Sherman’s March, May 24, 1865: The Grand Review and the end of the Great March

At 9 a.m., 150 years ago this morning, a signal gun and triggered the procession of Major-General William T. Sherman’s command on their Grand Review in front of cheering crowds in Washington D.C.

Sherman and Major-General Oliver O. Howard lead the procession with their staffs.  Behind them came Major-General John Logan and the Fifteenth Corps.

Behind them, Major-General Frank Blair and the Seventeenth Corps.

After the Right Wing passed, Major-General Henry Slocum lead the Left Wing on review:

The Twentieth Corps, led by Major-General Joseph Mower, came next in the line.

As I like to mention, the Twentieth Corps had its roots in the east – formed of the Army of the Potomac’s Eleventh and Twelfth Corps.  As such it provided the link between the Armies of the Tennessee and the Potomac.

The next formation in the review also offered a link – however to an army not present on parade that day. Major-General (a brevet that was soon to be disallowed) Jefferson C. Davis led the Fourteenth Corps.   And, you should know that the Fourteenth Corps had its roots as the Army of the Cumberland.

I’ve always felt their presence was somewhat representative of that “other” great Federal army of the western theater.

You may want to click over to Seven Score and Ten, Civil War Daily Gazette, and General Sherman’s Blog for more on the Grand Review’s second day.

For the photos above, I’ve relied upon the Library of Congress captions to identify the units.  As we well know, those captions have their errors.  So please take the identification with a grain of salt.  If the captions are correct, the troops of the Twentieth Corps received a good bit of attention from the photographers:

Remarkable that all four of the corps which conducted the Great March were photographed on this day 150 years ago.  We have scant few photographs from the Great March (Altanta to Savannah to Columbia to Goldsboro to Raleigh to Washington).  Aside from a number of photos taken at Fort McAllister in December 1864, the majority of the photos of the Great March come on the last day of the movement.

And just as the Great March’s conclusion was captured in photos, the veterans cemented the memory of the Grand Review in their minds and … even 150 years later … in the public’s mind.  This shaped our impression of the event to the point it becomes the “victory parade” after which similar festivities are modeled to celebrate the end of more recent wars.  Keeping with that notion, allow me to close with the somewhat definitive “lore” of the Great March by George W. Nichols:

On the 24th of May, Sherman’s Army passed in review before the President of the United States in Washington.  It was the last act in the rapid and wonderful Drama of the four gallant corps. With banners proudly flying, ranks in close and magnificent array, under the eye of their beloved Chief, and amid the thundering plaudits of countless thousands of enthusiastic spectators, the noble army of seventy thousand veterans paid their marching salute to the President of the Nation they had helped to preserve in its integrity – and then broke ranks, and set their faces toward Home.  This was the farewell of Sherman’s Army! So, too, ends the Story of the Great March.

(Citation from George Ward Nichols, The Story of the Great March from the Diary of a Staff Officer, New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1865, page 322.)

Sherman’s March, April 12, 1865: “A little more labor, a little more toil on our part, the great race is won”

On April 12, 1865, a telegram from Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant arrived to inform Major-General William T. Sherman about General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.  Sherman congratulated Grant and added, “The terms you have given Lee are magnanimous and liberal.  Should Johnston follow Lee’s example I shall of course grant the same.”

As Sherman’s army group advanced on Raleigh, North Carolina, that city was not his primary objective.  It was a waypoint to be met, for sure.  But his real objective was General Joseph E. Johnston’s army.  Sherman wanted to corner Johnston, much as had been done to Lee three days earlier.  Sherman stressed that objective in instructions to Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick, sent late-night on April 11. After warning Kilpatrick to use standard map references (for location reporting), Sherman went on to describe the location of Lieutenant-General Wade Hampton’s force:

I don’t think Hampton has 2,000 cavalry with him, and this is your chance. I will push all the column straight on Raleigh. I don’t care about Raleigh now, but want to defeat and destroy the Confederate army; therefore you may run any risk. Of course, don’t break the railroad except to the rear (west) of Johnston, as we want the rails up to Raleigh. General Wilson has taken Selma and is threatening Montgomery. He has whipped Red Jackson twenty-seven miles from Selma, and at Selma knocked Forrest all to pieces. Rebel papers report Forrest wounded in three places; Abe Buford to defend Montgomery with citizens; Dick Taylor ran westward from Selma; many cooped up in Mobile.

All of this designed to prod the cavalry commander to bold action!

Sherman’s plan for April 12 was to advance the Left Wing, Major-General Henry Slocum, on the direct roads to Raleigh.  The Right Wing, Major-General Oliver O. Howard, would advance on the east side of the Neuse River but prepare crossing points to flank any Confederate position.  And the Center Wing, Major-General John Schofield, would actually advance to the left and behind the Left Wing, prepared to flank any opposition.  Kilpatrick was instructed to fall upon the retreating Confederates and disrupt their withdrawal.  A very typical marching arrangement for Sherman, matching patterns seen from Georgia all the way to North Carolina.


To make this advance possible, five of Sherman’s corps had to cross the Neuse River.  Only the Tenth Corps and the Cavalry Division, on the far left, were over that watercourse.  One more river to cross.

The Left Wing had two pontoon bridges across at Smithfield by morning.  Major-General Joseph Mower advanced the Twentieth Corps on the lower bridge, while Major-General Jefferson C. Davis crossed the Fourteenth Corps on the upper bridge.  The Left Wing met only fleeting rear guards during the advance of the day.   Sherman accompanied the Twentieth Corps to setup headquarters at Gully’s Store.

The Right Wing had more trouble with maps than Confederates on April 12.  Scouting the lead of the advance, the 29th Missouri (Mounted) Infantry reached Battle’s Bridge. Colonel Joseph Gage reported the bridge there destroyed but, “The river at that point is about thirty yards wide,” and the roads were good for the advance.  The problem for the advance lay in an inaccuracy of the Federal maps.  Howard reported to Sherman around mid-day, “The roads are different from map. Watson’s Mill is at Pineville, and General Logan reports but one road from Folk’s Bridge across.” To ease the congestion of two corps passing through Pinveville, Major-General John Logan doubled up the Fifteenth Corps and chose a fork of the road to the right.  Major-General Frank Blair’s Seventeenth Corps would manage with side roads where possible.

The Twenty-third Corps of the Center Wing advanced to Turner’s Bridge on April 12.  The march was more administrative than tactical.  On the far side, the Tenth Corps reported encountering some Confederate cavalry, but otherwise the advance was conducted at an easy pace.  The Center Wing then reformed south of, and to the rear of, the Left Wing.

Perhaps the most interesting note of the day from the Center Wing was a circular issued by Major-General Jacob Cox, Twenty-third Corps:

Since we left Goldsborough there has been a constant succession of house burning in rear of this command. This has never before been the case since the corps was organized, and the prospect of speedy peace makes this more than ever reprehensible. Division commanders will take the most vigorous measures to put a stop to these outrages, whether committed by men of this command or by stragglers from other corps. Any one found firing a dwelling-house, or any building in close proximity to one, should be summarily shot. A sentinel may be left by the advance division at each inhabited house along the road, to be relieved in succession from the other divisions as they come up, those left by the rear division reporting to the train guard and rejoining after the next halt.

To the left of the Federal advance, Kilpatrick’s cavalry swept forward, but not quite as Sherman desired.  Kilpatrick reported,

I have had some hard fighting t0-day, from Swift Creek to this point on the railroad, six miles from Raleigh. I have intercepted Hampton and am now driving him in toward the river.  I hope to either capture or force him across the river.

Kilpatrick noted the Confederate force was in full retreat.  He asked permission to advance into Raleigh, but “I can do no better than drive directly in his rear as he marches nearly as fast as I do.”  Sherman would give Kilpatrick permission to press into Raleigh, but preferred Johnston “go toward Greensborough” and thus asked Kilpatrick to “cut across the rear of his column, right and left.”  The potential of the situation seemed to elude Kilpatrick.  At the same time, reports from the Confederate cavalry do not indicate any great “pressing” as Kilpatrick described.

Instead, the main worry of Hampton’s was the passage of a delegation from the North Carolina Governor, Zebulon Vance.  Early in the day, Vance informed Lieutenant-General William Hardee that he planned to send emissaries to Sherman proposing a suspension of hostilities.  Vance was playing with several loose ends. While proposing a truce “touching the final termination of the existing war,” to the Confederate President Jefferson F. Davis, Vance assured his intentions were note “to do anything subversive.”

Vance’s delegation went by train out of Raleigh that afternoon.  It was first intercepted by Hampton’s cavalry.  And then overtaken by Kilpatrick’s cavalry.  From there, the train rolled on to Sherman’s headquarters.  Sherman’s conversation with the delegation ran late into the evening, and he detained them overnight.  They would depart the next morning, under flag of truce, to Raleigh with Sherman’s counter-proposal.

Vance’s aim in all this was to preserve the safety of Raleigh, lest it be treated as Milledgeville or Columbia.  But his efforts were largely overtaken by events.  As the Confederates withdrew, looting and lawlessness broke out in the city.  The number of provost troops detailed were insufficient.  Vance himself fled west, leaving the state capitol to be ransacked.  So Sherman’s response to him arrived the next morning to find no recipient.

In the Federal camps that evening, Special Field Orders No. 54 was read.  This was the official announcement of Lee’s surrender on April 9th.  Sherman closed that with encouragement to his troops, “A little more labor, a little more toil on our part, the great race is won, and our Government stands regenerated after four long years of bloody war.”

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, page …; Part III, Serial 100, pages 172, 178, 180, 183, 186-7, 188-9, 792.)

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 21, 1865: “the skirmish line of the Sixty-fourth Illinois advanced to within 200 yards of General Johnston’s headquarters”

March 21, 1865 might have gone down as an anti-climactic day at the close of the Battle of Bentonville.  General Joseph E. Johnston said he wanted to recover his wounded as the justification for staying one more day in front of Sherman.  More likely, he hoped that Sherman might attempt an assault on the works.  And aside from that, so long as Johnston remained at Bentonville (though his stay was limited logistically), he interrupted the Federal’s march schedule. Major-General William T. Sherman was more concerned about logistics and the need to keep to his appointed schedule for the march towards Virginia.  That morning Sherman issued a six paragraph field order with every portion focused on logistical or transportation matters.  Sherman wanted to move, but was not willing to invite an open battle to do so.

The last day at Bentonville started as another day of heavy skirmishing and probing.  Heavy rains fell that day, adding to the reluctance to do much fighting. Both sides were content to just keep a hold on the other.

That is until around mid-morning.  Major-General Frank Blair’s Seventeenth Corps held the far right of the Federal line.  Blair decided to move Major-General Joseph Mower’s First Division, from the reserve position occupied the afternoon before, to extend that right flank.  Mower asked if, while conducting this move, he might send out a reconnaissance to locate the Confederate left flank to best establish the lines.  Such made sense, as it would clear up any ambiguity along the lines.  But in that approval, Blair gave Mower a lot of rope to play with.  Furthermore, Blair did not let his superiors know, or perhaps didn’t know himself, what Mower intended to do.

Mower had only two of his brigades that day – First Brigade under Brigadier-General John Fuller and Third Brigade under Brigadier-General John Tillson.  The Second Brigade was in the rear, detailed to guard the trains.  With that force, Mower proceeded out past the right-most division of Brigadier-General Manning Force.  Let me again reference the excellent maps from the Bentonville Battlefield Historic Site’s web-page.   Mower’s charge is “Map 5” in their set. The two brigades initially met only Confederate cavalry.  But even before they made contact, Confederate generals had recognized the lightly held flank and were ordering forces, placed under Lieutenant-General William Hardee, to the area.  But those would not arrive in time to block Mower’s men from ripping open the Confederate left and forcing Johnston to abandon his headquarters.

Of all the participants, Fuller seems to have left the best account of the action by way of after-action reports:

I have the honor to report that during the action of the 21st instant my brigade formed the right of the line. Five companies of the Eighteenth Missouri were ordered to cover the road upon which we had marched; the remaining companies (four) formed the right, the Twenty-seventh Ohio the center, and the Thirty-ninth Ohio the left of my line, comprising an aggregate of about 600 men, besides the regiment serving as skirmishers, the Sixty-fourth Illinois, covering the front and right flank of the brigade. In advancing we soon encountered a swamp, impassable for horses, where we crossed, and compelling us to move slowly. As we emerged into an open field one of General Mower’s staff brought an order to “double-quick.” This was immediately repeated, and the whole line passed over the field at this step. About this time the enemy used some artillery against us, and as we reached the opposite woods the major-general ordered a halt. This order was repeated by my staff, also by one of General Mower’s staff officers along a portion of the line, and also by my bugler, but the men, who had caught sight of an abandoned caisson, were cheering so as to render it impossible to hear the orders, and continued to run forward till they reached the enemy’s intrenched line, from which he ran at full speed. Here the major-general rode to the front of my brigade and in person ordered the line again to advance, whereupon we passed over the enemy’s intrenchments and occupied the crest of the hill beyond. The alignment was then rectified, and I, in obedience to the major-general’s orders, moved by my left flank, following the Third Brigade.

Soon after we halted, and sharp firing was heard from the skirmishers along our front and also to my left. Captain Reynolds, commanding the skirmishers, reported cavalry moving to our right, and soon after he reported that infantry also was moving in that direction. I thereupon faced the Eighteenth Missouri to the right to better cover that flank. Directly after I received an order to send a regiment to the left, but, as I saw by this time the enemy’s line of infantry moving on our right, I deemed it hazardous to risk the movement, and reported that fact to a staff officer of the major-general. A second order, however, came for the regiment, and I moved the Thirty-ninth Ohio a few yards in compliance, when another staff officer, seeing the situation, countermanded it in General Mower’s name, and the regiment was again faced to the front. About the same time I directed the right of the line to swing back, so as to present a strong front to the right flank. As this movement was taking place the enemy attacked. A portion of the line was thrown into confusion, as the regiments which were swinging could not be immediately halted. They were speedily rallied, however, some on the slope and the rest at the works which had been thrown up by the enemy near the base of the ridge. In spite of the temporary confusion our right oblique fire was so sharp as to halt the enemy’s line and cause him to retire. Our skirmishers immediately reoccupied the hill, and drove such of the enemy as were still lingering over the crest. During this movement–as was verified the following morning–the skirmish line of the Sixty-fourth Illinois advanced to within 200 yards of General Johnston’s headquarters, inducing the rebel commander and his staff to make a rapid movement to the rear. After the enemy had withdrawn I moved my command by the left flank through the swamp to a position near the open field, passing in rear of the Third Brigade, where we intrenched.

Fuller’s men were deep behind Confederate lines and in a position to threaten the line of retreat.  But they were also isolated from the Federal line.  When informed of Mower’s position, Major-General John Logan ordered supporting attacks all along the line.  (Major-General Oliver O. Howard was furious at Blair for allowing Mower to move that far forward to begin with, and at the same time angry that Sherman did not authorize a full assault to take advantage of the situation.) But with a mile gap between Mower and the other Federal units, those still left the division isolated.  What could have been a decisive action to cut off Johnston’s line of retreat turned into a “last stand” scenario in the making for Mower.  Terrain, tenacity, and luck worked to allow Mower to withdraw that afternoon.

Fuller reported the loss of 5 killed, 30 wounded, and 19 missing from his brigade. Overall, Mower lost 166 killed, wounded, and missing.   The closing action at Bentonville, a reconnaissance in force with somewhat dubious authorization, had been costly.  And for years to follow, the generals would debate “what could have been” and lost opportunities at Bentonville.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 395-6.)

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.)

Sherman’s March, March 15, 1865: In light marching order, the Federals advance out of Fayetteville

The 15th of March 1865 was the day designated by Major-General William T. Sherman for the lead columns of his army group to move out on the roads from Fayetteville.  “Light march order” was the formation for a third of the force.  Sherman expected trouble on the roads ahead.  And the men didn’t march far before running into Confederates.


The Right Wing advanced on roads leading to Beaman’s (or Beman’s on some maps) Crossroads.  The Fifteenth Corps order of march was Fourth, Second, then Third Divisions, in the prescribed light march order.  The First crossed the Cape Fear River that morning and camped just beyond the river.  A change in instructions, Right Wing Commander Major-General Oliver O. Howard had the Fifteenth Corps wagons to move with a detachment from First Division (instead of following the Seventeenth Corps).

In the vanguard, Major-General John Corse’s Fourth Division ran into Confederates at South River:

… I moved on the Goldsborough road to South River, where the enemy was developed on its opposite bank, made up of cavalry and a few pieces of artillery posted in a strong position, and the bridge over the main channel rendered impassable by the removal of the planking. Throwing forward a line of skirmishers to engage the enemy, I succeeded in moving a force to the left and commenced crossing, the men being compelled to ford the swamps, a distance of 200 yards, but passing the channel of the river on boats floated down and made fast for that purpose.  Before this movement could be completed and the enemy assaulted, as was my intention, night had set in, the intense darkness of which, accompanied by torrents of rain, compelling the men to grope their way with great caution through the boggy swamp (covered with three feet of water), and making it nearly midnight before a lodgment was made on the opposite bank….

Reaching the far side, the men found the Confederates had withdrawn.  But Fifteenth Corps had infiltrated across another river.

Further downstream the Seventeenth Corps moved rapidly on a parallel road leading through Blockersville.  Major-General Frank Blair again sent the 9th Illinois Mounted Infantry as a flying column, this time to capture the South River bridge on his road.  Finding the sixty-foot bridge burnt, the Illinois men skirmished hard with Confederates on the opposite bank.  When Federal artillery arrived, the Confederates withdrew.  Major-General Joseph Mower then moved his First Division over the river and setup camp beyond, leaving behind his trains.  Blair’s other two divisions also remained on the west bank that evening.  With the rains, they needed a bridge of 500 feet just to get to the river.  That was built overnight to facilitate movement the next morning.

Blair’s column now included the Right Wing’s pontoon bridges, the Wing’s wagon train, and the refugee column.  To best secure the refugees, that column would follow the Seventeenth Corps to Clinton, North Carolina, before heading to Wilmington.

The Left Wing was also in motion that day.  At the rear, Fourth Division, Fourteenth Corps, under Major-General Absalom Baird was the last unit out of Fayetteville that afternoon.  They’d waited for First Division, Fifteenth Corps and the Cavalry to clear the bridges.  Before leaving Fayetteville, Baird “destroyed 2 iron foundries of some importance, 4 cotton factories, and the printing establishments of 3 rebel newspapers.”  Baird would take-up the rear of the Left Wing, guarding the Fourteenth Corps’ trains and Wing’s pontoons.

The rest of the Fourteenth Corps had to wait for the Twentieth Corps and the Cavalry division to pass up the road north toward Raleigh.  They only got to Kyle’s Landing by evening.   Leading Twentieth Corps that morning was Third Division (who’d sent a patrol up the day before). Mid-day, First Division, Major-General Nathaniel Jackson, took the lead.  Late in the afternoon, the Cavalry Division passed through and became the vanguard. Major-General Alpheus S. Williams wrote,

I encamped in the afternoon, amidst a pouring rain, between Silver Run and Taylor’s Hole Creek. Kilpatrick’s cavalry passed to the front and reported a strong infantry skirmish line. Hawley’s brigade was sent forward after dark to support the cavalry.

Brigadier-General William Hawley’s men were in camp at 7:30 a.m. when ordered up.  The men didn’t reach Kilpatrick’s cavalry until late that evening.  Well after midnight, they took position in the center of the cavalry line.

To the rear and right of the Left Wing advance, Major-General John Geary had charge of the Twentieth Corps’ trains.  Geary expended great effort to clear and corduroy the roads on the main road leading towards Bentonville using Graham’s Bridge. He sent out a foraging detachment to secure the bridge over South River, to no avail.  They also found Confederates in positions on nearby Maxwell’s and New Bridges.  But by nightfall the Confederates fell back, leaving destroyed bridges.  That evening, Geary posted artillery at Graham’s Bridge and had half of his wagons up in camp.  The rest were strung out along the muddy, worn-out road.

Thus far in the movements through the Carolinas, Sherman had feinted with his Left Wing, while using the Right Wing to deliver the punch. No small secret that Sherman favored the Army of the Tennessee, that being his old command.  The movement out of Fayetteville continued this practice, with the Left Wing running a feint towards Raleigh.  In this case, the Confederates were in force waiting to receive the feint with a trap of their own.

Major-General William Hardee had selected some good ground on which to fight a delaying action.   If that worked, he would buy time for a larger concentration of Confederate troops.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 340-1, 551, and 585.)

Sherman’s March, March 4, 1865: Bridging the PeeDee River and an expedition to Florence

Movements on March 4, 1865 placed Major-General William T. Sherman’s forces in position to bound the PeeDee River.  In a letter to Major-General Oliver O. Howard that evening, Sherman again expressed hope that forces out of Wilmington were moving out to points in North Carolina to effect an early juncture.  “I know Grant’s anxiety for us, and he will move heaven and earth to co-operate.”  However, while Sherman speculated that Major-General John Schofield might be near Fayetteville, reality was those columns were no where near that place.   Still, in anticipation of linking up, Sherman instructed, “Get a good scout or two ready for me to send a messenger to Wilmington as soon as any of your heads of column is across the Lumber River.”  Sherman’s intent was to cross the PeeDee, then cross the Lumber, and then reach Fayetteville and the Cape Fear River.  Either there or somewhere beyond, he’d reestablish supply lines for the final push which he hoped would end the war.


(Yes, I’ve had to switch my base map….)

For the troops, March 4 was another day of “closing up.”  The Seventeenth Corps continued to work in Cheraw, sorting through captured equipment and supplies, destroying Confederate and public property, and foraging.  Despite Major-General Frank Blair’s orders, there were reports of pillaging.  The Fifteenth Corps closed up to Cheraw and went into camp around the city that day.

Looking to the next phase of the operation, Blair ordered Major-General Joseph Mower to cross his division, pending completion of the pontoon bridge.  While waiting, Mower requested mounted men be sent down river “to give warning of the approach of the rebel gun-boat Pedee, should it attempt to come up.”  The gunboat had made an appearance the day before, but it is not clear if the ship had used its guns.   (And a side note, the CSS  PeeDee has made the news of late, as archeologists recover more of the ship’s remains.)  Mower crossed shortly after 3 p.m. and promptly ran into Major-General Matthew Butler’s cavalry again.

The Left Wing concentrated at a point just south of Sneedsborough.  The intent was to cross the PeeDee at Haile’s Ferry.  And once again, it was Major-General Jefferson C. Davis who would run afoul of pontoon problems.

A location was selected for the bridge across the river, and the pontoniers immediately set at work; but again, owing to a want of proper management and energy on the part of the officers and lack of material to lay so long a bridge (920 feet), it was not completed until late in the evening of the 6th.

Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Moore was unable to direct his pontoon train, due to an attack of rheumatism.  Brigadier-General George Buell again stepped in.  Moore reported:

The bridge was commenced at 1 p.m., the river being 920 feet in width, and, as we only had in train some 820 feet of boat and 460 of balk and chess, we were necessarily compelled to procure a greater portion of material.  The men worked all night, but on account of the rapidity of the stream and considerable difficulty in getting anchors to hold we progressed slowly, and the bridge was finally finished at 3 p.m. [on March 6].

Delays placing this bridge prompted changes to the movements of the Left Wing.

Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry saw more of their Confederate counterparts on the 4th for a change.  Advancing in three columns across the state line, the Federals skirmished at Phillip’s Cross-roads and stopped just sort of Wadesborough.  Another column reached Lebanon Church to the east and turned to Wadesborough.

I would point out that the 4th of March marked a change of temp in the cavalry operations along the march.  While Lieutenant-General Wade Hampton had been in charge of the cavalry since the middle of February, several factors kept him from making a significant impact.  My opinion is that it took Hampton a couple of weeks to get acclimated to the new command and the theater of operations.  But once he did get a handle on this, Hampton hit hard.  These are interesting actions, leading up to March 10.  Eric Whittenberg devoted over 200 pages (not counting conclusions and appendices) describing this aspect of Sherman’s March in detail.  And, not that he needs me shilling his book, but you can pick it up in hardback, paperback, and kindle for a good price.

So, after sending you on a quest for Eric’s book, let me save a little space in today’s installment to focus on a lesser known action involving the mounted arm… this more so mounted infantry than “proper” cavalry.  As the Right Wing closed on Cheraw, Howard organized a separate detail to accomplished one of the secondary objectives set by Sherman.  All the mounted men from the Right Wing were organized under Colonel Reuben Williams for a dash on Florence.  Like Branchville, Florence featured in many Federal schemes earlier in the war which aimed at breaking Confederate railroads.  And in early March 1865, Sherman wanted to prevent Confederates using that junction to speed troops or supplies in response to the movement into North Carolina.


Williams’ force, numbering 546 men, consisted of the 7th and 9th Illinois Infantry, 29th Missouri Mounted Infantry, and a detachment of foragers under Major Samuel Mahon.  Williams marched out from the crossroads seven miles outside Cheraw at 11 a.m. on the 4th.  That evening, the force went into camp seven miles north of Darlington near Dove’s Station.  The short half-day movement setup a longer march the next day toward Florence.   I’ll pick up the story of this expedition in tomorrow’s installment.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 99, pages 427, 432; Part II, Serial 99, pages 676, 680.)