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Chapter 51:

After the evacuation of Savannah by General Hardee, it soon became known that General Sherman was making preparations to march northward through the Carolinas with the supposed purpose of uniting his forces with those of General Grant before Richmond. General Hardee, having left detachments at proper points to defend the approaches to Charleston and Augusta, Georgia, withdrew the rest of his command to the first-named city. General Wheeler's cavalry held all the roads northward, and, by felling trees and burning bridges, obstructed considerably the enemy's advance, which in the early part of January was still further impeded by the heavy rains which had swollen the rivers and creeks far beyond their usual width and depth.

The seriously impaired conditions of our railroad communications in Georgia and Alabama, the effect of the winter rains on the already poor and ill-constructed country roads, the difficulty in collecting and transporting supplies, so impeded the concentration of our available forces that Generals Beauregard and Hardee—the former at Columbia, South Carolina, and the latter at Charleston—could only retard, not prevent, the onward march of the enemy. At the outset of his movement the Salkehatchie River presented a very strong line of defense. Its swollen condition at that time, and the wide, deeply inundated swamps on both sides, rendered it almost impossible to force or outflank the position if [531] adequately defended. It might have been better if we had then abandoned the attempt to hold cities of no strategic importance, and concentrated their garrisons at this point, where the chances of successful resistance were greater that at any subsequent period of the campaign. For, even if our expectation had been disappointed, and had the superior numerical force of the enemy compelled us to withdraw from this line, the choice of several good positions was open to us, any one of which, by moving upon converging lines, we could reach sooner than was possible to Sherman, whose passage of the river must have been much encumbered and delayed by his trains. Of these defensive positions, Branchville and Orangeburg may be regarded as eligible; had Sherman headed his columns toward Charleston, our forces would then have been in position to attack him in front and on the flank. Had his objective point been Augusta, he would have had our army in his rear; had, as proved to be the case, Columbia been the place at which he aimed, our army would have been able to reach there sooner than he could.

General Sherman left Savannah January 22, 1865, and reached Pocotaligo on the 24th. On February 3d he crossed the Salkehatchie with slight resistance at River's and Beaufort bridges, and thence pushed forward to the South Carolina Railroad at Midway, Bamberg, and Graham's. After thoroughly destroying the railroad between these places, which occupied three or four days, he advanced slowly along the line of the railroad, threatening Branchville, the junction of the railroads from Augusta to Columbia and Charleston. For a short time it was doubtful whether he proposed to attack Augusta, Georgia, where it was well known we had our principal powder mill, many important factories and shops, and large stores of army supplies; on the 11th, however, it was found that he was moving north to Orangeburg, on the road from Branchville to Columbia, the latter city being the objective point of his march. Early on the morning of the 16th the head of his columns reached the Congaree opposite Columbia. The bridge over that stream had been burned by our retreating troops, but a pontoon bridge, built by the enemy under cover of strong detachments who had crossed higher up at Saluda Factory, enabled the main body to pass the river and enter the city on the morning of the 17th, the Confederate troops having previously evacuated it. On the same day the mayor formally surrendered the city to Colonel Stone, commanding a brigade of the Fifteenth Corps, and claimed for its citizens the protection which the laws of civilized war always accord to noncombatants. In infamous disregard not only of the established rules of war, but also of the common dictates of [532] humanity, the defenseless city was burned to the ground, after the dwelling houses had been robbed of everything of value, and their helpless inmates subjected to outrage and insult of a character too base to be described.

Hypocrisy is the tribute which vice pays to virtue; therefore General Sherman has endeavored to escape the reproaches for the burning of Columbia by attributing it to General Hampton's order to burn the cotton in the city, that it might not fall into the hands of the enemy. General Hampton has proved circumstantially that General Sherman's statement is untrue, and, though in any controversy to which General Hampton may be a party, no corroborative evidence is necessary to substantiate his assertion of a fact coming within his personal observation, hundreds of unimpeachable witnesses have testified that the burning of Columbia was the deliberate act of the Federal soldiery, and that it was certainly permitted, if not ordered, by the commanding general. The following letter of General Hampton will to those who know him be conclusive:

Wild woods, Mississippi, April 21, 1866.
To Hon. Reverdy Johnson, United States Senate.
Sir: A few days ago I saw in the published proceedings of Congress that a petition from Benjamin Kawles, of Columbia, South Carolina, asking for compensation for the destruction of his house by the Federal army, in February, 1865, had been presented to the Senate, accompanied by a letter from Major-General Sherman. In this letter General Sherman uses the following language: ‘The citizens of Columbia set fire to thousands of bales of cotton rolled out into the streets, and which were burning before we entered Columbia; I, myself, was in the city as early as nine o'clock, and I saw these fires, and knew that efforts were made to extinguish them, but a high and strong wind prevented. I gave no orders for the burning of your city, but, on the contrary, the conflagration resulted from the great imprudence of cutting the cotton bales, whereby the contents were spread to the wind, so that it became an impossibility to arrest the fire. I saw in your Columbia newspaper the printed order of General Wade Hampton, that on the approach of the Yankee army all the cotton should thus be burned, and, from what I saw myself, I have no hesitation in saying that he was the cause of the destruction of your city.’

This charge, made against me by General Sherman, having been brought before the Senate of the United States, I am naturally most solicitous to vindicate myself before the same tribunal. But my State has no representative in that body. Those who should be her constitutional representatives there are debarred the right of entrance into those halls. There are none who have the right to speak for the South; none to participate in the legislation which governs her; none to impose the taxes she is called upon to pay, and none to vindicate her sons from misrepresentation, injustice, or slander. Under these circumstances, I appeal to you, in the confident hope you will use every effort to see that justice is done in this matter. [533]

I deny, emphatically, that any cotton was fired in Columbia by my order. I deny that the citizens ‘set fire to thousands of bales rolled out into the streets.’ I deny that any cotton was on fire when the Federal troops entered the city. I most respectfully ask of Congress to appoint a committee, charged with the duty of ascertaining and reporting all the facts connected with the destruction of Columbia, and thus fixing upon the proper author of that enormous crime the infamy he richly deserves. I am willing to submit the case to any honest tribunal. Before any such I pledge myself to prove that I gave a positive order, by direction of General Beauregard, that no cotton should be fired; that not one bale was on fire when General Sherman's troops took possession of the city; that he promised protection to the city, and that, in spite of his solemn promise, he burned the city to the ground, deliberately, systematically, and atrociously. I, therefore, most earnestly request that Congress may take prompt and efficient measures to investigate this matter fully. Not only is this due to themselves and to the reputation of the United States army, but also to justice and to truth. Trusting that you will pardon me for troubling you, I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Were this the only instance of such barbarity perpetrated by General Sherman's army, his effort to escape the responsibility might be more successful, because more plausible; when, however, the eulogists of his exploits note exultingly that ‘wide-spreading columns of smoke rose wherever the army went,’ when it is incontrovertibly true that the line of his march could be traced by the burning dwelling houses and by the wail of women and children pitilessly left to die from starvation and exposure in the depth of winter, his plea of ‘not guilty’ in the case of the city of Columbia can not free him from the reprobation which outraged humanity must attach to an act of cruelty which finds a parallel only in the barbarous excesses of Wallenstein's army in the Thirty Years War, and which, even at that period of the world's civilization, sullied the fame of that otherwise great soldier.

In consequence of General Sherman's movements, it was considered advisable to evacuate Charleston (February 17th), that General Hardee's command might become available for service in the field; thus that noble city and its fortresses, which the combined military and naval forces of the United States, during an eighteen months siege, had failed to reduce, and which will stand forever as imperishable monuments of the skill and fortitude of their defenders, were, on February 21st, without resistance, occupied by the Federal forces under General Q. A. Gillmore.

Fort Sumter, though it now presented the appearance of a ruin, was really better proof against bombardment than when first subjected to fire. The upper tier of masonry, from severe battering, had fallen on the outer wall, and shot and shell served only to solidify and add harder [534] material to the mass. Over its rampart the Confederate flag defiantly floated until the city of Charleston was evacuated.

Every effort that our circumstances permitted was immediately and thenceforward made to collect troops for the defense of North Carolina. General Hood's army, the troops under command of General D. H. Hill at Augusta, General Hardee's force, a few thousand men under General Bragg, and the cavalry commands of Generals Hampton and Wheeler, constituted our entire available strength to oppose Sherman's advance. These were collected as rapidly as our broken communications and the difficulty of gathering and transporting supplies would permit.

After the fall of Columbia, General Beauregard, commanding the military department, retreated toward North Carolina. The army of Tennessee (Hoods's) was moving from the west to make a junction with the troops retiring from South Carolina. The two forces, if united with Hardee's command, then moving in the same direction, would, it was hoped, be able to make effective resistance to Sherman's advance. In any event it was needful that they should be kept in such relation to Lee's army as to make a junction with it practicable. In this state of affairs I was informed that General Beauregard, after his troops had entered North Carolina, had decided to march to the eastern part of that state. This would leave the road to Charlotte open to Sherman's pursuing column, which, interposing, would prevent the troops coming from the west from joining Beauregard, enable him to destroy our force in detail by the joint action of his own army and that of Schofield, commanding the district of Wilmington. The anxiety created by this condition of affairs caused me, after full correspondence with General Lee, to suggest to him to give his views to General Beauregard, and I sent to General Beauregard's headquarters the chief engineer, General J. F. Gilmer, he being possessed fully of my opinions and wishes. General Beauregard modified his proposed movements so as to keep his forces on the left of the enemy's line of march until the troops coming from Hood's army could make a junction. These were the veteran commands of Stevenson, Cheatham, and Stewart. Lieutenant General S. D. Lee, though he had not entirely recovered from a wound received in the Tennessee campaign, was at Augusta, Gorgia, collecting the fragments of Hood's army to follow the troops previously mentioned. They had not moved together, and the first-named division had reached Beauregard's army in South Carolina.

Though it contained an implied compliment, General Lee was not a little disturbed by occasional applications made to have troops detached [535]

Map: second attack upon Fort Fisher.

[536] from his army to reenforce others. The last instance had been a call from General Beauregard for reenforcements from the Army of Virginia. He had always been attentive, and ready as far as he could to meet the wants of other commands of our army, but at this time those who knew his condition could not suppose he had any men to spare; yet the fact of thinking so was a compliment to his success in resisting the large army which was assailing his small one. There had always been entire co-intelligence and accord between General Lee and myself, but the Congress about this time thought his power would be increased by giving him the nominal dignity of general-in-chief, under which he resumed, as far as he could, the general charge of armies from which, at his urgent solicitation, I had relieved him after he took command, in the field, of the Army of Northern Virginia.

A few days subsequent to the events in North Carolina to which reference has been made, General Lee proposed to me that General J. E. Johnston be put in command of the troops in North Carolina. He still had the confidence in that officer which I had once felt, but which his campaigns in Mississippi and Georgia had impaired. With the understanding that General Lee was himself to supervise and control the operations, I assented to the assignment. General Johnston, on February 23d at Charlotte, North Carolina, relieved General Beauregard and assumed command. General Lee's first instructions to General Johnston were to ‘concentrate all available forces and drive back Sherman.’ The first part of the instructions was well executed; the last part of it was more desirable than practicable, though the brief recital made herein of the events of the campaign claimed the credit due to a vigorous effort.

General Johnston's force, according to his estimate when he took command, amounted to about sixteen thousand infantry and artillery, and four thousand cavalry; if to this be added the portion of the army of Tennessee, about twenty-five hundred men under command of General Stephen D. Lee, which afterward joined the army at Smithfield, North Carolina, and that of General Bragg's command at Goldsboro, which amounted to about eight thousand, the aggregate would be about thirty thousand five hundred men of all arms.

After leaving Columbia, the course of the Federal army through Winnsboro, across the Catawba at Rocky Mount, Hanging Rock, and Peay's Ferry, and in the direction of Cheraw on the Great Pedee, indicated that it would attempt to cross the Cape Fear River at Fayetteville, North Carolina--a town sixty miles south of Raleigh, and of special importance, as containing an arsenal, several government shops, and a [537] large portion of the machinery which had been removed from Harpers Ferry—and effect a junction at that point with General Schofield's command, then known to be at Wilmington. Up to this time, while no encounter of any magnitude had taken place, the enemy's progress had been much impeded by the Confederate cavalry, and the robbery of private citizens by gangs of armed banditti, called ‘foraging parties,’ was in a large measure prevented. The right of an army to forage as it advances through an enemy's country is not questioned. But the right to forage, to collect food for men and horses, does not mean the right to rob household furniture, plate, trinkets, and every conceivable species of private property, and to burn whatever could not be carried away, together with the dwellings. General Sherman complained that some of these ‘foragers’ who were caught in the commission of the abovenamed offenses, and had added thereto the greater crime of assaulting women, had been summarily dealt with by some of those whose wives and daughters they had outraged, and whose homes they had made desolate; he informed General Hampton that in retaliation he had ordered a number of Confederate prisoners of war to be put to death. To arrest this brutality General Hampton promptly informed him that ‘for every soldier of mine murdered by you, I shall have executed at once two of yours, giving in all cases preference to any officers who may be in our hands,’ and adding a view to check the inhuman system of burning the houses of those citizens whom they had robbed, that he had ordered his men ‘to shoot down all of your men who are caught burning houses.’1 This notice and the knowledge that General Hampton would keep his word produced, it is believed, a very salutary effect, and thereafter the fear of punishment wrought a reform which the dictates of honor and humanity had been powerless to effect.

The historian of Sherman's ‘Great March,’ in his illustrated narrative of that expedition, describes both with pen and pencil the manner in which ‘with untiring zeal the soldiers hunted for concealed treasures. . . . Wherever the army halted,’ he writes, ‘almost every inch of ground in the vicinity of the dwellings was poked by ramrods, pierced with sabers, or upturned with spades,’ searching for ‘valuable personal effects, plate, jewelry, and other rich goods, as well as articles of food, such as hams, sugar, flour, etc. . . It was comical,’ adds the chronicler, ‘to see a group of these red-bearded, barefooted, ragged veterans punching the unoffending earth in an apparently idiotic but certainly most energetic way. If they “struck a vein,” a spade was instantly put into [538] requisition, and the coveted wealth was speedily unearthed. Nothing escaped the observation of these sharp-witted soldiers. A woman standing upon the porch of a house, apparently watching their proceedings, instantly became an object of suspicion, and she was watched until some movement betrayed a place of concealment. The fresh earth recently thrown up, a bed of flowers just set out, the slightest indication of a change in appearance or position, all attracted the gaze of these military agriculturists. It was all fair spoil of war, and the search made one of the excitements of the march.’2 The author of the work from which the foregoing is an extract was an aide-de-camp on the staff of General Sherman. The playful manner in which he describes these habitual acts of plunder of ‘plate, jewelry, and other rich goods’ from private and undefended dwellings, shows that not only was such conduct not forbidden by the military authorities, but that it was permitted and applauded, that it was practiced ‘wherever the army halted’ under the eye of the staff officers of the general commanding, and was looked upon as one of the pleasurable ‘excitements of the march.’ Indeed, so agreeable was the impression made by these scenes of robbery of women's ‘rich goods’ that he has adorned his narrative with a fullpage illustration, exhibiting a plantation home surrounded by soldiers engaged, as this staff officer humorously terms it, in ‘treasure-seeking,’ while the lady of the house—its only apparent occupant—stands upon the veranda, with hands uplifted, beseeching them not to steal the watch and chain which they are taking out of a vessel which they have just dug up. That the foreign mercenaries, of which the Federal army was largely composed, should have been guilty of such disgraceful conduct, when free from the observation of their officers, is conceivable; it is difficult, however, to imagine that, in the nineteenth century, such acts as are described above could be committed habitually, in view of the officer of highest rank in the army of a civilized country, and not merely pass unpunished or unrebuked, but be recorded with conspicuous approval in the pages of a military history.

The advance of the enemy's columns across the Catawba, Lynch's Creek, and the Pedee, at Cheraw, though retarded as much as possible by the vigilant skill of our cavalry under Generals Hampton, Butler, and Wheeler, was steady and continuous. General Johnston's hope that, from the enemy's order of moving by wings, sometimes a day's march from each other, he could find an opportunity to strike one of [539] their columns in the passage of the Cape Fear River, when the other was not in supporting distance, was unhappily disappointed.

On March 6th, near Kinston, General Bragg with a reenforcement of less than two thousand men attacked and routed three divisions of the enemy under Major General Cox, capturing fifteen hundred prisoners and three field-pieces, and inflicting heavy loss in killed and wounded. This success, though inspiring, was on too small a scale to produce important results. During the march from the Catawba to the Cape Fear several brilliant cavalry affairs took place, in which our troops displayed their wonted energy and dash. Among these the most conspicuous were General Butler's at Mount Elon, where he defeated a detachment sent to tear up the railroad at Florence; General Wheeler's attack and repulse of the left flank of the enemy at Hornesboro, March 4th; a similar exploit by the same officer at Rockingham on the 7th; the attack and defeat by General Hampton of a detachment on the 8th; the surprise and capture of General Kilpatrick's camp by General Hampton on the morning of the 10th, driving the enemy into an adjoining swamp, and taking possession of his artillery and wagon train, and the complete rout of a large Federal party by General Hampton with an inferior force at Fayetteville on the 11th.

As it was doubtful whether General Sherman's advance from Fayetteville would be directed to Goldsboro or Raleigh, General Johnston took position with a portion of his command at Smithfield, which is nearly equidistant from each of those places, leaving General Hardee to follow the road from Fayetteville to Raleigh, which for several miles is also the direct road from Fayetteville to Smithfield, and posted one division of his cavalry on the Raleigh road, and another on that to Goldsboro. On March 16th General Hardee was attacked by two corps of the enemy, a few miles south of Averysboro, a place nearly half-way between Fayetteville and Raleigh. Falling back a few hundred yards to a stronger position, he easily repelled the repeated attacks of these two corps during the day, and, learning in the evening that the enemy's corps were moving to turn his left, he withdrew in the night toward Smithfield.

Early in the morning of the 18th General Johnston obtained definite information that General Sherman was marching on Goldsboro, the right wing of his army being about a day's march distant from the left. General Johnston took immediate steps to attack the head of the left wing on the morning of the 19th, and ordered the troops at Smithfield and General Hardee's command to march at once to Bentonville and [540] take position between that village and the road on which the enemy was advancing. An error as to the relative distance which our troops and those of the enemy would have to move, exaggerating the distance between the roads on which the enemy was advancing and diminishing the distance that our troops would have to march, caused the failure to concentrate our troops in time to attack the enemy's left wing while in column; when General Hardee's troops reached Bentonville in the morning, however, the attack was commenced. The battle lasted through the greater part of the day, resulting in the enemy's being driven from two lines of entrenchments, and his taking shelter in a dense wood, where it was impracticable for our troops to preserve their line of battle or to employ the combined strength of the three arms. On the 20th the two wings of the Federal army, numbering, as estimated by General Johnston, upward of seventy thousand, came together and repeatedly attacked a division of our force (Hoke's) which occupied an entrenched position parallel to the road to Averysboro; every attack was handsomely repulsed. On the next day (21st) an attempt by the enemy to reach Bentonville in the rear of our center, and thus cut off our only route of retreat, was gallantly defeated by an impetuous and skillful attack, led by Generals Hardee and Hampton, on the front and both flanks of the enemy's column, by which he was compelled to retreat as rapidly as he had advanced. In this attack General Hardee's only son, a noble boy, charging gallantly with the Eighth Texas Cavalry, fell mortally wounded. On the night of the 21st our troops were withdrawn across Mill Creek, and in the evening of the 22d bivouacked near Smithfield. On the 23d the forces of General Sherman and those of General Schofield were united at Goldsboro, where they remained inactive for upward of two weeks.

On the 9th of April the Confederate forces took up the line of march to Raleigh, and reached that city early in the afternoon of the same day, closely followed by the Federal army.

1 General Hampton's letter to General Sherman, February 27, 1865.

2 The Story of the Great March, from the Diary of a Staff Officer. By Brevet Major George Ward Nichols, aid-de-camp to General Sherman. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1865, pp. 112 et seq.

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