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.

NCMarch_Apr12

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.

NCMarch_APR10_origPlan

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:

NCMarch_Apr10

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:

NCMarch_Apr11

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.)