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[380] were at once despatched to Schofield to push for Goldsboro, and to make dispositions to cross Little river, in the direction of Smithfield, as far as Millard; to General Terry, to move to Cox's bridge, lay a pontoon bridge, and establish a crossing; and to Blair, to make a night march to Falling creek church; and at daylight the right wing, General Howard, less the necessary wagon guards, was put in rapid motion on Bentonville. By subsequent reports, I learned that General Slocum's head of column had advanced from its camp of March eighteenth, and first encountered Dibbrell's cavalry, but soon found his progress impeded by infantry and artillery. The enemy attacked his head of column, gaining a temporary advantage, and took three guns, and caissons of General Carlin's division, driving the two leading brigades back on the main body. As soon as General Slocum realized that he had in his front the whole Confederate army, he promptly deployed the two divisions of the Fourteenth corps, General Davis, and rapidly brought up on their left the two divisions of the Twentieth corps, General Williams. These he arranged on the defensive, and hastily prepared a line of barricades. General Kilpatrick also came up at the sound of artillery, and massed on the left. In this position the left wing received six distinct assaults by the combined forces of Hoke, Hardee, and Cheatham, under the immediate command of General Johnston himself, without giving an inch of ground, and doing good execution on the enemy's ranks, especially with our artillery, the enemy having little or none.

Johnston had moved by night from Smithfield with great rapidity, and without unnecessary wheels, intending to overwhelm my left flank before it could be relieved by its co-operating colums. But he “reckoned without his host.” I had expected just such a movement all the way from Fayetteville, and was prepared for it. During the night of the nineteenth, General Slocum got up his wagon train with its guard of two divisions, and Hazen's division of the Fifteenth corps, which reinforcement enabled him to make his position impregnable, The right wing found rebel cavalry watching its approach, but unable to offer any serious opposition until our head of column encountered a considerable body behind a barricade at the forks of the road near Bentonville, about three miles east of the battle-field of the day, before. This body of cavalry was, however, quickly dislodged, and the intersection of the roads secured. On moving forward the Fifteenth corps, General Logan found that the enemy had thrown back his left flank, and had constructed a line of parapet connecting with that toward General Slocum, in the form of a bastion, its salient on the main Goldsboro road, interposing between General Slocum on the west and General Howard on the east, while the flanks rested on Mill Creek, covering the road back to Smithfield. General Howard was instructed to proceed with due caution, until he had made strong connection on his left with General Slocum. This he soon accomplished, and by four P. M. of the twentieth a complete and strong line of battle confronted the enemy in his intrenched position, and General Johnston, instead of catching us in detail, was on the defensive, with Mill creek and a single bridge to his rear. Nevertheless, we had no object to accomplish by a battle, unless at an advantage, and therefore my general instructions were to press steadily with skirmishers alone, to use artillery pretty freely on the wooded space held by the enemy, and to feel pretty strongly the flanks of his position, which were, as usual covered by the endless swamps of this region of country. I also ordered all empty wagons to be sent at once to Kinston for supplies, and other impediments to be grouped near the Neuse, south of Goldsboro, holding the real army in close contact with the enemy, ready to fight him if he ventured outside his parapets and swampy obstructions.

Thus matters stood about Bentonville on the twenty-first of March. On the same day General Schofield entered Goldsboro with little or no opposition, and General Terry had got possession of the Neuse river at Cox's bridge, ten miles above, with a pontoon bridge laid and a brigade across, so that the three armies were in actual connection, and the great object of the campaign was accomplished.

On the twenty-first a steady rain prevailed, during which General Mower's division of the Seventeenth corps, on the extreme right, had worked well to the right around the enemy's flank, and nearly reached the bridge across Mill creek, the only line of retreat open to the enemy. Of course there was extreme danger that the enemy would turn on him all his reserves, and it might be let go his parapets to overwhelm Mower. Accordingly I ordered at once a general attack by our skirmish line from left to right. Quite a noisy battle ensued, during which General Mower was enabled to regain his connection with his own corps by moving to his left rear. Still he had developed a weakness in the enemy's position, of which advantage might have been taken; but that night the enemy retreated on Smithfield, leaving his pickets to fall into our hands, with many dead unburied, and wounded in his field hospitals. At daybreak of the twenty-second pursuit was made two miles beyond Mill creek, but checked by my order. General Johnston had utterly failed in his attempt, and we remained in full possession of the field of battle.

General Slocum reports the losses of the left wing about Bentonville at nine officers and one hundred and forty-five men killed, fifty-one officers and eight hundred and sixteen men wounded, and three officers and two hundred and twenty-three men missing, taken prisoners by the enemy; total, one thousand two hundred and forty-seven. He buried on the field one hundred and sixty-seven rebel dead, and took three hundred and thirty-eight prisoners.

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