The Last Campaign of the Army of Tennessee (Part One)

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series The Confederate Surrenders
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General Joseph E. JohnstonContrary to popular belief the American Civil War did not end with the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. In fact, the war did not end with a bang but rather it ended with no less than five surrenders that stretched from Appomattox to Galveston.The second surrender was that of the Army of Tennessee by General Joseph E. Johnston at Bennett Place near Durham Station, North Carolina.

Joseph Johnston resumed command of the Army of Tennessee on February 25, 1865. He had been relieved by Jefferson Davis of the very same army on July 17, 1864. Johnston may not have been the most daring commander of the war but he didn’t throw away his soldiers like his successor John Bell Hood.

He was given command of two military departments: the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, and the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia; he assumed command of the latter department on March 6.

These commands included three Confederate field armies, including the remnants of the once formidable Army of Tennessee, but they were armies in name only. The Tennessee army had been severely depleted at Franklin and Nashville, lacked sufficient supplies and ammunition, and the men had not been paid for months; only about 6,600 traveled to South Carolina. Johnston also had available 12,000 men under William J. Hardee, who had been unsuccessfully attempting to resist Sherman’s advance, Braxton Bragg’s force in Wilmington, North Carolina, and 6,000 cavalrymen under Wade Hampton.

Facing him were the armies of General William Tecumseh Sherman who had defeated him at Atlanta and was responsible for his subsequent firing by Davis. After The March to the Sea and the successful capture of the port of Savannah, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman set out on his final march: the Carolinas Campaign. His goal was to link up with the armies of General-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant around the besieged city of Petersburg. Sherman’s army would close the back door of a possible escape for the Army of Northern Virginia.

Sherman had reconfigured his force into three wings.  The Army of the Tennessee, under Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, the Army of the Ohio under Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield, and two corps, General William T. Shermanthe XIV and XX, under Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, which was later formally designated the Army of Georgia, comprised his command. Reinforcements arrived regularly during his march north, and by April 1 he commanded 88,948 men.

The Confederate forces opposing Sherman’s veteran formations would be unable to do anything but slow him down in local fighting. They were unable to stand up to the vastly superior Union force. It does them credit that they even made the attempt, testifying to their courage and determination to defend their home states.

Sherman divided his army into separate columns as he did on the March to the Sea. In this way he hoped to confuse the Confederate defenders as to his initial objective which was Columbia, South Carolina. At the start of the campaign the wings commanded by Slocum and Howard set off by land from Savannah. Slocum was to the west of Howard and protected his left flank from the Confederate armies that hovered along their route. Schofield’s force was to join them for the North Carolina phase of the campaign.

Sherman’s plan was to bypass the minor Confederate troop concentrations at Augusta, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, and reach Goldsboro, North Carolina (also spelled Goldsborough), by March 15. The town was a major rail junction and because of that, Goldsboro played a significant role, both for stationing Confederate troops and for transporting their supplies. The town also provided hospitals for soldiers wounded in nearby battles.

As Sherman’s force moved north their goal of destroying the Confederacy’s base of supplies became clearer. If Sherman made Georgia howl, as he had promised, South Carolina was punished as a nest of traitors. Their advance on the state capital of Columbia had a clear reason. For many Union soldiers it was a matter of personal vengeance. A Federal soldier said to his comrades, “Here is where treason began and, by God, here is where it will end!” The Union forces set out from Savannah at the end of January. The march through the Carolinas would be for 425 miles and take 50 days.

On February 17th Sherman accepted the surrender of Columbia after General Wade Hampton’s cavalry withdrew from the city. The victorious Union troops were overwhelmed by throngs of liberated Federal prisoners and emancipated African Americans.

The Union troops consumed the ample supplies of liquor in the city. Fires were started and the high winds spread the flames throughout the center of Columbia. Most of the central city was destroyed, and the city’s fire companies found it difficult to operate in conjunction with the invading Union army, many of whom were also trying to put out the fires.

The Burning of Columbia, SCThe burning of Columbia has been a divisive issue ever since. Sherman said that his troops did not burn the city but he wasn’t sorry that it happened. On the following day, Union troops finished the job by destroying virtually anything of military value in Columbia, including railroad depots, warehouses, arsenals, and machine shops.

Meanwhile, along the North Carolina coast, the city of Wilmington, the Confederacy’s last ocean port fell on February 22nd to Union troops under Maj. Gen. Jacob Cox. The city fell about a month after the fall of Fort Fisher. This freed Maj. Gen. John Schofield to join Sherman’s army for the final push in North Carolina. The Union armies in North Carolina planned a converging attack on the key rail junction of Goldsboro (also spelled Goldsborough).

The first battle took place on March 7, 1865 at what became known as Wyse Fork. Confederate General Braxton Bragg commanded 8,500 men who were entrenched along Southwest Creek near Kinston, North Carolina. Bragg has positioned his force not only to block Cox’s force of 12,000 but also to threaten a vital cross road and the New Bern-Goldsboro Railroad.

Cox understood the importance of the position and moved forward the divisions of Brig. Gen. Innis N. Palmer to protect the railroad and Maj. Gen. Samuel P. Carter to protect the roads. Bragg’s forces were also reinforced by veterans from the Army of Tennessee and the North Carolina Junior Reserves, all under the command of General D.H. Hill.

Reinforced, Bragg went on the offensive and sent a division under North Carolina native Robert Hoke into the Union left flank. Hoke’s attack hit a New England brigade in Carter’s division, capturing an entire regiment. Hill joined the advance with the Junior Reserves but they panicked and refused to go any further. Hill left them behind and moved on with his veterans, hitting the Union brigade and defeating it.

Disaster threatened the Union flank when Bragg stopped Hill’s advance and sent him far to the north to counterattack a Union threat. When Hill arrived he found no Federals in sight. At this time Cox, who had been away from the front lines, returned and moved up his reserve division under Maj. Gen. Thomas H. Ruger to plug the gap between Palmer and Carter.

On March 10th, Hoke again threatened a flank attack but this time the Union forces were prepared for it with artillery and repulsed it within an hour. Hill attempted an attack against the Union center but it to was repulsed by the strong Union artillery. Meanwhile, the remaining elements of the XXIII Corps had arrived from Wilmington and Bragg order a general withdrawal. Once all of the Union forces arrived they then began to move on Goldsboro.

The Battle of Wyse Fork is considered a Union victory because they held the field. Total Union casualties were 1,101 while Confederates sustained 1,500 total casualties. This was a minor battle but it proved to both sides that the Confederates were still capable of offensive maneuvering. It is considered the second-largest land battle to be fought in North Carolina.

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 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.

Map of the Carolinas Campaign

 

 

 

 

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