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[431]

On the 21st, it began to rain, and Sherman remained quiet till noon, when Mower, in Howard's command, broke through the rebel line on their extreme left flank, and pushed with his division straight towards Bentonsville and the bridge across Mill creek—the only line of retreat open to the enemy. But Sherman ordered Mower back to connect with his own corps, and, lest the rebels should concentrate on him, directed a strong skirmish fire to be opened against the entire line of the enemy. Had he followed Mower's lead with the whole right wing, a general battle must have ensued, and the national forces were so vastly superior that success would have been assured. But Sherman preferred to make a junction with Schofield and Terry before engaging Johnston, of whose strength he was ignorant.1 During the night the enemy retreated on Smithfield, leaving his pickets to fall into the national hands, with many dead unburied, and the wounded in the hospitals.

The heaviest fighting at Bentonsville was on the 19th, when Johnston struck the head of Slocum's column, forcing back a division; but as soon as Slocum brought up his troops, he repulsed all attacks, and held his ground, as ordered, to await the arrival of the right wing. The total national loss was one hundred and ninety-one killed, and fourteen hundred

1 ‘I think I made a mistake there, and should rapidly have followed Mower's lead, with the whole of the right wing, which would have brought on a general battle, and it could not have resulted otherwise than successfully to us, by reason of our vastly superior numbers; but at the moment, for the reasons given, I preferred to make junction with Generals Terry and Schofield, before engaging Johnson's army, the strength of which was utterly unknown.’—Sherman's ‘Memoirs,’ vol. II., page 304.

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