillmore would spawn one more military operation in South Carolina, to start in the weeks to follow.

As night fell on the 12th, Sherman’s subordinates worked on the last important task of the day – establishing a bridgehead over the Cape Fear River.  As mentioned yesterday, the engineers went to work the day before to locate the best crossing points.  The pontoon bridges were set that evening.  Under the protection of the Eolus, Second Division of the Fourteenth Corps crossed starting at 7 p.m.  The Right Wing crossed a brigade from Fourth Division, Seventeenth Corps, at a point opposite Lock Creek.  On the far side, the Federals skirmished briefly with Confederate cavalry but were otherwise unmolested.

All in all a lot of activity for a day of “partial rest.”  With communications sent, bridges established, and reduced columns, Sherman was ready to launch the next stage of his campaign.  But first, he would give the men one more “partial rest” day.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 172-1-2, 183,  and 233; Part II, Serial 99, pages 792, 794-795, 800, and 804. )

Sherman’s March, March 7, 1865: “try and keep the foragers from insulting families by word or rudeness”

In more ways than one, 150 years ago this day the campaign became the Carolinas Campaign.  March 7, 1865 was, for many in Major-General William T. Sherman’s marching columns, the last day spent in South Carolina.  By the end of the day, only the Right Wing camped short of the North Carolina border.  Writing to the Left Wing commander, Major-General Henry Slocum, the day before, Sherman cautioned, with respect to behavior of the men, as they entered North Carolina:

Of course we will dispose of all public stores and property but will spare private houses. Use wheat, corn, meal, bacon, animals, wagons, &c., needed by your command, but try and keep the foragers from insulting families by word or rudeness. It might be well to instruct your brigade commanders that we are now out of South Carolina and that a little moderation may be of political consequence to us in North Carolina.

And while Sherman’s men gained the state line, 120 miles northeast a Federal column, lead by Major-General Jacob Cox, neared Kinston.  So not only was Sherman entering North Carolina, his forces were within range of supporting columns from the coast. Cox under orders to push towards Goldsboro and join with Sherman.  This was the leading element of what would become Sherman’s “Center Wing,” or Army of the Ohio, under Major-General John Schofield.  Now one might look at the map and determine that Wilmington was, at that day, some thirty miles closer than Kinston.  To understand why Cox would be at Kinston instead of Fayetteville or other point closer to Sherman, we need to consider the logistics supporting the campaign.

Thus far in the march across South Carolina, the logistics for Sherman’s columns amounted to what was carried in the wagons.  But after five weeks, the armies were running low on things which could not be foraged in any quantities – ammunition, hardtack, shoes, uniforms, and military equipment.  And Sherman had anticipated that need.  Sherman’s Quartermaster, Brigadier-General Langdon C. Easton, not accompanying the march, established depots at three ports in North Carolina – Wilmington, Morehead City, and New Bern.  Wilmington presented a problem, as, being just secured from the Confederates, the river channel had to be cleared of torpedoes and the railroad leading inland needed repair.  New Bern was far too inland for oceangoing ships, though it could serve as a base for operations.

MoreheadCity2

It was Morehead City, and nearby Beaufort, which offered a port for ocean-going vessels and railroads leading inland (to New Bern).  However, the force under Schofield at Wilmington lacked the wagons and other support to move the troops by land to Morehead City or New Bern.  Enough was on hand for two divisions under Major-General Alfred Terry would move out of Wilmington. But the other five divisions had to move by water to Morehead City. Schofield began shifting his troops, by water, from Wilmington to Morehead City for his next role in the campaign.  However, this movement put more pinch to the already strained shipping resources.

beaufort-north-carolina

And, as mentioned above, had the effect of moving the much needed link-up point with Sherman further out.  Such would provide the Confederates one more “gift” of time.  But for the time being, the Confederates had to find ways to delay these two advancing forces from reaching a juncture before their wide spread forces could concentrate.

OK… enough of the logistics stuff and grand operations!  What moved on March 7?

SCMarch_Mar7

The Right Wing made a slow-march that day.  A march that Major-General Oliver O. Howard recorded as “without special incident.” Perhaps Howard simply forgot, when later compiling his official report, the day did have its own “special” incidents.  I’ll get to that in a separate post, later today.   Point being, though, the march was not contested.  The Seventeenth Corps moved on a single road and went into camp at Beaverdam Creek, just short of the state line.

The Fifteenth Corps moved by three columns.  The First Division moved on a road to the left of Seventeenth Corps, but running east of Crooked Creek.  The Fourth Division marched on a road to the left of that.  Both lines of march converged at Brightsville.  To the left of them, the Third and Second Divisions (in that order) marched through Quick’s Church toward the state line.

However, that last mentioned element of the Fifteenth Corps got a late start.  The Twentieth Corps received the right of way on the same road to start their movement, and to create the “echelon” formation Sherman desired.  Major-General Apheus S. Williams reported marching fifteen miles and reaching the railroad at Mark’s Station.   Not bad for men on short rest.  Leading the Corps was Major-General John Geary’s Second Division.  Geary recorded:

… marched in advance of the corps, at 6 a.m., on good roads though a very poor, sandy country, the inhabitants of which devoted their chief attention to the manufacture of resin.  At noon we reached Station 103, on the Wilmington, Charlotte, and Rutherford Railroad…. The structure is excellent, laid with T-rail of the best English make.  Here we destroyed three-quarters of a mile of track, and a quantity of new iron rails which were piled up for shipment to other points.  Several large resin factories along our route were destroyed to-day.  One alone contained 2,000 barrels of resin lately manufactured.

Geary also reported some of his foragers, united with others from the Fourteenth Corps reached Rockingham. There they skirmished with the Confederate rear guard.  That rear guard was also pressed by the Cavalry Division, which moved up to Rockingham that day.  Major-General Matthew Butler’s men gave a fight, but only enough to keep the Federals off the columns retreating north.

Behind all this, the Fourteenth Corps completed crossing the PeeDee River.  The corps marched ten miles in the direction of Rockingham.  However, with another delay crossing a river, the Fourteenth Corps was out of formation. More hard marching was needed to create the echelon and Fayetteville.

For the Confederates, General Joseph E. Johnston issued some direction which had been sorely lacking in the weeks before.  Sizable elements of the Army of Tennessee, namely Major-Generals Benjamin Cheatham’s and A.P. Stewart’s commands, were just then arriving at Chester where rail cars could move them to Charlotte.  General Braxton Bragg, reluctantly accepting a subordinate position to Johnston the day before, positioned his force in front of Cox’s advance on Kinston.  Bragg’s force included the Wilmington garrison reinforced with parts of the Army of Tennessee under Major-General D.H. Hill.  And, mentioned above, Lieutenant-General William Hardee’s forces fell back from Rockingham.  Hardee turned east towards Fayetteville.

(And let us not forget that in Virginia at this same time, Major-General Philip Sheridan had launched a drive that started at Waynesboro, Virginia.  Though given the objective eventually joining with Sherman’s forces in North Carolina, Sheridan would not.  That route certainly looks inviting on the map.  But I would remind readers there is some rather difficult terrain to traverse between Waynesboro, taking Lynchburg to Danville.  Needless to say, Sheridan instead moved to Charlottesville and back to Richmond, thus putting him on a different stage for April’s campaigns.)

On March 7, 1865, large columns began movement into southeastern North Carolina.  These concentrations were like gathering storm clouds.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page 690; Part II, Serial 99, page 704.)