Lincoln and Secession

61st New York Infantry-Lincoln and SecessionAbraham Lincoln is considered one of the two or three best Presidents that the United States has ever had. But like most Presidents he had to learn the job as he went along. And quite honestly, his early decisions on the conduct of the war and who would lead his armies were mostly abysmal. In this post we’ll look at how his call for troops from the states pushed Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee into secession.

Lincoln’s initial strategy of a call for troops precipitated a number of Southern state legislatures to reverse their initial rejections of secession and join the Confederacy. Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee were three states that teetered on the secession issue.

The Virginia Convention of 1861 convened on February 13, 1861 to consider whether Virginia should secede from the United States. Its 152 delegates, a majority of whom were Unionist, had been elected at the behest of the Virginia General Assembly, which also directed that their decision be ratified by a statewide referendum.

Virginia hesitated, and debate raged on for months. On April 4, secessionists badly lost a vote but prepared for the possibility of war nevertheless. Former Virginia governor Henry A. Wise worked behind the scenes and outside the legal process to secure the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry by military means, a move that prompted a furious objection from Unionist delegate John Baldwin of Staunton. After the fall of Fort Sumter on April 13 and Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers on April 15, the momentum turned toward secession, and the convention voted on April 17 to leave the Union. Virginians expressed their agreement at the polls on May 23.

Non-slaveholding yeoman farmers made up a majority of the North Carolina population and constituted the core of the Unionist strength. They were disinclined to secede or fight for the preservation of slavery. Also, the Whig Party, which had disintegrated as a national party by 1860, still had a strong following. Whig leaders comprised the bulk of the unconditional Unionist leadership. Other Whigs and conservative Democrats advocated a “watch and wait” policy while maintaining that secession was a fundamental right of each state. The counties in the west, northeast, and Piedmont were areas of Unionist sentiment.

Democrats like Governor John W. Ellis, Senator Clingman, Congressman Thomas Ruffin, and former congressman William S. Ashe led the secessionists. The main areas of secessionist strength were the coastal counties with large slave populations and the counties that bordered South Carolina, especially Mecklenburg. Lincoln’s election prompted this group to launch local secession meetings. The first meeting was held in Cleveland County on 12 Nov. 1860, the second in New Hanover on 19 November. A series of similar gatherings were held across the state. The movement was given a boost by the secession of South Carolina on 20 Dec. 1860.

On 29 Jan. 1861 the General Assembly agreed to put the convention question to the people on 28 February. The legislature also voted to send delegates to the Washington Peace Conference on 4 February.

The convention campaign was vigorously waged. The Unionists were able to set the terms of the debate early, focusing on the question of “Union or Disunion.” Secessionist attempts to redefine the campaign based on southern self-defense failed.

The Unionists carried the northeastern counties and most of the Piedmont and Mountains. They defeated the secessionists by a vote of 47,323 to 46,672. The delegate elections are more indicative of actual sentiment. Only about a third of the 120 delegates elected were secessionists. The Unionists were helped by positive news from the Peace Conference the day before the election. The debate in the campaign had been injurious to the secessionist cause. On 4 March, a few days after the vote, Lincoln gave his inaugural address, which struck some as conciliatory.

The secessionists did not give up, however. On 22-23 Mar. 1861 delegates from 25 counties assembled in Goldsboro and organized the Southern Rights Party. They urged the legislature to call a convention and demanded that the state join the Confederacy. They posed the new debate in terms of South against North. Despite numerous meetings, by early April North Carolina seemed no nearer to secession than it had been in February.

Then came the news that Confederate forces had bombarded Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor on 12 April, followed on 15 April by Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops. Governor Ellis responded, “You can get no troops from North Carolina.” Zebulon Vance was pleading for the Union with his arm upraised when word arrived of Lincoln’s summons. “When my hand came down from that impassioned gesticulation,” he recalled, “it fell slowly and sadly by the side of a secessionist.”

Ellis called a special session of the legislature for 1 May and immediately ordered the seizure of Federal property. When the General Assembly met, it voted for a delegate election on 13 May to an unrestricted convention to meet in Raleigh on 20 May, the anniversary of the so-called Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. The campaign for the convention was characterized by resignation rather than enthusiasm. Both Unionists and secessionists spoke of the need to act in the face of northern aggression. The major debate-whether North Carolina should separate based on “the right of revolution,” as some Unionists advocated, or on the Calhounian doctrine of secession-was over. The radical secessionists favored the latter position.

A total of 122 Democratic and Whig delegates, 108 of whom were native North Carolinians, gathered on 20 May 1861. The delegates held an average of 30.5 slaves each, with the median being 21, which meant that over one-half of the delegates belonged to the small planter class. Sixty-eight delegates had attended college, making them far better educated than those who had elected them. The average personal and real property per delegate was valued at $61,817, placing them among the wealthy citizens of the state.

The convention elected Weldon N. Edwards, a Democratic planter from Warren County, as president. (Edwards defeated William A. Graham of Orange County.) Edwards gave a speech denouncing continued connection with the “Black Republican Union.”

Onetime Unionist George E. Badger introduced a resolution for separation from the Union based on the right of revolution. An alternate ordinance, simply dissolving the Union and representing the radical position, was proposed by Burton Craige of Rowan County. The Badger proposal was defeated by a vote of 72 to 40. An attempt to modify the Craige ordinance failed. The convention then unanimously passed the ordinance of secession and voted to accept the provisional Constitution of the Confederate States of America. As requested by Governor Ellis, the convention agreed not to put the secession ordinance to a popular vote. On 21 May 1861 the ordinance was signed and President Jefferson Davis proclaimed North Carolina a Confederate state.

Tennessee was the last state to secede from the Union. Tennessee was a complicated state. Like its neighbor Virginia, it was profoundly divided over the issue of secession, with its mountainous eastern section deeply opposed to the idea. They weren’t alone: A special election on Feb. 9 revealed the political gulf between Governor Isham Harris and the people of the state: On the same day that Mississippi left the Union, the voters of Tennessee voted 80 percent against secession.

By the time of Lincoln’s inauguration in March, nothing short of a repudiation of the 1860 Republican platform would satisfy the state’s fire-eaters. The two sides, Unionist and secessionist, stood at a stalemate until the bombardment of Ft. Sumter in early April. While some favored immediate secession, others held that secession was unconstitutional. A larger number futilely hoped for some sort of settlement based on a constitutional compromise regarding the “question of negro slavery.” Even after the outbreak of war, Tennessee, like Missouri and Kentucky to its north, hoped that it could remain neutral.

That changed with Lincoln’s April 15 call for the states to send 75,000 troops to fight the Confederacy. If the federal government was going to “coerce” the seceded states into returning, Tennessee had no choice but to join its Southern neighbors. “Tennessee will not furnish a single man for purposes of coercion but 50,000 if necessary for the defense of our rights and those of our Southern brothers,” wrote Harris in response to Lincoln’s request. The legislature (with 32 percent of the House and 16 percent of the Senate dissenting) voted on May 6 to join her “Southern brothers.”

Unlike every other state to join the Confederacy with the exception of Texas and Virginia, however, the legislators insisted that the public ratify their decision. While the state government prepared for secession and war following the vote for secession, Tennessee was technically not yet a member of the separatist government. But on June 8, by a two-to-one majority, Tennessee’s electorate confirmed the General Assembly’s verdict. The Volunteer State thus became the last to secede.


The Two Surrenders of Joe Johnston

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series The Confederate Surrenders

Sherman and Johnston meetAfter the Battle of Bentonville General Joe Johnston retreated with his defeated army to Raleigh, the state capital and then to Greensboro, North Carolina. It was here that Johnston met with Confederate President Jefferson Davis to discuss further actions.

Meanwhile, Sherman had advanced to Raleigh which fell to his army on April 13th. The day before, seeing that Raleigh’s capture was imminent, Governor Zebulon B. Vance crafted plans to surrender the city, with the hope of sparing it from the destruction suffered by other southern capitals captured by Sherman’s army.

Vance appointed commissioners to carry a notice of surrender to Sherman’s headquarters. Among them was former governor David L. Swain. The commissioners delivered the notice but were delayed overnight.  Unaware of the delay, Vance left Raleigh and gave additional instructions for the surrender with Raleigh’s mayor William Harrison.

At the southern edge of Raleigh, Harrison and others met Union cavalry commander General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick. While Swain waited at the Capitol, they offered the surrender of Raleigh, promising no military resistance in exchange for protection of the city. The agreed-upon terms were almost undone by a lone Texas cavalry officer who fired on Kilpatrick’s men. In the scuffle that followed, Kilpatrick’s men captured and hanged the officer. When order was restored, Union soldiers occupied and secured Raleigh.

Davis wanted to continue the struggle but Johnston demurred when he was informed of the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. Johnston dispatched a courier under a white flag to ask General Sherman for a meeting between the lines at a small farm known as Bennett Place near present-day Durham, North Carolina. Johnston, escorted by a detachment of about 60 troopers of the 5th South Carolina Cavalry Regiment, traveled east along the Hillsborough Road toward Durham Station. Sherman was riding west to meet him, with an escort of 200 men from the 9th and 13th Pennsylvania, 8th Indiana and 2nd Kentucky Cavalry.

Over the course of two days, April 17th and 18th, Johnston and Sherman negotiated the surrender of the Army of Tennessee and all remaining Confederate forces still active in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. It was the largest surrender of the war, totaling 89,270 soldiers. President Davis considered that Johnston, surrendering so many troops that had not been explicitly defeated in battle, had committed an act of treachery.

The difficulty in reaching a surrender agreement lay in part in Johnston’s desire, influenced by President Davis, for more than the purely military surrender that Major General Sherman offered. Sherman’s original terms matched those offered by Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant to General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Johnston along with General John C. Breckinridge, also serving as Secretary of War for the Confederacy, insisted on resolutions of political issues, including the reestablishment of state governments, return of some weapons to state arsenals and civil rights after the war.

Sherman, in accordance with Lincoln’s stated wishes for a compassionate and forgiving end to the war, agreed on terms that included these political issues.However, Sherman’s terms of surrender were more generous than Grant had given to Lee and the cabinet had rejected them with the concurrence of the new President, Andrew Johnson. Union officials in Washington, angry over the recent assassination of Lincoln on April 14, outright rejected them, several of whom, including Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, vehemently and publicly criticized Sherman for agreeing to the terms. Grant personally met with Sherman to discuss the situation with him.

Upon learning that the original terms had been rejected, Jefferson Davis ordered Johnston to disband his infantry and escape with his mounted troops. Johnston disobeyed these orders and agreed to meet with Sherman at the Bennett Farm again on April 26, 1865. In the largest surrender of Confederate troops during the war, Sherman and Johnston signed new surrender terms identical to the generous ones that Grant had extended to Lee.

After the surrender, Sherman issued ten days’ rations to the hungry Confederate soldiers, as well as horses and mules for them to “insure a crop.” He also ordered distribution of corn, meal, and flour to civilians throughout the South. This was an act of generosity that Johnston would never forget; he wrote to Sherman that his attitude “reconciles me to what I have previously regarded as the misfortune of my life, that of having you to encounter in the field.” Johnston, himself, was paroled on May 2nd.

Johnston’s Narrative of Military Operations, published in 1874, was highly critical of Davis and many of his fellow generals, continuing his grievance about the unfairness of his ranking as a general and attempting to justify his career as a cautious campaigner. The book sold poorly and its publisher failed to make a profit.

Although many Confederate generals were critical of Johnston, the memoirs of both Sherman and Grant put him in a favorable light. Sherman described him as a “dangerous and wily opponent” and criticized Johnston’s nemeses, Hood and Davis. Grant supported his decisions in the Vicksburg and Atlanta Campaigns.

Joseph E. Johnston died on March 21, 1891 after having stood bare-headed in cold and rainy weather at the funeral of his old foe and later friend William T. Sherman where he was an honorary pallbearer. When he was urged to put on his hat he replied: “If I were in his place and he were standing here in mine, he would not put on his hat.”



Surrender at Bennett Place

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series The Carolinas Campaign

The final chapter in the Carolinas Campaign and coincidentally in the Civil War in the East took place at Bennet Place (also known as Bennett Farm), near Durham, North Carolina over the space of ten days in mid to late April 1865.

After the Battle of Bentonville which took place in eastern North Carolina from March 19th to the 26th, the defeated Confederate Army of the South retreated to Raleigh, the North Carolina State Capital. Unable to secure the city, Lt. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston ordered his army further west to Greensboro.

Bennett Place Historic SiteBy April 13th, Confederate cavalry under Generals Wade Hampton III and Joseph Wheeler clashed with Union cavalry commanded by General Judson Kilpatrick in the area of Morrisville, North Carolina, about 20 miles south of Durham. The Confederate force was frantically trying to transport their remaining supplies and wounded by rail westward toward the final Confederate encampment in Greensboro.

Kilpatrick, an aggressive young commander, used artillery on the heights overlooking Morrisville Station and cavalry charges to push the Confederates out of the small village leaving many needed supplies behind. However, the trains were able to withdraw by the 15th with wounded soldiers from the Battle of Bentonville and the Battle of Averasboro.

After the engagement at Morrisville, Johnston sent a messenger through the Union lines with a message for Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, the Union Army Group commander. In it Johnston requested a meeting with Sherman in order to discuss a truce between the armies.

Johnston had met with Confederate President Jefferson Davis who wished to continue the struggle, even to disbanding the army and continuing with guerrilla warfare. It is believed that Johnston, like Robert E. Lee, was not interested in fighting on under that basis. Both men felt that the South would suffer greater if that occurred.

The two men met at Bennett Place on April 17th. Johnston was escorted by a detachment of about 60 troopers of the 5th South Carolina Cavalry Regiment, traveled east along the Hillsborough Road toward Durham Station. This unit had been in near continuous combat since June of 1862.

Sherman road west from Morrisville with an escort of about 200 cavalrymen from the 9th and 13th Pennsylvania, 8th Indiana and 2nd Kentucky Cavalry. Like their Southern counterparts, the Union units all had a long list of battles fought both in the Eastern and the Western Theaters.

The two generals met near the farm of James and Nancy Bennett. It being the most convenient place with the most privacy, the two men availed First meeting between Joesph Johnston and William Shermanthemselves of the Bennett’s hospitality and sat down to discuss a truce.

James and Nancy Bennett were like many families who suffered tremendously during the four years of war. They lost three sons: Lorenzo, who served in the 27th North Carolina, buried in Winchester, Virginia; Alphonzo, who is currently unaccounted for in the family history; and their daughter Eliza’s husband, Robert Duke, who died in a Confederate Army hospital and is buried in Lynchburg, Virginia.

The first day’s discussion (April 17) was intensified by the telegram Sherman handed to Johnston, informing of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. They met the following day, April 18, and signed terms of surrender. Unfortunately, they were not only more generous than those that General Grant gave to General Lee but they also included non-military conditions that were not under the purview of a purely military surrender.

Sherman’s original terms matched those of that Grant gave to Lee but Johnston, influenced by President Davis, pressed him for political terms, including the reestablishment of state governments after the war. The authorities in Washington immediately rejected them. Sherman notified Johnston that the truce would expire on the 26th if there was no formal surrender in the interim.

Johnston responded by agreeing to the purely military terms and signed the surrender document on April 26th. The surrender disbanded all active Confederate forces in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, totaling 89,270 soldiers, the largest group to surrender during the war.

After the surrender, Sherman issued ten days’ rations to the hungry Confederate soldiers, as well as horses and mules for them to “insure a crop.” He also ordered distribution of corn, meal, and flour to civilians throughout the South. This was an act of generosity that Johnston would never forget; he wrote to Sherman that his attitude “reconciles me to what I have previously regarded as the misfortune of my life, that of having you to encounter in the field.”





The First Battle of Fort Fisher

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series The Wilmington Campaign

Prior to the first Battle of Fort Fisher, there were two minor actions in East Carolina that were failures for the Union.

In the first action on December 9, 1864, an Army expedition commanded by Colonel Jones Frankel left Plymouth, North  Carolina to investigate reports of an ironclad ram being built up the Roanoke River at Halifax. They were followed by a small force of naval vessels, that included the USS Wyalusing, USS Otsego and the tug USS Bazely.

Union_Attack_on_Fort_Fisher_North_Carolina_January_15_1865The naval component of the expedition proceeded upriver in an attempt to capture Rainbow Buff. While they were anchored near Jamesville, the Otsego was struck by two torpedoes (mines) and sank up to her gun deck in the shallows. The Bazely attempted to render assistance but she too was struck by a torpedo and was partially sunk.

The rest of the expedition moved further upriver to Rainbow Bluff the Confederates had reinforced the position, so they withdrew back downriver. The expedition returned to Plymouth on December 28th. The Bazely was later destroyed by the Union Navy while the Otsego eventually sank.

Meanwhile, Frankel’s command proceeded up the river to attack Fort Branch. The fort had originally been constructed to defend the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad Bridge from Union attacks. Twelve pieces of artillery were stationed at the fort. The fort was commanded by Colonel John Hinton.

On the night of December 12, 1864, members of the 2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Heavy Artillery, 27th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 9th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry, 16th Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, 176th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Battery A of the 3rd New York Heavy Artillery Regiment, and the 12th Regiment New York Volunteer Cavalry moved against the Confederate outpost. Colonel Hinton was easily captured by the New York Artillery gun crews but the attack was too slow which allowed the Confederates to regroup. The Union force retreated back to Williamston, North Carolina.

These two disappointing preludes set the stage for an even bigger disappointment that was to come. The Union Army forces for the Fort Fisher attack were led by Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler with units from his Army of the James. After his failure at Bermuda Hundred, General Ulysses Grant had originally assigned one of Butler’s subordinates, Maj. Gen. Godfrey Weitzel, to lead the expedition. Butler, ever the glory seeker, insisted thatGeneral Benjamin Butler he would lead the expedition himself. Grant agreed.

Butler’s force included 2nd Division of the XXIV Corps and the 3rd Division from the XXV Corps, along with two battalions of heavy artillery and engineers. Grant’s own staff engineer, Colonel Cyrus Comstock, went along as chief engineer. Butler had also brought along the USS Louisiana, a hulk, that he had filled with 200 tons of gunpowder for what he hoped was an ingenious attack on the fort. The naval forces were led by Admiral David Dixon Porter and nearly 60 vessels of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron plus troop transports.

The fleet were supposed to start out from Hampton Roads on December 10th but they were delayed by winter storms for three days. The Navy needed to tow the monitors and they needed to stop at Beaufort to refuel. Eventually after a second storm, all was in readiness and the attack commenced on the night of December 222-23, 1864. The army transports returned to Beaufort due to the second storm.

The opening gambit was to use the Louisiana as a floating bomb. Near midnight, the ship was towed close to the fort’s seawall and set on fire. However, the Louisiana was farther out to sea than the navy thought, perhaps as far as a mile offshore. As a result, Fort Fisher was undamaged by the blast.

In the morning, the Union Navy moved closer to Fort Fisher and began a massive bombardment of the fortification. During the course of the day, the fleet fired close to 10,000 shells, causing very little damage with four seacoast gun carriages disabled, one light artillery caisson destroyed, and 23 casualties in the garrison. In fact, the Union Navy lost 45 men from exploding guns and Confederate artillery hits.

First Battle of Fort FisherWhen the Union Army arrived on the evening of the 23rd, Butler felt that the Confederates were alerted to his amphibious assault by the premature Louisiana explosion and the naval bombardment. Porter convinced him to land a reconnaissance party for scouting purposes. On Christmas morning, Brig. Gen. Adelbert Ames’ division began to land.

The Union troops captured a battery north of Fort Fisher and the 4th and 8th North Carolina Junior Reserve battalions. Ames sent a brigade toward the fort to report on the possibility of an attack. The brigade commander, N. Martin Curtis, reported that the land wall was lightly defended. Ames refused to give him permission for an attack and ordered him to withdraw.

Butler had convinced himself that the fort was undamaged and would be too difficult to capture. He ordered his forces to re-embark after he received word the Maj. Gen. Robert Hoke’s division was in the area and there was a threat of yet another storm. The entire fleet then returned to Hampton Roads, having accomplished nothing.

Benjamin Butler was relieved of command by General Grant and eventually dismissed from the Army. He was replaced by Major General Alfred H. Terry. Confederate losses amounted to five killed and mortally wounded, fifty-six wounded, and six hundred captured, while the damage caused by the bombardment was quickly repaired. Blockade runners continued using the port, the next ships to arrive did so the very night the Union fleet withdrew.


The Wilmington Defense

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series The Wilmington Campaign

With the neutralization of Mobile, the only remaining major Confederate Port was Wilmington, North Carolina. The city was major Atlantic Ocean port city which served as a lifeline for Confederate trade with Europe. The city was located 30 miles upstream from the mouth of the Cape Fear River.

For its time, Wilmington was a rather large city, being the 13th in population in the Confederacy with 9,553 in the 1860 census. That made it about the same size as Atlanta, Georgia.The port traded cotton and tobacco in exchange for foreign goods, such as munitions, clothing and foodstuffs.

The city was the terminus for the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad which transported freight through Petersburg to Richmond. By the middle of 1864, the railroad became a virtual lifeline of supplies for the Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The loss of the port facilities at Wilmington would spell slow starvation to the defenders at Petersburg.

The Union Navy found that blockading Wilmington was very difficult. There were two outlets out to the Atlantic Ocean that required blockade ships to be positioned on either side of Smith Island. The channels were rather shallow and were protected by a number of fortifications.

There were two paths to gain access to the Cape Fear and Wilmington: Old Inlet, to the south and west of Bald Head Island, and New Inlet, formed during a major hurricane in 1769, to the north of Bald Head Island. The existence of two inlets resulted in a crucial advantage: guided by the Confederates, the blockade runners simply had to change course unexpectedly, alternatively between the two inlets.

In order to hold the port open for blockade runners, the Confederate Army sited a number of fortifications to defend the mouth of the Cape Fear River. The largest of these was Fort Fisher which was sited along a peninsula that protected the river. The fort was named for Colonel Charles F. Fisher of the 6th North Carolina Infantry who fell at the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run).

Fort Fisher had both a land defense and a sea defense plus a battery at one end. The land face was 1,800 feet long over 15 dirt mounds. It had 25 guns which were positioned at 32 feet above sea level. In the mounds there was a tunnel network plus magazines for ammunition. In front of this wall of dirt, there was a 9 foot tall fence of wooden stakes.

The sea defense was one mile long and had a total of 22 guns at 12 feet above sea level plus two large batteries at the ends. Two additional bombproof-structures were also constructed to house the hospital and the telegraph office. The Buchanan battery was built at the extreme tip of the peninsula.

Fort Fisher was equipped with a variety of artillery pieces. This weaponry include a number 8 inch Columbiads, a few 10 inch Columbiads, a variety of 32-pounder rifled guns and Brooke rifles. An 8 inch Blakely was mounted in the Northeast Bastion. The innovative 150 pound Armstrong  rifled gun was placed along the sea face.

To protect the guns barbette carriages were installed around each of the guns. These were early protective circular armor to protect the gun and its crew.

Siege weapons included 4.5 inch Parrott Rifles at the Shepherd Battery, and two 24-pound Coehorn Mortars and one 10 inch seacoast mortar along the land face. Along the entrance was stationed a 12 pound Napoleon-M1857 and a 3 inch Parrott Rifle. The middle sally port along the fort’s landface was protected by 2-12 pounders.

Fort Fisher was not the only defensive fortification guarding the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Both inlets had been seeded with obstacles and torpedoes (mines) that required the blockade runners to have an escort to enter the estuary.

Forts Caswell, Campbell, and Battery Shaw on Oak Island, along with Fort Holmes on Bald Head Island guarded the Old Inlet entrance to Cape Fear. Fort Pender built at Smithville. Smith Island, guarding the New Inlet, had a battery sited on it. Opposite the island on the mainland, there was Battery Lamb with a battery of 10 inch guns. A short distance up the river was Fort Anderson with 13 additional guns to prevent the penetration of the Cape Fear River. Throughout the passage upriver there were additional obstacles in the water.

The Wilmington defense was truly a formidable one and it would require a huge effort to defeat the Confederates.

Sea Face at Fort Fisher



The Battles for the Weldon Railroad

This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series Railroads of the Civil War

Ulysses S. Grant understood the importance of railroad for both sides war efforts. By June of 1864 his forces were systematically cutting the rail lines that supplied Petersburg and Richmond of much-needed daily supplies. As the noose around the twin Confederate strongholds tightened the battles for the Weldon Railroad increased in importance.

The Weldon Railroad had originally been chartered in 1835 as the Wilmington and Raleigh Railroad. By 1855 it had been renamed the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad. At its completion in 1840 it was considered the longest railroad in the world at 161.5 miles of 4 ft. 8 inch gauge track.

At its terminus in Weldon, North Carolina, it connected with the Seaboard and Roanoke Railroad (to Portsmouth, Virginia) and the Petersburg Railroad (to Petersburg, Virginia). It also connected with the North Carolina Railroad at its midpoint where the future city of Goldsboro soon sprang up.

Petersburg, railroad attacks, June 21-22

The first serious action to cut off the railroad is called the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road. This initial attack against the Weldon Railroad began on June 21st when units from the II Corps skirmished with Confederate cavalry as they moved toward the rail line. The two Federal corps assigned to the attack began to diverge from each other creating a gap.

Confederate Brig. Gen. William Mahone who was very familiar with the area (he had been a civil engineer before the war) realized that he could surprise the II Corps by hiding his men in a deep ravine. At 3:00 PM his force emerged in the rear of Francis Barlow’s Division and surprised them. Barlow’s unit was routed. So, too, was John Gibbon’s Division. However, both units able to rally around some earthworks that had been built the night before. The fighting ended with the coming of darkness.

In the morning the II Corps resumed their advance and retook the earthworks that they had lost the day before. One brigade of Vermont men reached the rail line and started tearing up the tracks. They were caught in a Confederate counterattack and many of them were captured. The general attack collapsed and Meade called off further operations.

The Federals lost almost 3,000 men to the Confederates 572. It wasn’t a total loss for the Federal side. Although the Confederates retained control of the Weldon Railroad, at least a half mile of track was destroyed and the siege lines continued to be pushed to the west straining the Confederate manpower resources.

The second attempt to cut the line was an all-cavalry raid, called the Wilson-Kautz Raid, whose main goal was to destroy as much of the track to the south and southwest of Petersburg. The overall commander wasWilson-Kautz Raid, June 22-July 1 Maj. Gen. James Wilson who was accompanied by Br. Gen. August Kautz. Interestingly, Wilson’s contribution was only 1,300 men while Kautz’s entire division numbered 2,000. The force also included two batteries of six guns each.

Their first objective was Reams Station, about 7 miles south of the city where they destroyed rail cars and track of the Weldon Railroad. Kautz’s force moved west to Ford’s Station where they destroyed rail cars and track of the South Side Railroad.

Wilson’s force moved toward Burkeville where the South Side Railroad intersected with the Richmond & Danville Railroad. At this point they encountered units of Rooney Lee’s Cavalry.  While his rear guard fended off the Confederates, Wilson’s main force destroyed about 30 miles of track. One June 24th he moved his force south to Meherrin Station on the Richmond & Danville RR where his force continued to tear up the track.

Staunton River BridgeThe combined force continued to move southwest on the Richmond & Danville RR tearing up track all of the way until they reached the Staunton River Bridge. The bridge was defended by about 1,000 men and boys of the Home Guard commanded by Captain Benjamin L. Farinholt. The Federal force was unable to dislodge the Home Guards and being pressed from the rear by Confederate cavalry, retreated east to Reams Station.

Wilson had been assured that this station would be under Federal control. With Confederate units closing in on all sides, they continued to move to the east. The Federal force fought a minor engagement at Sappony Station and was able to continue moving toward Reams Station. They continued to fight a running battle with enemy cavalry units from June 28th until the following day.

On the 29th they arrived back at Ream’s Station only to find it occupied by Confederate infantry. They managed to get a messenger through to Meade who dispatched infantry reinforcements south. Wilson couldn’t wait for them to arrive. He burned his wagons, destroyed his artillery and fled north to the safety of the Federal lines where they arrived on July 1, 1864.

The Wilson Kautz Raid was seen by some as successful but Grant described it as a “disaster”. The combined force had 1,445 casualties (killed, wounded, missing/captured). About 60 miles of track were destroyed, which took the Confederates several weeks to repair.

The Union Army made another effort against the all-important supply line on August 18, 1864 when a force of 20,000 Federals under Maj. Gen Gouverneur Warren headed south in an attempt to cut off the Confederate’s lifeline. Warren’s V Corps was supplemented by units from the IX Corps, the II Corps and August Kautz’s small cavalry division.

General A.P. Hill commanded a force of 14-15,000 Confederates under General P.G.T/ Beauregard who was the commander in Petersburg. Lee was off observing the Deep Bottom battle.

Warren’s force advanced south through the rain and over muddy roads. He pushed aside the Confederate pickets and a cavalry brigade. The reached Globe Tavern on the railroad line by about 9:00 AM and started to destroy the track. Warren detailed a brigade from Romeyn B. Ayres’ Division to protect his force from any attack from the north.

Ayers met the Confederates about 1:00 PM and Warren sent Samuel Crawford’s Division to strengthen his right. They tried to outflank the Confederate attackers. About 2:00 PM three Confederate brigades attacked the combined Federal force and began to push it back to within a mile of the Weldon Railroad and Globe Tavern. Warren counterattacked, regained the lost ground and entrenched for the night.

During the night both armies were reinforced. The Federal IX Corps arrived on the field and Rooney Lee’s cavalry division and three infantry brigades from William Mahone’s Division reinforced the Confederates.

Globe Tavern and the Weldon RailroadThe next day saw limited action due to the heavy rain. However in the late afternoon, Mahone found a hole in the Federal line and his men poured through it to the enemy’s rear area. General Crawford attempted to rally his panicked men and was nearly captured. However, almost two full brigades of his men were captured.

At the same Henry Heth launched a frontal assault against the Federal left and center that was easily repulsed by Ayers. The IX Corps counterattacked and the fighting was hand-to-hand until darkness ended it.

On August 20th heavy rains curtailed any activity. On the night of August 20-21 Warren pulled his units back about 2 miles to a new line of fortifications that were tied in to the main Federal line along Jerusalem Plank Road.

On the 21st the fair weather returned and the Confederates attacked at about 9:00 AM. Mahone struck the Federal left and Heth the Federal right. Both assaults were unsuccessful with heavy Confederate casualties. By 10:30 AM the Confederates withdraw leaving several miles of the Weldon Railroad in Federal hands.

Federal casualties were heavy with 251 killed, 1148 wounded and 2,897 missing/captured. The Confederates suffered 211 killed, 990 wounded and 419 missing/captured, including Brig. Gen. John C.C. Sanders of Mahone’s Division.

More importantly, the Confederates were forced to move their supplies 30 miles by wagon because of the break in the Weldon Railroad. The Federals extended their siege lines to Globe Tavern and achieved their first clear victory of the siege.

Grant wasn’t completely satisfied with Warren’s victory and he delegated Winfield Hancock and the II Corps to extend his control further south. Hancock’s objective was to destroy an additional 14 miles of track from Globe Tavern as far south as Rowanty Creek. This engagement is called the Second Battle of Ream’s Station.

Hancock had a force of 9,000 men which included David Gregg’s cavalry division. He faced A.P. Hill and Henry Heth with their force of between 8-10,000 men.

On August 22nd Gregg’s Cavalry and Barlow’s Division, under the command of Brig. General Nelson A. Miles while Barlow was on leave, drove off the Confederate pickets and destroyed the tracks to within 3 miles of Ream’s Station.

Hancock’s other infantry division under the command of John Gibbon moved forward the next day and occupied fortifications left from the Wilson-Kautz Raid in June. The positions were somewhat degraded but Gibbon’s men didn’t bother to improve them.

Meanwhile, Lee realized that if the Federal captured Dinwiddie Court House his possible retreat route out of the Richmond and Petersburg would be cut. He ordered A.P. Hill to drive the Federals from their positions. Hill, who was ill, delegated tactical command to Henry Heth with an order to carry the position. The Confederate force included Heth’s own division, Cadmus Wilcox’s Division, Wade Hampton’s Cavalry and part of Mahone’s Division.

By the 24th Hancock had arrived at Ream’s Station. The Federals had destroyed 3 miles of track south of Ream’s Station (images) but the following day Hancock recalled them when he received word that the Confederate cavalry was approaching.

Gregg’s cavalry was pushed back by Hampton’s cavalry with the Confederate column advancing down the Dinwiddie Stage Road. On the north side of the battle Wilcox’s three brigades assaulted Miles’ fortified position about 2:00 PM but were repulsed. Gibbon’s Division blocked Hampton’s cavalry in the south.

Confederate reinforcements arrived in the afternoon and Heth ordered an all-out assault against Miles’ position at about 5:30 PM. The six Confederate brigades were personally led by Heth. His men broke through the Federal fortifications and Miles’ men disintegrated under the assault. Neither Miles nor Hancock was able to rally the men.

In the south Gibbon’s Division began to give way under the pressure of a surprise dismounted attack from Hampton’s Cavalry. Many of Gibbon’s men either fled or surrendered. This allowed Hampton to flank Miles and complete the rout. However, Hancock ordered a counterattack which allowed the Federal force to beat an orderly retreat to the Petersburg lines.

Hancock lost 117 killed, 439 wounded and 2,046 missing/captured with the cavalry suffering an additional 145 casualties. Confederate casualties were 814 (Hampton’s cavalry lost 16 killed, 75 wounded, 3 missing; Hill’s infantry 720 total).

However, it was only a partial Confederate victory. They may have saved Dinwiddie Court House but they lost the use of the Weldon Railroad and continued to bring in their supplies by wagon. The noose around Petersburg was tightening.


Our Best Men: Stephen Dodson Ramseur

General Stephen Dodson RamseurThe American Civil War is filled with stories of promising men who had their lives cut short. One such man was Maj. Gen. Stephen Dodson Ramseur of North Carolina. At one point, he was the youngest general in the Confederate Army.

Dodson Ramseur (he rarely used his given name) was born on May 31, 1837 in Lincolnton, North Carolina. He came from a somewhat prosperous family. He began his studies at Davidson College under future Confederate general Daniel Harvey Hill. He continued them at West Point, graduating in 1860. Commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the artillery, his career in the U.S. Army was short-lived.

Ramseur resigned his commission and joined the Confederate Army in Alabama. He quickly transferred to the 10th North Carolina Militia. He became the lieutenant colonel of the 3rd North Carolina Infantry on May 27, 1861. He was injured with a broken collarbone while being thrown from his horse in July and was out of service until the following spring.

At the start of the Peninsula Campaign Ramseur was assigned to the artillery in Brig. Gen. John B. Magruder‘s division, but he was elected colonel of the 49th North Carolina Infantry on April 12, 1862. Ramseur saw significant action at the Battle of Malvern Hill where he led a futile charge against the strong Union defenses.

He was severely wounded in the arm which was paralyzed. He would not return until after the Battle of Antietam when he was given command of a brigade of four North Carolina regiments in Brig. Gen. Robert E. Rodes‘ division.

 Ramseur was promoted to brigadier general in November 1862 even though he has missed a number of battle. Robert E. Lee had been impressed by his aggressive performance at Malvern Hill and wanted to reward him.

At Chancellorsville, Ramseur’s was the lead brigade on Jackson’s famous flank march on May 2, 1863. After Jackson was mortally wounded, J.E.B. Stuart ordered three cheers for the brigade’s aggressive assault and recommended that Ramseur be promoted to major general.

Actually, Ramseur’s brigade was too aggressive and moved out in front of the other brigades too quickly. They became too exposed and ran out of ammunition. This required reinforcements from the other brigades to help them consolidate their gains. The brigade suffered more than 50% casualties; by far higher than any other Confederate brigade. The following day Ramseur was wounded once again and came to Robert E. Lee’s attention:

I consider its brigade and regimental commanders as among the best of their respective grades in the army, and in the battle of Chancellorsville, where the brigade was much distinguished and suffered severely, General Ramseur was among those whose conduct was especially commended to my notice by Lieutenant General Jackson, in a message sent to me after he was wounded.

— Robert E. Lee, Official Report on Chancellorsville

Ramseur’s brigade was only engage on the first day at Gettysburg. Initially, they were in reserve but when the attack against the right flank of the Union I Corps began to peter out Rodes ordered them to attack the attack the Union positions in the rear. Ramseur was ordered to halt the pursuit at the foot of Cemetery Hill. This was their last action in the battle.

After Gettysburg, Ramseur returned home to marry Ellen E. “Nellie” Richmond and they spent three months together in the Confederate army winter encampment.

At the start of the Battle of the Wilderness, Ramseur’s brigade was once more held in reserve. On May 7, 1864, his brigade was called forward and smashed into Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside‘s IX Corps, which was attempting to outflank Ewell’s Corps. Both Lee and corps commander Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell wrote in admiration of his gallant attack, which drove Burnside’s troops back over a half mile.

At Spotsylvania Court House, his brigade was involved in intense combat against Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps when they attacked the Mule Shoe Salient at the “Bloody Angle.” The fighting lasted 20 hours and Ramseur was wounded once again in the arm. Despite being shot from his horse, he refused to leave the field.

After Spotsylvania, Ramseur was promoted to major general and given command of Jubal Early’s division when he took over for the wounded Ewell. He thus became the youngest West Point graduate to ever be promoted to major general in the Confederate Army. Following that accomplishment, he led his division at Cold Harbor where they thwarted Ulysses S. Grant’s attempt to take Petersburg.

In late June of 1864, Lee dispatched Early’s Corps to the Shenandoah Valley. Their objective was to draw off Union forces from the siege at Petersburg and also secure supplies in the Valley needed by the Confederate Army to survive the Union siege. Early’s Corps conducted a series of successful raids down thew Valley, into Maryland and to the outer defenses of Washington itself.

Grant responded by sending one of his favorites Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan to the Valley. Sheridan met Early’s Corps on September 19, 1864 at at the Battle of Opequon, also known as the Third Battle of Winchester. The Confederates were outnumbered by more than 3-to-1 and were suffered severe casualties, although the Union Army suffered more.

Ramseur’s division was routed by a strong Union assault near Stephenson’s Depot. Ramseur allegedly wept openly and immaturely blamed his men for the retreat. His former commander Robert Rodes was mortally wounded. Early’s Corps was forced into a headlong retreat. The Battle of Opequon marked a turning point in the Shenandoah Valley in favor of the North. Early’s army for the most part remained intact but suffered further defeats at Fisher’s Hill and Tom’s Brook.

One moth after the Battle of Opequon, the two armies met at Cedar Creek. Outnumbered 3-to-2, Early devised an aggressive plan. They hoped to catch the Union soldiers when they least expected it, in the very early morning. To complicate matters, Sheridan had gone to Washington and had intended to send his Cavalry Corps to raid the Virginia Central Railroad.

But Early outsmarted himself when he sent signals that Lt. Gen James Longstreet’s Corps was on the way to reinforce him. Sheridan recalled the infantry that he had sent back to Petersburg and the cavalry. He himself was at Winchester awaiting events.

Early’s initial attack was a complete surprise. Most of the Union troops were routed and fled north but a few isolated units held the field. The Union corps commanders regrouped their commands and held off the Confederate attacks.

The hungry Confederate troops stopped to eat the Union soldiers’ breakfasts and pillage their tents. This slowed down the entire momentum of the attack. Ramseur managed to corral a few hundred soldiers out of his division and stood with them in the center of the line as Sheridan counterattacked. They held off the Union assault for an hour and a half.

Ramseur displayed great bravery in rallying his troops, but he was mounted conspicuously on horseback and drew continuous fire. He was wounded in the arm and his horse was shot out from under him. A second horse was also killed. On his third horse, he was struck through both lungs and fell, later to be captured by Union soldiers of the 1st Vermont Cavalry.

The mortally-wounded Confederate was taken to Union headquarters at Belle Grove. He found out the day before the battle that his wife had given birth to his baby daughter. At Belle Grove Dodson Ramseur was comforted by his former classmates from West Point: George A. Custer, Wesley Merritt and Henry DuPont, as he lay dying. He died the following day at 10:20 AM. His last words were, “Bear this message to my precious wife—I die a Christian and hope to meet her in heaven.”

Jubal Early summed up Stephen Dodson Ramseur in his report to General Lee:

Major-General Ramseur fell into the hands of the enemy mortally wounded, and in him not only my command, but the country suffered a heavy loss. He was a most gallant and energetic officer whom no disaster appalled, but his courage and energy seemed to gain new strength in the midst of confusion and disorder. He fell at his post fighting like a lion at bay, and his native State has reason to be proud of his memory.

— Jubal Early, Official Report from Cedar Creek

Nellie Ramseur never remarried; she remained with her family at Woodside, and wore black mourning clothes for the rest of her life.

You can read more about Dodson Ramseur in Gary Gallagher’s book: Stephen Dodson Ramseur: Lee’s Gallant General


The Diaries of David Schenck

This entry is part 4 of 10 in the series Southern Diaries, Letters and Memoirs

David Schenck circa 1889David Schenck was a mid-level North Carolina bureaucrat whose extensive diaries that are a view into the everyday civilian life of the Confederacy in North Carolina. A Confederate nationalist, Schenck’s influence continued after the war as an opponent of Radical Reconstruction and his leadership of the Ku Klux Klan.

David Schenck was born in 1835 to David Warlick and Susan Bevins Schenck in Lincolnton, North Carolina. Schenck was educated in local schools and received his education in law at Chief Justice Richmond Pearson‘s famous “Richmond Hill” law school. He began to practice law in 1857 in Dallas, Gaston County. It was here that he met and married Sallie Wilfong Ramseur. Sallie was the younger sister of Stephen Dodson Ramseur, later a major general in the Confederate Army.

It was during this period that Schenck began his career in government service as a county solicitor for Gaston County. In 1860 David and Sallie returned to Lincolnton where he appointed solicitor for Lincoln County and then elected as the youngest delegate to the Secession Convention.

David chose to remain in civilian life at the start of the war due to ill health and became an official in the Confederate government. It was in this capacity that he became Confederate States receiver, in which capacity he collected large sums of money for the Confederacy. Schenck would typically collect money from confiscated estates of those accused of disloyalty under the Confederate Act of Sequestration.

The seizure of Southern property that was owned by Northerners was widespread in the South. As an example Thomas Jefferson’s estate at Monticello was owned by a captain in the U.S. Navy, Uriah P. Levy of Pennsylvania. Levy had saved the estate from collapse and it was managed by two local agents. Captain Levy as a U.S. citizen was classified as an enemy alien and as such all of his property was seized.

Under the terms of the Act, all of his property located within the borders of the Confederacy was subject to permanent, uncompensated seizure and sale for the benefit of Confederate citizens who had lost property to the Union.

David Schenck was the receiver operating out of Lincoln County who seized the property that Northerners owned in his area of operation. In the process of doing so he was able to enrich himself by buying seized property at favorable prices.

As early as May 6, 1862, Schenck talked about the prospects of success for the Confederacy. “The conscript law too which takes so many producers from the country will reduce the crops one half and a scarcity of Bread stares us in the face.” 

On this date he summarized the Confederacy’s position:

The present situation of our affairs presents a dark and gloomy picture. The fall of “New Orleans” gives the enemy control of the Mississippi and if Fort Pillow falls, he has an unobstructed highway through our country, from which he can move on any point he chooses – It cuts our Confederacy in two and deprives us of immense military resources.

On September 1, 1862, he celebrated the Union defeat at Second Manassas:

A cool autumn day ushers in the Fall the “summer is ended” and the Confederacy still survives the shock of war and the carnage of battle, and finds our armies in hot pursuit of the flying, lying braggart Pope who vaunted that he was “accustomed to look only on the backs of his foes and who wished to know the forward route and not the lines of retreat.

On the same day he wrote about food prices:

The following almost fabulous prices are now current __ Flour $20 per Barrell __ Bacon 35 cts per pound __ Beef $10 cts per pound __ Leather 1.25 to 2.00 per pound __ cotton yarn $5.00 per bunch __ wool $2.00 per pound __ Sugar 60cts __ Molasses 3.00 per gal. __ Salt 10.00 per bushel __

He also wrote about confiscation and resale of property:

I am engaged these days in my duties as Receiver and have recently sold $20,000 worth of real estate confiscated in my district. Lands bring very high prices. Men who have money and do not wish to speculate, fear a depreciation and prefer to invest their funds in permanent property which cannot well be destroyed; and in fact the abundance of money depreciates it and correspondingly increases prices of good property.

Schenck served in an area of southwestern North Carolina where as the war progressed desertion became a serious problem for Confederate authorities. In a diary entry June 11, 1863, Schenck wrote: “…News from all quarters is that desertion is progressing to an alarming extent and disloyalty is every where increasing and growing bolder.” 

Schenck confided to his diary his doubts about the Confederacy’s chances for success. Not only did it face a vastly superior military force, the loyalty of its army and its homefront were in question. Desertion in North Carolina was widespread and on the rise. Deserters in Yadkin and Wilkes counties alone numbered in the hundreds. The home guard had neither the authority nor the public support to enforce the conscription laws and women provided safe harbor to their husbands and sons who deserted.

David Schenck continued to confide his thoughts to his diary throughout the rest of the war and beyond. He opened a window into the heart and soul of the Confederate South’s burgeoning professional middle class and revealed the complex set of desires, aspirations, and motivations that inspired men like him.

After the war Schenck’s law license was reinstated and he returned to the practice of the law. He took an active role in public life, serving as alderman and mayor; in the life of his church, as a Presbyterian elder; and in educational matters, as a trustee of Davidson College and an enthusiastic supporter of better public schools.

A loyal Democrat, he was he was nominated by his party and elected as judge for the Ninth Judicial District. The courts had come into public disrepute during the early Reconstruction period, and Judge Schenck performed notable service in restoring confidence in the sanctity of the law.

His most famous case was one that involved a conflict between state and federal laws. Not surprisingly, he came came down in favor of the state law in the principle of jurisdiction. In 1880 the University of North Carolina awarded him an honorary LL.D. in recognition of his legal services to North Carolina.

Another side of David Schenck’s life was his position of leadership in the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan (also known as the First Klan) was founded primarily by Confederate veterans as an insurgent movement during the Reconstruction era. It sought to restore white supremacy by threats and violence, including murder, against black and white Republicans. David Schenck probably joined to further his career both locally and statewide.

In 1881 Schenck resigned his position to become general council with the prosperous Richmond and Danville Railroad (later Southern Railway). It was necessary that he move his family to Greensboro where the railroad was headquartered. At some point he was offered an appointment to the North Carolina Supreme Court but he turned it down to remain in private practice.

In Greensboro, he became a town commissioner, a position that allowed to continue his interest in public affairs. Schenck vigorously pushed for modernization of community facilities like paved streets and sidewalks, electric lights, and better schools. Schools were one of his greatest interests, so it was personally gratifying when he dedicated the town’s first brick schoolhouse in 1887.

Schenck also founded and was the prime mover behind the preservation of the Guilford Battle Ground, a Revolutionary war battlefield site. It was also through his support, physical and financial, that land was purchased, money was appropriated by the state legislature for maintenance, and monuments and other markers were erected. His energy and foresight were rewarded in 1917, when the Guilford Battlefield was incorporated into the National Park Service.

Schenck also published a book entitled North Carolina, 1780–81, a study of the Revolutionary War campaigns of General Nathaniel Greene and Lord Cornwallis.

David Schenck died in August 1902 after a debilitating illness. During his lifetime he had been a staunch Confederate nationalist who refocused his loyalties to become a just as loyal North Carolina loyalist.

If you would like to read further about this fascinating individual Rodney Steward has written a book entitled David Schenck and the Contours of Confederate Identity





The Battle of Bentonville

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series The Carolinas Campaign

The Battle of Bentonville was the final major battle between the armies of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman and the forces of Lt. Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. For the Confederates it was the final throw of the dice in the four-year struggle for the independence.

The Union armies were split into two columns as the moved north and then west in pursuit of the Confederate foes. The Left Wing (the Army of Georgia) commanded by Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum and a Right Wing (the Army of the Tennessee) commanded by Maj. Gen.Oliver O. Howard. The two wings marched separately toward Goldsboro beginning on March 13, with no one in the Union command expecting major resistance from Johnston.

Johnston sent sent Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee‘s corps to attack Slocum’s left wing while it was separated from the rest of Sherman’s forces. The Union forces met Hardee’s Corps of 5,400 as they crossed the Cape Fear River near Averasborough (also spelled Averasboro) on the morning of March 16th. Slocum’s force numbered nearly 26,000, a nearly 5 to 1 advantage.

Click Map to enlarge.

The Union XX Corps under Maj. Gen. Alpheus S. Williams were driven back by a Confederate assault. When reinforcements arrived, the Union force drove the Confederates from two defensive lines but were repulsed from a third line. When units from Maj. Gen.Jefferson C. Davis‘s XIV Corps began to arrive on the field, Hardee ordered his men to withdraw because he was in danger of being outflanked. Hardee suffered a total of 865 casualties while the Union force had 682.

The Battle of Bentonville took place from March 19th to March 21st near the town of Four Oaks. Sherman’s Army Group outnumbered Johnston’s by 60,000 to 21,000, a nearly 3 to 1 advantage. Johnston realized that his one chance was to destroy the Union force piecemeal, taking advantage of their split wings.

Johnston had been ordered to North Carolina on February 25th by Confederate general-in-chief Robert E. Lee who understood the danger that Sherman’s army was to Petersburg and Richmond. President Jefferson Davis had misgivings about Johnston but agreed to his reappointment. His orders were to “concentrate all available forces and drive back Sherman.”

Johnston managed to pull together the remaining Confederate forces, including the Army of Tennessee commanded by Lt. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart, Maj. Gen. Robert Hoke‘s division from the Army of Northern Virginia, troops from the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida commanded by Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee, and cavalry under the command of Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton. He called the united force the Army of the South.

Maps erroneously positioned the two Union wings 12 miles apart, a day’s march. They were much closer than that. Johnston’s plan called for his General Henry Warner Slocumforce to concentrate on Slocum’s Left Wing, routing his infantry and destroying his trains. He then planned on turning against Howard’s Right Wing. He commenced the attack on March 19th as Slocum’s men were marching on the Goldsboro Road, one mile south of Bentonville.

At first, Slocum reported to Sherman that he was being attacked by cavalry with accompanying artillery and not Johnston’s army. He told Sherman that he did not require any aid. Slocum initially attacked with two divisions,  Brig. Gen. William P. Carlin‘s and Brig. Gen. Absalom Baird‘s, from the XIV Corps but this attack was driven back.

Slocum then ordered two more divisions into a defensive line while more troops were brought up to support. However, their line was compromised by a gap in the center of the line. Only one of the four divisions constructed strong breastworks.

At 3:00 PM the Confederates attacked and drove the Union left flank back in confusion. General Carlin was nearly captured and the XIV Corps field hospital was overrun. Confederates began enfilading the remaining Union troops along the defensive lines. Brig. Gen. James D. Morgan‘s 2nd Division was nearly surrounded and was attacked from three sides. However, the Confederate attacks were uncoordinated and were unsuccessful in driving them from the position.

Confederate units under Hardee attacked the Union position near the Harper House but were repulsed after repeated assaults. Union reinforcements stopped the Confederate attacks from Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill‘s troops on the flank. The fighting continued after nightfall until the Confederates withdrew to their starting line where they entrenched.

By the afternoon of March 20th, Slocum had been reinforced by Howard’s Wing which deployed on Slocum’s right flank and extend the Union line towards Mill Creek. Johnston responded to this deployment by by pulling back Hoke’s division so it ran at a right angle to Stewart’s left flank, and deploying one of Hardee’s divisions on Hoke’s left. Confederate cavalry protected the flank to Mill Creek with a weak skirmish line.

General Joseph E. JohnstonThe following day, Union Maj. Gen. Joseph A. Mower, commanding the division on the Union right flank, requested permission from his corps commander to launch a “little reconnaissance” to his front. It was granted but Mower instead launched a two-brigade attack on the Confederate left wing, which was defending Mill Creek Bridge. They managed to come within one mile of the crossing when Sherman ordered him to withdraw, a decision he later said that he regretted. Prior to the attack, Hardee’s 16-year old son, Willie, was killed while riding with the 8th Texas Cavalry.

Johnston ordered his army to withdraw that night, burning the bridge behind him. Sherman’s men did not notice the Confederate withdrawal until it was done but Sherman’s objective was Goldsboro where he planned to meet up with the forces of Maj. Gens. John M. Schofield and Alfred Terry, who were coming from the direction of Wilmington.

The Union victory at Bentonville came at a cost of 1,527 total casualties with 194 killed, 1,112 wounded and 221 missing/captured on the Union side. The Confederates sustained a larger total of 2,606 with 239 killed, 1,694 wounded and 673 missing/captured.

Over the next several weeks, Sherman consolidated his position in North Carolina and waited on events. Meanwhile, Johnston had retreated to Raleigh, the state capital. Unable to secure the capital, Johnston’s army withdrew further west to Greensboro.



The Battle of Monroe’s Crossing

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series The Carolinas Campaign

Like many battles in the American Civil War, the Battle of Monroe’s Crossing has several names. It is alternately known as the Battle of Fayetteville Road. The most interesting name given to this engagement is Kilpatrick’s Shirttail Skedaddle. It is also known as the Battle of Kilpatrick’s Pants.

The Union cavalry commander on the scene was Brig. Gen. H. Judson Kilpatrick. He was a dashing cavalry officers in the mold of his West Point classmate, George Armstrong Custer. The 28-year old Kilpatrick had the distinction of being the first United States Army officer to be wounded in the Civil War, struck in the thigh by canister fire while leading a company at the Battle of Big Bethel, June 10, 1861.

Kilpatrick was a lieutenant colonel of the 2nd New York Cavalry by the end of September 1861. That fall he began to earn some fame as a daring cavalry leader when he led his men on a raid on the Virginia Central Railroad. By early December he was a full colonel, equaling the rank of his General Judson Kilpatrickfather, Simon Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick soon acquired the derisive nickname of “Kill Cavalry” for his reckless use of his men and their horses. He was known for ordering suicidal mounted cavalry charges. His camps were poorly maintained and frequented by prostitutes, often visiting Kilpatrick himself. He was jailed in 1862 on charges of corruption, accused of selling captured Confederate goods for personal gain. He was jailed again for a drunken spree in Washington, D.C., and for allegedly accepting bribes in the procurement of horses for his command.

Despite all of his bad attributes, Kilpatrick was appointed to command of the 1st Brigade, 2nd Division. In the Chancellorsville Campaign in May 1863. Stoneman’s cavalry was ordered to swing deeply behind Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army and destroy railroads and supplies. Kilpatrick did just that, with gusto. Although the corps failed to distract Lee as intended, Kilpatrick achieved fame by aggressively capturing wagons, burning bridges, and riding around Lee, almost to the outskirts of Richmond, Virginia.

After the Battle of Brandy Station in June 1863, Kilpatrick was promoted to brigadier general. He was engaged on a number of occasions during the Gettysburg Campaign. He took part in the pursuit of Lee’s army after its defeat at Gettysburg.

Just before the start of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign in the spring of 1864, Kilpatrick conducted a raid toward Richmond and through the Virginia Peninsula, hoping to rescue Union prisoners of war held at Belle Isle and in Libby Prison. It was a disaster, resulting in 324 cavalrymen killed and wounded, and 1000 more taken prisoner.

No longer welcome in the Eastern Theater. He transferred west to command the 3rd Division of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Cumberland, under Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. Summing up Judson Kilpatrick in 1864, Sherman said “I know that Kilpatrick is a hell of a damned fool, but I want just that sort of man to command my cavalry on this expedition.”

Kilpatrick took part in the Atlanta Campaign. and was severely wounded in the thigh at Battle of Resaca. After his recovery in July, He had considerable success raiding behind Confederate lines, tearing up railroads, and at one point rode his division completely around the enemy positions in Atlanta. Kilpatrick continued with Sherman through his March to the Sea to Savannah and north in the Carolinas Campaign. He The Battle of Monroe's Crossingdelighted in destroying Southern property.

Kilpatrick had camped his division at Monroe’s Crossing, in Cumberland County, North Carolina. His force of 1,850 men had set up a poorly guarded camp with many of the troopers sleeping. Kilpatrick himself was was in bed with a young Southern woman he had met while going through Columbia.

The Confederate force of 3,000 cavalrymen consisted of  Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton‘s and Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler‘s Divisions, who were joined together for the first time. One of there objectives was the capture of Kilpatrick himself. They had selected a squad of troopers for this task. Kilpatrick managed to flee the chaotic scene in his nightshirt, hiding for a period in a nearby swamp before regaining his composure and reorganizing his troops.

The Union cavalry was initially routed but quickly recovered and counterattacked. They eventually forced the Confederate cavalrymen to withdraw from their camp, recovering all of their captured equipment and supplies. THe Union force sustained 183 total casualties, while the Confederate had 80 casualties.

The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads gained the additional time needed for the Confederate infantry to conduct an organized crossing of the Cape Fear River at Fayetteville unmolested by the advancing Federals. With their troops and equipment east of the Cape Fear, the Confederates burned the bridges as Union forces entered the city.