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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To this blunt assessment, Lee responded:

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

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

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

Sherman’s March, March 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.


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:


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 10, 1865: “After great labor by the whole command in corduroying the entire way” to work out of the mud

If Major-General William T. Sherman’s troops had a newsletter during the Carolinas Campaign, the headlines for March 10, 1865 might have read: “Half the army stuck in the mud” and “Cavalry chief caught snuggling,” along with “Mail just a day away at Fayetteville” and “Johnston expected to fight for town.”  Maybe, if outside news slipped through, a story about “Bragg delays Cox outside Kinston” with a sidebar “Couch coming to the rescue!”  Just some of the actions and activities occurring concurrently on that day in North Carolina.


Let me break from the “Left Wing” and “Right Wing” habit and instead discuss the two corps in the center – and toiling over bad roads and difficult streams.  For the men of the Fifteenth Corps, top to bottom, March 8 through 11 must have been a blur.  Normally I like to use the lines to depict a start point for the rear most unit’s daily march. And the arrow point to indicate where the lead element halted for the day.  I don’t think an accurate depiction is possible for the Fifteenth Corps’ march on this day.  At least not without a small-scale map.

An example of the trials that day was the march of Major-General John Corse’s Fourth Division.  The lead brigade of the division was near Gilchrist’s Bridge that morning.  But far behind them, “the bridge across Juniper Creek had sunk, cutting off my supply and ordnance trains and two brigades infantry,” as Corse reported.  Repairs made on the night of the 9th enabled some movement on the 10th.  Even with that, the going was rough.  At around midnight, Corse’s trains pulled into a camp near Raft Swamp.  In front of them Second Division of Major-General William B. Hazen were moving up the road.  Hazen had spent most of the morning on repairs, and not been able to move until 3 p.m.  Major-General Charles Woods’ First Division took to the Stage Road, running parallel to the main road, but didn’t make much better progress.  In the vanguard, Major-General John Smith’s Third Division passed Randallsville.  Sherman, who accompanied the Fifteenth Corps through this, knew well the effort required for even a short movement that day.

Although across the Lumber River, the Twentieth Corps faced their own trials on lesser streams that day.  Major-General Alpheus S. Williams observed for the day’s movement:

March 10, Buffalo Creek, ordinarily a mere rivulet, was so swollen by the heavy rain of last night that the head of the column was detained for hours to construct a crossing.  After great labor by the whole command in corduroying the entire way (ten miles), the head of the column reached Rockfish Creek at 3:30 p.m. and found a stream with its overflow requiring a bridge of 330 feet in length.  The pontoon train was brought up and by the use of its material and the lumber of an unoccupied building the bridge was completed during the night.

However the Twentieth Corps went into a far more compact camp than the Fifteenth that evening.

However, the outer corps advancing toward Fayetteville made good time on the 10th to keep pressure on the Confederate forces.  South of the city, the Seventeenth Corps moved on a planked road and quickly closed on Big Rockfish Creek.  Retreating Confederates burned the bridge, but due to the rains, the wood did not burn well.  Within a few hours, Major-General Frank Blair could report crossing that stream.  Blair sent one column of mounted men to Little Rockfish Creek, where another bridge was destroyed.  But, after securing the site, repairs could be made to facilitate movement planned for the next day. While that was going on, Blair dispatched the 9th Illinois Cavalry to nearby Rockfish Factory and destroyed that facility.  “This factory was one of the largest in the State having 318 looms.”

To the west of Fayetteville, the Fourteenth Corps continued its unmolested advance.  Major-General Jefferson C. Davis had his lead brigade at the Six-Mile Post on the Plank Road.  Davis exercised caution, knowing Lieutenant-General William Hardee had a sizable force in the city.  Not knowing the progress of the Seventeenth Corps that day, Davis was content with his foothold at the outskirts of town.

Did I mention Davis and Blair advanced with little to no resistance?  Yes.  How is that?  After all Hardee had a sizable force in Fayetteville.  Well, Hardee had infantry, some artillery, but not much cavalry.  And it was cavalry he sorely needed at this stage.  And where was the Confederate cavalry?  At the same place the Federal Cavalry was … Monroe’s Crossroads.  Again, Eric Wittenberg is planning has posted some detailed posts on this action, so I’ll not repeat those here.  Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick was surprised and nearly captured there. Lieutenant-General Wade Hampton came close to destroying the Federal mounted arm and depriving Sherman of an important element in his formation.  But for several reasons, which I’m sure Eric will cover in detail, the Confederates were unable to close the deal.

For me looking at the campaign overall, Monroe’s Crossroads is a point to consider both sides of the coin.  Kilpatrick’s most important mission that day was to keep the Confederates away from the main infantry formations.  The Second Division of Fifteenth Corps did dispatch one brigade to aid the cavalry.  They arrived too late to do any fighting, but did cover the regrouping cavalry.  Other than the redirection of one brigade, the Federal infantry was unmolested.  However, success on that line was short lived.  Starting the next day and continuing on for most of the campaign, the Confederate cavalry was in position to act against the Federal infantry.  After a month of being in the “right place” and dictating the pace of the covering force battle, Kilpatrick would spend the remainder of March and into April a step behind the Confederates.  Initiative, on the covering force battle, went to Hampton after March 10.

But there is the other side of the coin.  Hampton looked to inflict a stinging defeat on the Federals, then allow his command to break free from his opposite number. In terms of a covering force battle, Hampton wanted to create an opening, from which his troopers could maneuver to advantage.  In this case, Hampton needed to get back in front of the Federal infantry to better support the concentration east of the Cape Fear River.  This he accomplished on March 10.  And for the rest of the campaign, Hampton would dictate the tempo of the covering force battle.  But the cost for that accomplishment may be measured in road miles gained by Federal infantry towards Fayetteville.

In the afternoon of March 10, Sherman wrote to Major-General Oliver O. Howard, expressing his plans:

… I will come on in the morning as fast as possible, but you may go on in the morning ready to support Slocum, who reports that he will be ready to go into Fayetteville to-morrow.  I have no doubt Johnston will try and get some troops to oppose, and it is well for us to anticipate his preparations, and, therefore, you may push so as to threaten the town on the southwest.  Let Blair take the plank road to the river; the two divisions of the Fifteenth on the direct road, communicating with Williams on the left, but let Slocum break into town.  I will send a staff officer to him at daylight with orders to shove right in and push for the bridge.  I think if the enemy fights us with a bridge to his rear he commits a mistake of which we must take immediate advantage.  If any cause delays me, have preparations made at once to cross over to the east bank of the Cape Fear below the town, but we will pause thereabouts till we can get some real news from Wilmington….

One part caution from Sherman’s note.  He was concerned Johnston would put up a fight for Fayetteville.  One part opportunistic, as he hoped such a stand would prove a mistake on General Joseph E. Johnston’s part.  But what Sherman wanted most for the 11th was communication with Wilmington.  A bridge over the Cape Fear, to allow pursuit of Johnston, was secondary in that regard.  Sherman wanted to link up with Wilmington right away.  And keep in mind, Sherman did not know, on March 10th, that his supply line would need to be out of New Bern. He was operating on dated information (from early February).

Sherman planned to make a stop in Fayetteville, to refit his army and do damage to the infrastructure there. What he worried is that Johnston would make him pay dearly for that luxury.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 382 and 585; Part II, Serial 99, pages 754 and 758.)

Sherman’s March, March 9, 1865: “… this and the day following were two of the most tedious of the campaign.”

Considering this day – March 9 – as things occurred 150 years ago, Major-General Oliver O. Howard wrote:

March 9, excepting the three days at Lynch’s Creek, this and the day following were two of the most tedious of the campaign.  The rain continued, and the roads grew worse and worse.  The soil seemed to be sandy, and the roads would have answered for light wagons, but after a few wagons had passed over the whole bottom seemed to give out, and in places, if wagons left the roadway, they sank to the wagon body in the quicksand; and what was particularly discouraging, our corduroy of rails or poles would itself sink down and necessitate a reconstruction.

This is an important detail – fine grained history, if I may – about the campaign which is often passed over quickly (ironically, maybe?) in the history books as the North Carolina phase of the campaign is summarized with Bentonville.   Keep in mind that at this point of the campaign, Major-General William T. Sherman’s objective was not North Carolina.  Rather it was Petersburg.  Sherman had already written off anything General Joseph E. Johnston might muster.  Sherman was focused on his last orders from Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant – join with the armies in Virginia to defeat General Robert E. Lee.  There were several enabling objectives to gain along that route – Fayetteville and Goldsboro (I’m dropping the archaic spelling of that place….). So a day… or two… spent crossing the Lumber River was not acceptable to Sherman.

Howard’s point being, when he wrote that passage for a report of the campaign on April 1, was that the delays at Lynches and Lumber Rivers factored heavily in the events later in the campaign.  If we view the movement to Fayetteville as a race won by Lieutenant-General William Hardee, with the result of setting up the next round of moves and enabling the Confederates to gain position from which to attack Sherman’s left flank, then … we must hear Howard’s words that the race was lost at the Lumber River.


The two corps of the Right Wing advanced in parallel against the Lumber… with no appreciable Confederate resistance.  In turn, each corps divided the march across generally parallel roads.   The Seventeenth Corps moved forward at 8 a.m. on the 9th, with “Fourth Division on the upper and First and Third on the lower Fayetteville roads.”  The corps reached Raft Creek with the column spread on each side of a large swamp.  “The bridge at Raft Swamp had been partially destroyed by the enemy but was easily repaired.”  Blair’s men were closing on Fayetteville, with only Rockfish Creek and Hardee’s men between them and the Cape Fear River.

In addition to the infantry division movement, Major-General Frank Blair dispatched his “cavalry” – the 9th Illinois Mounted Infantry – to Lumberton.  There, the 9th Illinois destroyed six train cars, a mile of railroad track, and several bridges.  The intent was to isolate any force, such as Brigadier-General Beverly Robertson’s, attempting to rejoin the main Confederate force at Fayetteville.

The Fifteenth Corps’ progress on the 9th suffered greatly from the flooding. Major-General John Logan sent his Second and Fourth Divisions on the direct road to Gilchrist’s Bridge.  The First and Third Divisions moved on a branch road to the left reach the same point.  The latter column had a longer march, but bypassed much of the creeks.  Yet, even with that, the columns found the ground soft and requiring much corduroying.  By the end of the day, Second Division reached the Lumber and had bridges across.  But the going was slow:

… the whole corps worked night and day as pioneers until the treacherous country was passed.  No sooner had the Second Division fairly commenced crossing Lumber River than the rain set in with great violence, completely washing the bottom out of the roads.

This stranded Major-General William B. Hazen’s division astride the river.  Two brigade setup a two mile deep bridgehead, while the remainder of the division, including the trains, remained on the west side. Second Brigade from the Third Division also crossed the Lumber.  But the rest of the “left column” did not get closer than four miles of the river.  All of the Fifteen Corps worked through the night to pull out the mired wagons and prepare the road for the next day.  And in the midst of this effort, Logan received orders from Howard calling for an advance to Rockfish Creek the next day.  Logan was, by all accounts, getting his own hands dirty, working with the men in the mire.  His adjutant, Major Max Woodhull, responded to the order, “I think it will take all day to-morrow to close the corps up on the line of Randalsville.”  No doubt Logan’s response to the orders would have been much less restrained.

The Left Wing’s progress mirrored that of the Right.  As result of the previous day’s difficulties, the Twentieth Corps was badly strung out.  Work commenced at first light to corduroy roads leading to McFarland’s Bridge and make repairs to allow crossing the Lumber at that point. Major-General Alpheus S. Williams recalled:

In the morning I found that Mill Creek had swollen into a large stream, and Lumber Creek, with its overflow, into a formidable river, requiring a substantial bridge over 150 feet in length.  By 3 p.m. the bridges and long corduroys were finished and Jackson’s division, with its train, crossed.  At 5 p.m. the rain began to fall in torrents, submerging everything, floating away the corduroy, and turning the roads into creeks and quagmires. The field were so saturated that trains could not be parked.

However, to the left of this, Fourteenth Corps covered over twenty miles as they had the advantage of a well established plank road leading to Fayetteville.  Major-General Jefferson C. Davis entered:

March 9, with Baird’s division in the advance, the whole corps moved on the plank road and went into camp between the Fifteen and Twenty Mile Posts.  Heavy rains fell during the afternoon, and the roads became very heavy. During the day’s march prisoners captured from Hardee’s command gave information that the enemy was evidently making an effort to concentrate in our front at Fayetteville.

Indeed, in front of Davis, Hardee’s command had reached Fayetteville.  Johnston himself had arrived at that point to assume direction of the concentration of forces.  The situation facing Johnston was still not good.  Hardee was the only force holding Fayetteville and two Federal corps were within striking distance.  And Johnston was not quite ready to give battle.  At 3:30 p.m. he issued a memorandum to Hardee:

To prepare a crossing for Lieutenant-General Hampton and send him information. To remain here as long as practicable without compromising the safety of his command, in order to delay the enemy. When he leaves to move by the Raleigh road on the east bank of Cape Fear. If it is not practicable to destroy a portion of the bridge merely to burn it. To keep a few picked scouts to observe the enemy’s movements between the Fayetteville railroad and river. His object will be to keep between the enemy and Raleigh, and his movements directed accordingly. To do all he can to delay the enemy’s passage of the river in order that our forces may be concentrated as near it as possible. Remove all able-bodied negroes, saddle and draft animals, and means of transportation.

Thus Johnston would, for the moment, continue trading space for time.  Please keep the requirement of selecting scouts from Hardee’s command in mind, as it points to something we must consider later in this situational discussion. The last line from the memorandum is of note.  The Confederates were at this time in the campaign foraging just as hard on the population as the Federals.  And more so, the Confederates were drawing upon the local population for its transportation needs and … labor force.  The logistics of the Confederate armies at this stage were a tangle of priorities.

One last important element to the campaign operations of March 9, which I don’t have satisfactorily depicted on the map, is the covering force actions to the left of the main Federal advance.  Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick had the dual tasks of pursuing Hardee while at the same time keeping the Confederate cavalry off the Fourteenth Corps.  Sherman had specifically asked Kilpatrick to “keep your command well in hand, and the horses and men in the best possible order as to food and forage.” Sherman added, “Keep your horses in the best order for the day when we must have a big fight – not, however, on this turn.”

Up until this time in the campaign, Kilpatrick had minded his leash.  I, for one, would argue that Kilpatrick did the best management of cavalry of his career (some will snicker) through February.  And I would further belabor my point about the results of Aiken also adding that Confederate cavalry were constantly kept out of position, and had little impact, during the march through South Carolina.  Kilpatrick must be given some credit for that… maybe not all, but at least a good portion.  However, come March of that year, Kilpatrick seemed to forget that leash.  I read Sherman’s message and see the intent to avoid major actions.  Kilpatrick must not have.  Instead, he went looking for a fight.  And, as events often turn in these cases, the fight came looking for him!

Kilpatrick’s cavalry sparred briefly with Hardee’s rear guard while heading east.  But by mid-day he sensed an opportunity.  A gap appeared between Hardee and the Confederate cavalry.  Kilpatrick thought he might intercept the Confederate troopers before Fayetteville and give them a good twist.  However, among the many things Kilpatrick had not done through those early days of March was to account for all the various elements of his opposition.  Instead of facing Major-General Matthew Butler and other parts of Major-General Joseph Wheeler’s command, now, perhaps for the first time in the campaign, Lieutenant-General Wade Hampton had concentrated the Confederate cavalry.  Kilpatrick was outnumbered and out of support range of the infantry.

I’ll hold off a detailed discussion of the dispositions at this point.  (UPDATE: And… for a better, more detailed view of the dispositions, I refer you to Eric’s post on Emerging Civil War.) In short, Kilpatrick put his headquarters near Monroe’s Crossroads that evening with Third and Fourth Brigades of his command in a very lax perimeter.  First and Second Brigades camped at points west of there, respectively four and ten miles away.  Half of Kilpatrick’s command, along with his headquarters, were exposed and ripe for the picking.  Hampton could not ask for a more favorable disposition.

Kilpatrick and Hampton were engaged in a covering force battle, somewhat detached from the main force, at this stage of the campaign.  We should also consider what Hampton was trying to achieve with his command in that fight.  And the South Carolinian was focused, very narrowly, on Kilpatrick.

Looking at the larger picture, and considering the context, Hampton’s focus had an effect on the developing situation in front of Fayetteville.  For a week, Butler’s cavalry had maintained a position in front of the Federals and done good work scouting and delaying.  Now Butler was on the flanks, and not in position to cover the front.  At the same time, there were plenty of isolated Federal camps in the advance of that force which would advance the next day with little molestation to seal the fate of Fayetteville.  Hardee, as mentioned in Johnston’s memorandum above, was reduced improvised pickets to track the Federal advance.  If you ask me, the cavalry of both sides was out of position, and improperly focused, at this phase of the campaign.

Again, Howard’s words come to mind here – the rains did more than the Confederates to delay Sherman.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 203, 232, 382, 432, and 584-5; Part II, Serial 99, pages 721, 738, and 1356. )

Sherman’s March, March 1, 1865: “making a march of full twenty miles” out of the flooded sand hills

For the better part of five days at the end of February 1865, heavy rains, mud, and flooded rivers stalled Major-General William T. Sherman’s advance.  Aside from the defenses of Savannah, nothing had delayed Sherman’s progress as the Catawba and Lynches Rivers.  And for one additional day, the situation at Tiller’s and Kelly’s Bridges would resist movement… only for part of the day.


With any flood comes a crest and eventual retreat of the waters.  Based on accounts, it appears the flooding of the Lynches River crested on February 26, 1865, but required several days to subside.  Behind the flood, the ground remained soft and difficult to traverse.  In spite of bridging and corduroying, passage through the bottoms was difficult.  With heavy traffic, the bridges, which had taken so much labor to construct, failed. Commander of the Right Wing, Major-General Oliver O. Howard, accompanied First Division, Fifteenth Corps, under Major-General William B. Hazen, that day, crossing at Kelly’s Bridge.  Howard recalled:

March 1 the water had subsided so much that a roadway completely practicable was finished by noon at Tiller’s Bridge, while at Kelly’s General Hazen finished his plank bridge about 3.30 p.m.,of nearly a half mile in extent. But owing to the want of sufficient breadth of the trestles, and their resting upon a quicksand, the bridge racked over under the weight of heavy wagons, and part of it had to be reconstructed.

Hazen did get two brigades across to secure Kellytown.  But at the bridge, Third Division, under Major-General John Smith, repaired the bridge and waited to cross.

At Tiller’s Bridge, Major-General John Logan supervised the other two divisions of Fifteenth Corps:

The water having fallen sufficiently to warrant an attempt at crossing our trains, on the 1st of March the crossing was attempted, and by raising our hard bread and ammunition five or six inches in the beds of the wagons the Fourth Division train and a portion of the First Division passed with little or no damage, but before General [Charles] Woods could pass the whole of his train it was necessary to build another bridge of considerable length, so that it was not until the morning of the 2nd of March that he succeeded in crossing the last of his wagons.

As Logan stated, Major-General John Corse’s Fourth Division had crossed all but its trains.  Corse reported reaching Black Creek at 8:30 p.m. that evening, “where I placed my command in a defensible position with reference to my rear and flanks, the front being protected by the creek and swamp…. No enemy has been developed in my front just far.”

Being far in the advance, the Seventeenth Corps held position on March 1, only closing up the trailing wagon trains.  However, Major-General Frank Blair sent out a brigade, under the direct command of Major-General Joseph Mower, to probe for Confederates in the direction of Cheraw. “They encountered the enemy in strong force at the crossing of the Chesterfield and Society Hill road, developed their position, and withdrew.”  The Confederate forces were at that time busy evacuating Cheraw, and this only added to the haste.

In his spare time that day, Blair wrote Special Orders No. 55.  The order addressed the need, again, to reduce the number of excess animals accumulated with the column and procedures for foragers.  Of note, Blair insisted, “the great number of mounted men that are exploring the country in advance of not only the infantry but the cavalry renders any effort of the latter to obtain information concerning the enemy’s movements perfectly futile.”  Blair went on to say:

Foragers are captured every day, and every one captured is a source of information to the enemy.  The most stringent measures must be taken to prevent foraging in front of the columns. The operations of foraging parties can be extended to the flank as far as the commanding officer may see proper to go.

From this point on, Blair’s officers would arrest any foragers found in front of the column.  But it didn’t stop the practice.

For the Left Wing on March 1, the pieces finally moved at once.  Finally free of the Catawba River, Major-General Jefferson C. Davis made good time catching up with the rest of the army.  That evening, Brigadier-General James Morgan, Second Division, reported reaching Clyburn’s Store, “making a march of full twenty miles….” The other two divisions of the corps were near Hanging Rock that evening.

The Twentieth Corps also made a respectable march that day, crossing Lynches River and camping on the road to Chesterfield.  Major-General John Geary recorded:

March 1, my division in rear, moved at 11:40 a.m.; crossed Big Buffalo Creek, and further on, Lynch’s [River], where we found a good bridge at Miller’s Mill.  Slight rain all day. The roads, generally, were good. At the hills bordering on the creeks we had considerable corduroying to make. The country was poor, with sandy soil, and thinly settled by “poor whites;” distance, twelve miles.

On the far left flank of these movements, the Cavalry Division proceeded out of Lancaster on the roads to Chesterfield.  Behind them, later that afternoon, Confederates under Major-General Joseph Wheeler entered Lancaster.  Wheeler reported,

I think Kilpatrick is camped to-day about six miles from here, where he is throwing up breast-works.  The Fourteenth Corps only left the river this morning.  We captured a few of their foragers, who were in advance.  The opinion of citizens who conversed with officers is that the enemy will leave Charlotte to the left.  There is talk among the officers that they are going to Goldsborough.

General Joseph E. Johnston voiced a similar opinion earlier in the day, when describing the situation to General Robert E. Lee in Richmond.  “Our cavalry on their right think them moving toward Florence or Cheraw.”  Johnston went on to say, in a lengthier message later in the  day, “The route by Charlotte, Greensborough, and Danville is very difficult now, as you remark…. It seems to me, therefore, that he, General Sherman, ought not to take it.  His junction with General Schofield is also an object important enough, I should think, to induce him to keep more to the east.”

So much for all those efforts by Major-General H. Judson Kilpatrick to deceive the Confederates as to Sherman’s intentions.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 47, Part I, Serial 98, pages 201, 229-30, and 1123; Part II, Serial 99, pages 630, 635, and 1297.)