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[375]

Chapter 47:

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On the 3d of March, General Hardee, from Cheraw, S. C., forwarded this telegram to General Johnston:
‘The enemy changed position yesterday, advanced on Chesterfield Courthouse, and crossed Thompson's Creek, above that point, late in the afternoon. I am evacuating Cheraw, and shall move to Rockingham, where I hope to receive your instructions. General Butler thinks army of Sherman is moving on this place, or on Rockingham.’

On the next day (4th), from Rockingham, he telegraphed General Johnston as follows:

The enemy pressed us closely yesterday morning, on leaving Cheraw, and it was with great difficulty that the bridge over the river was destroyed. It was, however, effectively destroyed; but the enemy succeeded in laying a pontoon, and at last accounts (9.30 this morning) had crossed a brigade. Most of my command will reach this place to-night.

‘I brought off all of the supplies that my transportation—which is in a wretched condition—could admit of. In obedience to General Beauregard's instructions of 24th ultimo, I shall move towards Greensboroa to-morrow. I had made arrangements to move by Fayetteville, but received a despatch from [376] General Bragg stating that Schofield was moving up the west bank of Cape Fear River. His despatch contradicting this report was not received until yesterday, when my troops and trains were moving on the Rockingham road, and I had ordered the destruction of all bridges on the Fayetteville road. Sherman, I think, will march to Fayetteville, to form a junction with Schofield and to obtain supplies.’

General Hardee here refers to General Beauregard's instructions of the 24th of February, but omits all mention of those of the 26th, which were full and explicit, and intended to meet every exigency which might arise.1 made a great mistake in not adhering to them, as he himself must have seen, before his forces reached Rockingham. Much time and many supplies would have been saved had he adopted the course marked out for him. General Beauregard, in several despatches to General Johnston, frankly—and, we think, properly—censured General Hardee's failure to follow his instructions. He even sent him a direct order to march at once on Fayetteville, if possible; and if not, on Raleigh.2

Owing to unavoidable delays and high-water General Hampton and the cavalry with him could only form a junction with General Hardee, at or near Fayetteville, on the 10th of March, just before the enemy crossed the Cape Fear River, at Cedar Creek, Fayetteville, and Elliott's Ferry, seven miles above. On the 11th the troops under General Bragg were on their way to Goldsboroa from Kinston, where the Federals had been strongly reinforced from Wilmington. They had been beaten, on the 8th, by General Bragg, with Hill's and Hoke's forces, and suffered a loss of about fifteen hundred prisoners and three field-pieces, exclusive of a large number of killed and wounded. It was a creditable affair to the handful of Confederates who took part in it, and we must say that Major-General Cox and the three Federal divisions under him displayed lack of vigor in their resistance.

General Hardee now retired towards Averysboroa, leaving a brigade behind Silver Creek, to hold the enemy in check. This force was subsequently withdrawn, and replaced by dismounted cavalry, which occupied the slight works there thrown up by the infantry. On the 14th the enemy attacked the works sharply, but was repulsed, and fell back about four miles. There he was reported to have received supplies, by the river, from Wilmington. [377] General Beauregard was anxious that General Johnston should now immediately concentrate his forces against Schofield, and defeat him before he could effect his junction with the main body of General Sherman's army. Circumstances and the views of the General commanding, which, in that respect, differed from those of General Beauregard, prevented the execution of the suggested movement.

On the 15th of March, General Sherman's entire army had crossed Cape Fear River, and was on its march to Goldsboroa. His four corps advanced in the following manner: the 17th on the right, the 15th next in order, the 14th and 20th on the left, with the cavalry in close supporting distance to that flank.

General Johnston, believing that the enemy might be inclined to move on Raleigh as well as on Goldsboroa, had collected a portion of his forces at Smithfield, while General Hardee was on his way from Fayetteville to Raleigh, with part of his cavalry on the road leading to Raleigh, and part of it on the Goldsboroa road. On the 16th, at a point five miles south of Averysboroa, He was attacked by the two Federal corps under General Slocum and by Kilpatrick's cavalry. General Hardee had posted his force in two lines. On the first was formed Colonel Alfred Rhett's brigade of Regulars, from the defences of Charleston, supported by a battalion of light artillery and some of Hampton's cavalry. That line was attacked by Jackson's division, a part of Ward's, and by a portion of Kilpatrick's cavalry, in two successive assaults and a movement in front and flank. After repulsing with slaughter two attacks and maintaining the front line for several hours, the command fell back to the second line, which General Hardee held, driving back the enemy. General Sherman speaks of this defence as ‘stubborn.’ Our loss was computed at five hundred. That of the enemy, according to prisoners' accounts, amounted to thirty-two hundred. General Sherman, in his ‘Memoirs,’ gives the casualties on the Federal side at ‘twelve officers and sixty-five men killed, and four hundred and seventy-seven men wounded; a serious loss,’ he adds, ‘because every wounded man had to be carried in an ambulance.’3 General Johnston, in his ‘Narrative of Military Operations,’ criticises General Sherman's report, and says that if his soldiers were ‘driven back repeatedly [378] by a fourth of their numbers, with a loss so utterly insignificant,’ then ‘General Sherman's army had been demoralized.’4

General Hardee, now fearing an attempt to turn his left, and knowing his incapacity to resist the odds against him, fell back, in the night, towards Smithfield.

On the day of this occurrence, and with a view to avoid all misunderstanding among subordinate commanders, General Beauregard was officially announced as second in command to General Johnston.

The latter's telegrams to General Beauregard, dated March 20th, 21st, and 23d, speak of the encounter with the enemy at Bentonville, and give the various incidents of that fight—the last of the war, in the east—and one which was much to the honor of the Confederates. Taking advantage of the fact that General Sherman's left wing was at some distance from the right, General Johnston, on the morning of the 19th, determined to strike a blow while he had the chance to do so. Of that determination, and of the manner in which it was carried out, General Sherman says:

‘I have always accorded to General Johnston due credit for boldness in his attack on our exposed flank at Bentonville; but I think he understates his strength, and doubt whether at the time he had accurate returns from his miscellaneous army, collected from Hoke, Bragg, Hardee, Lee, etc.’

This last expression of opinion was evidently given in extenuation of the failure of the Federals to withstand the attack made by the much inferior force opposed to them; for, further on, General Sherman also says:5 ‘With the knowledge now possessed of his small force, of course I committed an error in not overwhelming Johnston's army on the 21st of March, 1865.’ Without attempting to discuss what General Sherman could or could not have done, had he known the real weakness of the Confederate troops in his front, we merely add that they were even weaker than he supposed them to be, for neither General S. D. Lee's forces, nor General Cheatham's, nor even Generals Wheeler's and Butler's cavalry, were with General Johnston at the time.

General Hardee was hurriedly marched to Bentonville, and, as [379] soon as his troops reached that place, the battle opened. It lasted until evening. The enemy was driven a mile from his intrenchments, one of his corps was routed, and three of his guns were captured. He rallied on fresh troops, however, and then attempted the offensive, which the Confederates successfully and easily resisted until dark. Nothing more was done that night. The next morning the entire Federal army was in front of General Johnston's forces, and intrenched. The 15th Corps had moved from the direction of Goldsboroa, on our left flank and rear, necessitating, on our part, a change of front to the south. All further attack being impossible, General Johnston merely held his position to cover the removal of his wounded and occupy the enemy. On that and the following day (20th and 21st) several assaults were made by the enemy, but they were invariably repulsed. ‘The troops of the Tennessee army,’ said General Johnston, in one of his despatches to General Beauregard, ‘have fully disproved the slander that has been published against them.’ Such well-deserved testimony in their behalf must have been most gratifying to their old commander, who, having so often tested their mettle, knew that even at this dark hour of our struggle, and after they had been so hardly tried, there were no better troops in the Confederate service. What might not have been the result of the battle of Bentonville, if to Bragg's and Hardee's forces, and to the small portion of the Army of Tennessee there present, had been added two corps of the Army of Northern Virginia; or if, without them, General Johnston's forces had really amounted to 49,868 men, as General Badeau asserts, in his ‘Military History of Ulysses S. Grant!’6

The effective strength under General Johnston, at the battle of Bentonville, did not exceed 14,100 men. General Butler's division of cavalry, posted to watch General Sherman's right column, took no part in the action; nor did, General Wheeler's forces; nor did the 2000 men of the Army of Tennessee, under General Cheatham, who only arrived on the 20th and 21st, and had nothing to do during the first day's encounter.7 The Federal army, on the other hand, must have numbered at least 60,000 men. Half of it—or the whole left wing, composed of two [380] corps—was engaged on the 19th; and the other half—that is to say, the two corps forming the right wing—appeared on the field, and participated in the fight, on the afternoon of the 20th.8

The Confederate loss was as follows: killed, 223; wounded, 1467; missing, 653; making an aggregate of 2343.9 We took 903 prisoners, but were unable to ascertain the full extent of the enemy's casualties. ‘From the appearance of the field and the language of the Federals it largely exceeded 4000.’10

On the 24th the junction of Generals Sherman and Schofield, at Goldsboroa, was an accomplished fact. While apprising General Beauregard of it, General Johnston, after disposing of his troops to the best advantage, anxiously awaited the arrival of General S. D. Lee's forces, and urged all possible rapidity in his movements. That gallant officer, not then entirely recovered from his wound received at the battle of Nashville, was doing his utmost, in the face of untold difficulties, to press forward his heterogeneous and hastily gathered command.

On the 25th General Beauregard repaired to Smithfield to confer with General Johnston, and ascertain in what way he could aid him most effectively, and whether his presence might not be beneficial with the troops in the field. General Johnston assured General Beauregard that his services, at this juncture, were more valuable where He then was than at any other point, and that, from rumors of the probable movement of some of the enemy's cavalry, his personal direction, at Greensboroa or Salisbury, might soon be required. He therefore, without further delay, returned to his headquarters at Raleigh.

The following telegrams forwarded by him to General Johnston and others will show how actively engaged he was in preparing troops for the front, and how, as usual, he was alive to the minutest necessity of the situation:

1.

Raleigh, N. C., March 27th, 1865.
Colonel Alfd. Roman, A. A. G., etc., Augusta, Ga.:
Send unarmed troops as rapidly as possible, properly organized. Subsistence will be collected, as soon as practicable, at Newberry or Alston, on Broad River. Thence troops must march to Blackstocks or Winnsboroa. Major McCrady, at Charlotte, will keep you advised of condition of Charlotte Railroad and of bridge at Alston.


[381]

2

Middle and West Georgia, with Tennessee, form one Department. Cobb is in command of portion of Georgia referred to. Hill commanded remainder belonging to Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Best present arrangement would be to divide Georgia in two districts, under Mackall and Fry; the whole being under Cobb, or higher officers, if they can be had.


3.

General Lee11 reported on 25th, from Pinckneyville, he will strike railroad at Catawba Bridge. Why so high He does not state. Colonel Roman reports yesterday from Augusta he will forward shortly eighteen hundred men, fully armed and equipped. He says arms and accoutrements are now exhausted there.

General Holmes states that arms he had were issued by Colonel Hoke, at Charlotte, to Army of Tennessee.


4.

On reconsideration I would suggest that each of the States embraced within your proper geographical Department shall form a separate military district, under a Major-General, reporting direct to you, with such subdivisions in each as may be found necessary, under carefully selected officers.


5.

For information relative to troops of Army of Tennessee left in Mississippi, see my endorsement of March 5th on Major-General Stevenson's letter of February 27th.

Sharp's and Brantley's brigades must be with Lee's forces now on their way to join you.


6

General Taylor reports Canby's army attacking Mobile from eastern side, and heavy force of Thomas's cavalry moving down through North Alabama. I wonder if Minerva has stamped on the earth for our foes?


7.

Raleigh, N. C., March 29th, 1865.
Major-General J. F. Gilmer, Chief-Engineer, C. S. A., Richmond, Va.:
General Cobb and Mayor of Macon having represented iron referred to cannot be taken without serious injury to public service and to that city, I have authorized General Cobb and Colonel Meriwether to select the road from which iron should be taken forthwith.


[382]

8.

Send wagon-train by most direct route (dirt road) to Raleigh. Send your artillery to Yorkville, or best point on Broad River, for supplying men and animals. Report point selected.


On the 30th, General Johnston, by telegram from Smithfield, informed General Beauregard that a raid, reported to be Stoneman's party, four thousand strong, was on the point of reaching Lenoir's Station, and that he should communicate with Brigadier-General Bradley Johnson, at Salisbury, or, if necessary, go to that point himself, and issue all orders required to meet the emergency. General Beauregard was already advised of the rumor, and had been in correspondence with General Bradley Johnson on the subject. As a provision against the danger threatening Lenoir, he had also telegraphed General S. D. Lee, at Chester, S. C., to stop part of his forces at Salisbury, to meet and defeat the enemy. In his answer to General Johnston he acquainted him with the various dispositions he had taken, and assured him he would certainly go there, should the necessity arise.

On the same day (30th) a hurried despatch was received by General Beauregard from General Johnston, emanating from the Commander-in-chief of our armies, General Robert E. Lee. A new and unforeseen danger had arisen in Western Virginia and East Tennessee, to guard against which the War Department and General Lee were, at that moment, embarrassed and distressed to no inconsiderable degree. It was an additional complication in our grave and perilous situation; a crisis requiring, it was thought, the greatest promptitude, skill, and energy. Again, as in so many other instances during the course of the war, a call was made upon General Beauregard. The despatch we refer to was in these words:

Following despatch just received: “Can General Beauregard be spared for command of Western Virginia and East Tennessee—would the duty be agreeable to him?—R. E. Lee.”

General Lee apprehends movements in that direction by Thomas.


Without hesitation General Beauregard forwarded the following answer: [383]

My preference is to remain with you as at present, for I could scarcely expect, at this juncture, to be furnished with a force at all commensurate with the exigency, or able to make headway against the enemy, reported advancing from East Tennessee towards Southwestern Virginia. A mere territorial command, substantially bereft of troops, and in which I could render no positive service, would not be agreeable, for I could not hope to be effective, whereas here I may be useful.


Thereupon General Johnston telegraphed:

‘I have received your despatch in reply to General Lee's offer, and read it with great pleasure. I shall forward it with the same feeling.’

It now appeared that the raiding party mentioned above consisted of Terry's force, not Stoneman's. General Beauregard was advised to verify the fact, through General Martin, at Asheville. Shortly afterwards General Johnston again telegraphed that Brigadier-General Bradley Johnson reported Stoneman's cavalry to be moving on the railroad, and desired that, for the present, troops should be ordered to stop at Greensboroa and Salisbury. And it might be well, he thought, for General Beauregard himself to go as far as Greensboroa—all of which He was preparing to do when He received the despatch. Ferguson's cavalry was, at the same time, hurried on from South Carolina.

On that day (31st) General Beauregard also received from General Featherstone, of S. D. Lee's troops, at Salisbury, the information that he had two brigades with him, and another expected the next morning, as well as Johnson's battalion of artillery; with all of which he would begin to fortify at the bridge. He added that scouts were ‘scarce, and not very reliable,’ but that the reports made, such as they were, indicated a movement on the Danville Railroad, by Stoneman or Grierson; and, further, that he counted upon a regiment of cavalry in the course of the next night.

General Beauregard, thereupon concluded to stay at Greensboroa, which he knew to be a central point, until events should, assume a more definite shape, and, meanwhile, to examine into the defensive condition of the place. He reached Greensboroa late that evening.

1 See these instructions, in Appendix.

2 See Appendix.

3 Sherman's ‘Memoirs,’ vol. II., p. 302.

4 Johnston's ‘Narrative of Military Operations,’ p. 383.

5 General Sherman's ‘Memoirs,’ vol. II., p. 306.

6 Vol. III., p. 432.

7 Johnston's ‘Narrative of Military Operations,’ pp. 392, 393.

8 Johnston's ‘Narrative of Military Operations,’ p. 393.

9 Ibid., p. 393.

10 Ibid.

11 General S. D. Lee.

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