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Chapter 45: March through the Carolinas; the Battle of Bentonville; Johnston's surrender

I was obliged to detail a brigade to repair the worst places near Falling Creek. As I was observing the rapid and handy work of this (General Clarke's) brigade, I heard heavy firing in the distance from the direction of Bentonville; and instantly I sent off our chief of artillery, Major Osborn, to pass to the rear of Logan's column and turn Hazen's division back upon Slocum's road as quickly as possible, in case the need was evident upon his reaching Hazen.

Report was brought to Sherman and to me that it was only Confederate cavalry that Slocum had thus far met, and that he was driving it before him. Hazen's movement was then delayed.

This news made me believe that Johnston might fall back by the road which crossed Cox's Bridge over the Neuse. That road was the only practicable one for him to pass over in an easterly direction. I immediately sent Colonel Strong of my staff to secure the bridge. He took with him the Tenth Iowa, moved rapidly, drove a few hundred Confederate cavalry before him across the bridge, secured the crossroads near it, and rapidly fortified the position. The heavy firing continued and seemed to increase, and we very [144] much feared from the sound, and from a report brought by Lieutenant Foraker (since so well known as the Hon. Joseph B. Foraker, Senator from Ohio) of Slocum's staff, that Slocum's column was having a very hard battle. On Foraker's arrival and report, the order to send Hazen's division was now given by Sherman himself.

Several messengers gave us to understand that during this day, March 19th, Slocum, though losing some ground, had repulsed several furious assaults of the Confederate infantry, and that he had secured a strong position, which he could hold until reenforced by our right wing.

Hazen kept up his reverse march and reported to Slocum by daylight of the 20th. Logan closed up his command at night, forced the enemy to destroy Cox's Bridge, and at once commenced his march by the river road toward Bentonville.

Meanwhile Blair also used the night to bring up his column near to Logan. In fact, our marching was continuous until the two wings were in touch with each other. My men were driving back the enemy's cavalry skirmishers and squadrons until between ten and eleven on the morning of March 20th.

If we connect Fayetteville with Averysboro by a right line, then Averysboro with Smithfield, and Smithfield with Goldsboro, and join also Goldsboro with Fayetteville, we have an oblong, four-sided figure. The distance from Fayetteville to Goldsboro is about 50 miles; the other separate distances, following the perimeter, are from 20 to 25 miles each. This oblong figure was the terrain which covered the maneuvers and the two battles of Averysboro and Bentonville. Bentonville is a point as near the middle of this terrain [145] as you can place it. Sherman's army started one wing from Fayetteville, and the other wing from behind Averysboro. His mind, fully determined, was to pass from the Cape Fear River to the Neuse, making Goldsboro his objective point.

As Schofield and Terry had Wilmington, New Berne and Kinston, and were moving northward to form a junction with us, Sherman greatly desired to make this connection and secure Goldsboro before fighting a general battle. He believed that the enemy would fall back to Smithfield, and perhaps to Raleigh after the hard blows he had received at Averysboro; so that it is very plain that Bentonville was not Sherman's objective.

Johnston, on the other hand, had his eye upon Bentonville. He was at Smithfield when our parties departed from the Cape Fear River gathering up his forces. He proposed to throw them boltlike upon our upper column when isolated near Bentonville. Bentonville was then indeed a strategic and objective point for the Confederates.

Aiming for Goldsboro caused the separation of our columns and made us unready March 19th when the Confederates began their first attack. At that instant Blair was as far south as Troublefield's store, but he was on the direct road to Goldsboro. Logan, with the bulk of his corps, had really passed beyond Bentonville, and but for the detention of battle would have gone there.

Wade Hampton, commanding the entire Confederate cavalry before us, was falling back on Slocum's road toward Bentonville. Johnston, strengthened by news that Hampton kept sending to him, that our wings were so separated and marching as I have indicated, [146] did as he had done before, particularly at the battle of Fair Oaks. He struck a portion of the Union army, temporarily isolated, and he hoped to crush it before our troops could be brought back.

It appeared to me that the ground chosen by Hampton, which Johnston occupied the morning of the 19th, substantially along the Clinton road, with high ground and a good artillery position west of it at right angles to Slocum's road of approach, could not have been better selected.

Hampton says: “The plan proposed was that the cavalry should move out at daylight and occupy the position held by them on the previous evening. The infantry could then be deployed, putting one corps across the main road and the other two obliquely in echelon to the right of the first.”

Hampton's cavalry, after checking Slocum's advance as long as practicable, was to fall back through intervals in Bragg's line and pass off to the right of the troops and guard that flank.

Carlin's division (Fourteenth Corps), heading Slocum's column quite early on the morning of March 19th, was moving on toward Bentonville in column, having out in his front and on his flank the usual skirmish line.

The enemy's cavalry appeared at first to be more stubborn than usual; so much so that Carlin deployed his division to the left and Corps Commander Davis ordered Morgan to deploy his division so as to cover Carlin's right. This deployment was intended to force back the Confederate cavalry, or (if they were there) to develop infantry and artillery. It was this force which pressed Hampton's cavalry so hard that it hastened back to perform its allotted work; then, Hampton [147] being out of the way, the Confederate infantry opened its fire at short range against the Fourteenth Corps.

After the first encounter Carlin's men seem to have been considerably shaken. Perceiving some show of disorder, the Confederates took the offensive, advancing steadily against Carlin's left. There was doubtless some breaking here and there, but Slocum's men were veterans, and quickly rallied. The Twentieth Corps and the remainder of the Fourteenth not engaged were hastily forming a new line, half a mile to the rear. Johnston puts it this way:

Some distance in the rear there was a thick wood of young pines, into which the Federal troops were pursued, and in which they rallied and renewed the fight.

Slocum by his language implies an enforced retreat to the prepared position; but says that the retiring troops “were handled with skill, and fell back without panic or demoralization, taking places in the line established.”

Here at the second position the engagement was renewed, but the opposition was too strong for Johnston's men to overcome. They charged again and again, but finally retired beyond range, hoping to renew the attack the next morning; but during the night Johnston was assured that I was pushing in my command toward him from the east along the road from Cox's Bridge, so that he immediately took a new position where he could face both myself and Slocum.

That position was an enlarged bridgehead, embracing Bentonville and covering the crossing of Mill Creek by the Smithfield road.

I believe the Confederate lines were rather irregular [148] and broken, but so established as to make a thorough defense of the village and of the Confederate line of retreat. I hardly think that Johnston could have done better, even if he had followed up more quickly Carlin's retiring men.

There was so much more woodland than open ground in the vicinity of Bentonville and so much marshy or spongy soil that quick maneuvering was impossible. Leading my force, I approached Bentonville, threw a brigade and battery toward Cox's bridge to save it, and kept back any enemy coming from that quarter. The bridge was burned upon our approach. We had similar experience to Slocum with detachments of the Confederate cavalry becoming more and more stubborn as we advanced.

A little nearer the village we struck a crossroad where there was a Confederate outpost held by infantry in the edge of a wood. This caused the deployment of a part of Woods's division, which was on the lead. The point was soon cleared, though a strong Confederate skirmish line well reinforced kept us and Slocum (or I should say Hazen) back; that was Hazen's position after Slocum had closed up upon Johnston's new works. The Confederate resistance was so great that it took me until three o'clock in the afternoon to make close connections. During the remainder of the day some artillery firing occurred and continuous skirmishing, but there was no real battle while I was bringing my troops into position.

Thus I had Logan occupy the portion of the front next to Slocum and Blair deploy his division on the right, farther along. In this way we embraced the works of the Confederates. One of the officers of my staff visited Slocum himself as soon as we were in [149] position. He asked him how he thought the battle of the day before had ended. Slocum replied: “We whipped them.”

The country in the vicinity of this battlefield was of such a nature that we could not draw artillery over it. It seemed to be dry on the surface, but very watery and miry just below; so that the battle was fought mostly by infantry.

That morning of March 21st, bright and early, I was up and had a place for a good view of my troops. Sherman's men were in position from right to left in the following order: Seventeenth Corps, Fifteenth, Fourteenth, and Twentieth, with proper reserves covering each flank. Kilpatrick's cavalry was placed at the extreme left. On our right our movements commenced by a reconnoissance made by the Seventeenth Corps-Mower having with two brigades to feel for the enemy's left flank. He had to. work his way through a swampy area covered with thick underbrush and wood. In his eagerness Mower pushed a little too far to the north, and so with his two brigades became detached from his corps. He struck, evidently, beyond the enemy's left flank, possibly coming upon the rear guard, which he at first drove before him.

The Confederates, seeing what was upon them, immediately organized an attack, and struck Mower's front and flanks. He was forced to withdraw, and Hampton intimates that that withdrawal was in great haste, in fact, a complete repulse. Hampton was right; but as soon as I knew from his appeal that Mower was driven back, I ordered Blair to support him with his whole corps, if necessary, and Logan to advance and seize the skirmish rifle pits all along his front. [150]

This was done, but just as Mower under a hot fire was leading a connected column again to the same Confederate flank or rear, Sherman ordered him back. The general also called off Blair's entire command — an order that by some accident did not get to me at all till I met Blair and began calling him to account for the withdrawal of his men. Blair answered: “The withdrawal is by Sherman's order!”

Sherman did this deliberately, and gave his reasons for it. One was that he thought that Mower had been a little rash; another, that he thought Johnston had a larger command than he really did have; and another, which was probably the governing one at that time, that there had been enough bloodshed already, and that Johnston would surely retreat northward and leave us to go and complete our connection at Goldsboro and establish our new base of supplies.

None of these reasons satisfied me at the time, but events were already ripening which very soon made me glad that this last battle had not been pushed to an extremity.

The night of March 21st Johnston saw his line of retreat toward the north still open, and, having done his best, he could reap no further fruits from his enterprise, so he carefully withdrew.

Sherman's table of losses at Bentonville was:

Aggregate loss1,604

[151] Johnston's corresponding statement was:

On the 19th1801,220515
On the 20th69031
On the 21st37157107
Aggregate loss2,343

Sherman gave this summary: “Wide discrepancies exist in these figures. For instance, Slocum accounts for 338 prisoners captured, and Howard for 1,287, making 1,625 in all to Johnston's 653, a difference of 872. I have always accorded to Johnston due credit for boldness in his attack on our exposed flank at Bentonville, but I think that he understated his strength, and doubt at the time whether he gave accurate returns from his miscellaneous army, collected from Hood, Bragg, Hardee, Lee, and Hampton. With this knowledge now possessed of his small force, of course I committed an error in not overwhelming Johnston's army on March 21, 1865.”

Hardee is presented as particularly gallant in all of the later charges of the battle of Bentonville, at one time leading his men in person straight over one of Slocum's barricades. When Hardee was commandant of cadets at West Point, I was one of the officers associated with him and was very intimate with his family. He had but one son, and in my spare moments, at the request of his father, who was always my personal friend, I tutored him while at West Point. Willie was scarcely sixteen when he joined a regiment of Texas cavalry only a few hours before the battle of Bentonville commenced. He was among the foremost and during one of the charges was struck and [152] mortally wounded. General S. D. Lee, my classmate, first succeeded in getting the news to me.

A little later from Raleigh I wrote home: “General Hardee stayed here, just before we entered, with his wife and Miss Anna, his daughter. Miss Anna wrote me this morning from Hillsboro. She says that Willie was mortally wounded at the battle of Bentonville. He died at the house of a Mr. Kirkland in Raleigh, and she besought me for protection for her Kirkland friends, recalling old times.”

It was always a pleasure to me to do anything to soften the asperities of war, so that I was glad to be asked for such a favor which I readily granted.

On our part, the evening of March 21st, we had repelled many fierce charges of the Confederates, striving to retake their skirmish rifle pits which we had seized. This work was not intermitted until dark. Our cannon, however, continued to fire its projectiles from time to time during the whole night, lodging them somewhere in Johnston's lines. At dawn, finding our front clear of adversaries, we took up the pursuit, ran upon their rear guard, and skirmished with it for more than a mile along the Smithfield road, but meanwhile every Union command was making preparation to continue our way to Goldsboro. We entered that city Friday, March 24th, having spanned the distance from Bentonville in two marches. Schofield was already there. The next day after our arrival our wagons that had been previously sent to Kinston came back with supplies of food. Sherman reviewed his troops. As my two corps marched past him our men were evidently in the best of health and full of vigor, but they were actually in rags and almost shoeless. It indicates the energy of our supply department to say that [153] within ten days every man was properly refitted, so that my wing, at least, then bore the appearance of a new army.

The rest at Goldsboro was very acceptable to the army after its prolonged labors, perils, and privations. Our cavalry and pickets were thrown out in every direction. The railroad southward, owing to the energy of the railroad department, was quickly in shape, and brought up abundant supplies. We remained quiet for eleven days. On the twelfth day, April 4th, Sherman, who had gone to City Point and had his interview there with the President, the general in chief and others, and been made happy by abundant personal congratulations, had already returned to us in fine spirits. The next day, the 5th, he stirred up his army commanders and the chiefs of staff departments by a confidential order, which itself showed plainly that he and Grant had put their heads together for new work.

Monday, April 10th, was designated for the end of the preparation, and we were speedily stripping and preparing for a new base. We were to thrust ourselves, if possible, between Joe Johnston, now west of the Neuse, and General Lee. Our new base was to be along the Chowan River, with depots at such places as Winton and Murfreesboro, N. C. Our first objectives of any importance were Warrenton and Weldon, N. C., with a view to the prompt crossing of the Roanoke.

Sherman carefully laid out the routes for each army, the left wing, substantially, to go by the railway toward Raleigh to Smithfield, thence to the crossing of the Neuse, the northern branch, and thence on to Warrenton; the right wing for a time along the Weldon road as far as Nahunta, and thence leftward to [154] Pearce's Mill, and so northward to Warrenton. Schofield's army was to take a central route, passing by Whitley's Mill, and on to Rolesville, and thence to Warrenton; while Kilpatrick's cavalry, preceding my column, was to clear the way, watch the right flank, and get to Weldon as soon as practicable.

The instant we had passed the Roanoke arrangements were made with supply vessels and with Admiral Porter of the navy, to change our depots from New Berne and Kinston to Winton and Murfreesboro. Sherman promised to be habitually with the center column. He demanded a report each night from all of us as to “whether anything material had occurred during the day.”

We were filled with animation, and hastily putting things to rights, when, sometime during the day of April 6th, news reached us which changed the whole programme. The news was: General Robert E. Lee's troops of North Virginia were rushing with no little disorder for Danville, and Grant's army was doing its best to head them off. It was evident that no effort of ours could now prevent a junction of Lee and Johnston, should Lee succeed in escaping from Grant; so Sherman at once changed his programme. He now ordered a general movement upon Raleigh.

April 12th from his headquarters at Smithfield which Johnston had evacuated before we came, Sherman sent us these cheering words: “The general commanding announces to the army that he has an official notice from General Grant that General Lee surrendered to him his entire army on the 9th inst., at Appomattox Court House, Va. Glory to God and our country, and all honor to our comrades in arms toward whom we are marching!” [155]

The next day, the 13th, gave us possession of Raleigh, and our general in chief on the 14th, having his troops well up, for they all marched briskly, issued a new set of orders.

Sherman, in these, located Johnston on the North Carolina Railroad at what was called “Company shops,” near the crossing of the Haw River. He ordered a movement straight to Ashboro which, being southward and beyond, would turn Johnston's position and force him to battle, should he remain where he was. Events were following each other rapidly. That day Johnston sent in a flag of truce, and addressed to Sherman a communication which spoke of Lee's action and invited a suspension of operations. Sherman instantly replied in a favorable communication, intimating that he had power to make such arrangements with Johnston as Grant had made with Lee.

It took till evening of the 16th to complete the preliminaries for the interview between Sherman and Johnston. Early April 17th, Sherman, with the officers who were to accompany him, was at the railroad station, and just about boarding a train for Durham Station, when the telegraph operator ran to him and asked him to delay starting, for he was receiving a most important message, one coming by the way of Morehead City. It was in cipher, and of course it took some little time to translate.

This contained the fearful news of the assassination of President Lincoln and of the attempts, so nearly successful, to kill Mr. Seward and other members of the Cabinet. Sherman was greatly startled. Finding that no one but the operator knew the purport of the message, he resolved to delay its announcement [156] to the army, for he greatly feared the immediate result of the publication; so, cautioning the operator not to give it out, he stepped aboard the train and went to fill his engagement.

Sherman and Johnston met between the lines at the farmhouse of Mr. Bennett. Separating from their staffs, the two generals passed into a side room, and as soon as they were there face to face, Sherman showed Johnston the telegraphic message from Washington. The effect upon Johnston was very marked. Sherman says: “The perspiration came out in great drops on his forehead, and he did not attempt to hide his distress.”

The interview was only a preliminary one, but both officers much desired to enter into some more general arrangement than a simple capitulation. Sherman explained Grant's terms and what he believed to have been Mr. Lincoln's wishes, gathered from his late interview, with regard to a general settlement for a peace establishment. Johnston asked for time to communicate with those whom he represented. Here ended the first interview, and the parties returned to their respective commands. Sherman immediately came back to Raleigh where I had remained in command.

The sad news was first given by him, en route, to some of Kilpatrick's men at Durham Station, and next to the Fifteenth Corps near Morrisville and Jones's Station, then to me. Promptly after reaching his headquarters, Sherman published the news. There is one clause which I will repeat: “Your general does not wish you to infer that this (the disposition to use the assassin's tools) is universal, for he knows that the great mass of the Confederate army would scorn to sanction such acts, but he believes it to be the [157] legitimate consequence of rebellion against rightful authority.”

The effect upon our soldiers was different from what had been anticipated, for their sorrow seemed to overwhelm them for a time, and there was little thought of revenge. The instinctive feeling was quite universal that the war was substantially over and that the work of assassination was but the act of a few madmen.

The next day, April 18th, Sherman took with him not only his personal staff, but Blair and myself. He left us all at Durham Station, except the officers whom he took the day before. It was at this interview that the first terms were drawn up. Speaking of the paper that contained them, Sherman says: “I wrote it myself, and announced it as the best I could do, and they (Johnston and his advisers) readily assented.”

These were explicit and general terms which were signed by Sherman and Johnston and forwarded for the approval or disapproval of the Executive. The clause which recognized the State Governments, whose legitimacy was to be determined by the Supreme Court, together with the other paragraph, which defined political rights and franchises, was what caused such a furor of opposition from Washington.

The whole agreement was disapproved by President Johnson, and Grant was ordered “to resume hostilities at the earliest moment” ; and, further, Grant was instructed to proceed to Sherman's headquarters “and direct opposition against the enemy.”

Grant came. His visit was a memorable one. His close friendship for Sherman prevented anything that might have been unfavorable to a speedy peace, and allayed all asperities; but he could not remove the [158] deep chagrin Sherman felt, not that his terms had been disapproved, for that was discretionary with the President, but because he had been so publicly and cruelly denounced by the War Department.

Grant sent Sherman again to meet Johnston. They met April 26th and agreed upon a new set of terms putting Johnston's army, officers and men upon their parole to fight no more, and permitting them to return to their homes. As soon as Sherman came back to Raleigh, Grant read the memorandum of agreement carefully, put his approval upon it, and leaving us the next day, took the same to Washington. On that day, April 26th, Halleck sent a dispatch to the Secretary of War, showing that troops had been sent from the Army of the Potomac into Sherman's vicinity. This singular clause occurs concerning a suspension of orders for the advancement of the Sixth Corps, made consequent upon Sherman's last agreement: “I have telegraphed back to obey no orders of Sherman, but to push forward as rapidly as possible.”

Not only this, but Halleck asked the War Department for orders to General James H. Wilson, commanding cavalry, and then hurrying on southward, “to obey no orders from Sherman!” In the light of these dispatches, it is no wonder that Sherman, having three armies at his disposal, and not even relieved from duty, felt more deeply than can be described the insult so conveyed. Sherman's own words as to the state of his feelings are pertinent: “I was outraged beyond measure, and was resolved to resent the insult, cost what it might!”

On the morning of April 26th I wrote a letter to my home: “Sherman's terms were not approved at Washington. I go with him to meet Johnston to-day, and [159] expect other terms will be arranged. Grant came back with Major Hitchcock (Sherman's messenger to Washington), was present at my review of the Seventeenth Corps day before yesterday, and yesterday he visited and rode among the camps of my Fifteenth Corps. The men received him with great enthusiasm. I cannot get over the effects of the death of Mr. Lincoln. Even the people here believe that they have passed into severer hands, and have a sort of appreciation of the fact that they have lost a friend and not an enemy.”

April 29th I wrote again on the eve of our departure from Raleigh:

I am just starting with my army northward, and expect to reach Petersburg by the 12th of next month. Since I have been here in Raleigh, I have been entertained by Mr.Tucker and Mrs. R. S. Tucker, people young like you and me. I have been treated with marked cordiality, and have acquired a great friendship for them. There is no more warl I am deeply sorry for the abuse Sherman is getting at the hands of the press. He meant right, and the reasons for offering generous terms were not rightly set forth by the press. How easy it is to impute wrong motives.

We spanned the distance to Richmond in nine days, making an average by the route we followed through Petersburg from 20 to 25 miles a day. The soldiers generally were so eager to get to the places of muster-out in order to return to their homes that they did not complain now of long marches. [160]

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