Saturday, March 21, 2015

Battle of Bentonville – Union Victory

In heavy fighting at Bentonville on March 19th, Johnston's army had won good success, driving back several of Henry Slocum's divisions. But many Federals held firm, and ultimately the Confederates were unable to break the line. The next day was mostly a stalemate. Johnston would not attack again, and remained in a V-shaped line with both flanks anchored on a creek. He reported that he remained on the field so that he could remove his wounded, but he may have also hoped that the Federals would attack him, giving him a better chance for victory. Slocum was heavily reinforced by Sherman, but he too did not attack. There was little more than sporadic fighting throughout the day.

On the 21st Johnston still remained in position, but that day the Federals did attack. Joseph Mower received permission to take his division on a reconnaissance around the Confederate left flank. He took this as an authorization for an attack, and struck nearly in the Confederate rear. That area of the Confederate line was very lightly defended – only a few pickets stood between Mower's men and Johnston's only line of retreat. Confederate General Wade Hampton found one brigade, a battery and a handful of Texas cavalry, and threw them in front of the advancing Federals. They charged and were able to stop the Yankees a few hundred yards from the road. When Sherman heard of Mower's attack, he ordered him back to the main Union line. He later realized this was a mistake, and wrote in his memoirs:
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 ... I preferred to make junction with Generals Terry and Schofield, before engaging Johnston's army, the strength of which was utterly unknown.
Johnston, having narrowly escaped complete disaster, retreated from the field that night and burned the bridge behind him. He had lost about 2,600 men, 240 killed, 1700 wounded and 675 captured. The Federals lost 194 killed, 1,112 wounded and 221 captured for a total of 1,527. This was one of the last major battles of the Civil War, and the very last that could be claimed as a Confederate victory. Soon after Johnston wrote to Lee, "I can do no more than annoy [Sherman]. I respectfully suggest that it is no longer a question whether you leave present position; you have only to decide where to meet Sherman.” The end was near, and many of the Confederates saw it coming.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Battle of Bentonville – Confederate Attack

Map of the battle
As Joseph E. Johnston made plans to fight the Union army of William Techumseh Sherman advancing north through North Carolina, he decided to make a stand at Bentonville some 50 miles south of Raleigh. Johnston had less than 22,000 men to face Sherman's 60,000. Confederate maps showed that the two roads on which the Union wings were marching were twelve miles apart at that point, giving a good opportunity to defeat one without having to fight the other.

The battle began on March 19, 150 years ago today, when the Federal left wing under Henry Slocum encountered the rebels entrenched at Bentonville. At first, he believed he was facing only light resistance, as the Confederate position had a river at its back. But when one division failed to dislodge the Confederates, he deployed his men into a defensive position and prepared for a more serious fight. At 3 pm, with more Confederates having arrived on the field, Johnston attacked. The charge was a glorious sight. Colonel Charles Broadfoot of North Carolina wrote:
Several officers led the charge on horseback across an open field in full view, with colors flying and line of battle in ... perfect order ... and followed by a battery which dashed at full gallop, wheeled, unlimbered and opened fire. It looked like a picture and at our distance was truly beautiful. It was gallantly done, but it was a painful sight to see how close their battle flags were together, regiments being scarcely larger than companies and a division not much larger than a regiment should be.
Striking Slocum's left flank, the Confederates drove them back in confusion. More Confederates under D. H. Hill continued the attack, and began to roll up the Union line. However James Morgan's division, which comprised the Union right, held firm, and beat off repeated attacks. As night fell, the attacks continued, but were equally unsuccessful. Around midnight the Confederates fell back to their lines and began digging entrenchments. They had won a victory, but had failed to completely break Slocum's line.

The Harper House, around which much of the fighting took place

Monday, March 16, 2015

Battle of Averasboro

After capturing Columbia on February 17, South Carolina, William Tecumseh Sherman continued his march into North Carolina, heading towards Richmond to join the army of Ulysses S. Grant. Two armies were also ordered to join Sherman at Goldsboro, NC, with John Schofield coming from Wilmington and Jacob Cox from New Berne. On February 23, Joseph E. Johnston was appointed to lead the Confederate resistance. He was able to create the Army of the South from remnants of the Army of Tennessee, along with reinforcements from neighboring states.

Sherman's army was moving north towards Goldsboro in two columns, the right under Oliver Otis Howard, the left under Henry Slocum. Johnston send his corps under William Hardee to delay Slocum, while the two Federal columns were separated, and hopefully unable to support one another. On the afternoon of March 15th the Federals found Hardee deployed near Averasborough. The next day they attacked, and drove back several Confederate lines, but were not able to gain a complete victory. That night Hardee fell back, having held up the Federal advance for two days. The Federals lost around 700 men, the Confederates about 850.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Battle of Wyse Fork

After the fall of Fort Fisher in January and Wilmington, North Carolina a few weeks later, the Federal troops there under Maj. Gen. John Schofield, were ordered to move inland to meet up with William Sherman's army on it's march north. Also ordered to join with Sherman was Maj. Gen. Jacob Cox's army in New Berne, north of Wilmington. The Confederates under Braxton Bragg and D. H. Hill, both natives of North Carolina, blocked Cox's path at Kinston.

When the Federals approached on March 7, Bragg went on the offensive. One brigade under Robert Hoke hit the Union left flank. D. H. Hill tried to lead the North Carolina Junior Reserves into the fight, but they were too panicked to attack, so he advanced with other veteran units. As the Union troops were being pushed back, Bragg called off the attack to deal with false reports of a threat to his line. In the mean time, but Federals sealed the gap in their line. Skirmishing continued over the next few days, to little result. The Confederates tried another flank attack on the 10th, but the Federals had strongly reinforced the position and were able to drive off the rebels. With more Union divisions arriving, Bragg decided to fall back, clearing the way for Cox's advance. The Federals had lost about 1,100 men, the Confederate, 1,500.


Friday, March 6, 2015

Battle of Natural Bridge

Monument on the battlefield
One southern state that saw very little fighting in the Civil War was Florida. Sparsely populated and mostly a peninsula, it contained few military targets or roads leading to targets. There were a few battles in the state, one of which, the Battle of Natural Bridge, took place 150 years ago today. This conflict took place because of an expedition by John Newton, the Union's Department commander. He landed near St. Marks on March 4th, and planned to destroy the Confederate force in the area and then march on Tallahassee, the state capitol.

The southern troops under William Miller were defending the crossings of the St. Marks River. They destroyed one bridge and held on Newport Bridge on March 5th, so Newton sent his men up stream to Natural Bridge, which was as yet undefended. The rebels realized what was happening, and a race was one. They arrived at the bridge first, and held it throughout the day on March 6th. Newton's troops tried to drive the Confederates away, but they held firm behind their breastworks and drove the Yankees back with heavy fire. In the evening the Federals retired. This was one of the last Confederate victories during the war, and it was key in making Tallahassee the only state capitol to remain in Confederate hands at the war's close.

Reenactment of the battle. Source.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Battle of Waynesboro

In February, 1865, Union Major General Philip Sheridan began moving up Shenadoah Valley towards Staunton, Virginia. Opposing him were the Confederate troops under Jubal Early, who had had badly defeated the year before at the Battle of Cedar Creek. 150 years ago today Sheridan's lead division of cavalry, 2,500 men under Brig. Gen. George Custer, approached Early just outside Waynesboro. The Confederates had a little more than 1,000 men behind earthworks which covered their entire front. Custer sent his first brigade around the Confederates left flank, while his second made a diversion in the front.

The Federals horse artillery came into action at around 3:30 pm, and several minutes later the rebels were shocked by the flank attack. They were thrown into a panic, and fled after a feeble resistance. Jedediah Hotchkiss, a Confederate staff officer, called it “one of the most terrible panics and stampedes I have ever seen. There was a perfect rout along the road up the mountain, and the enemy ... dashed rapidly forward into the swarm of flying men, wagons, &c....” Many Confederates were captured and the rest were widely scattered. The Army of the Valley no longer existed as an organized force, and Early himself escaped with only a handful of staff. He returned to Lee at Richmond having lost an entire corps of the army since he had left the year before. Although Lee valued Early's skills as a general, he had no choice but to remove him from command. It says much to the character of both men, that after the war Jubal Early was one of Lee's staunchest defenders, even though he had removed him from command.

Early later in life

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fall of Columbia

Sherman and his staff
Upon the completion of Sherman's march to the sea, Ulysses Grant planned to embark that Union army on ships and take them from Georgia up to Virginia, to deal with the army of Robert E. Lee, the last major Confederate force. But Sherman had a different idea. He got Grant's approval of a plan to march to Virginia overland through North and South Carolina and destroying along the way anything of use to the Confederacy, like he had done to Georgia. In January Sherman set out with over 60,000 men. There were few Confederates to resist him – the remnants of the Army of the Tennessee were down below 10,000 men.

The first major target on Sherman's path was Columbia, the capitol of South Carolina. This was a particularly important goal for the Federals, as South Carolina had been the first state to secede from the Union. In their path were around 1,200 Confederates under Lafayette McLaws. His men were guarding the crossing of the Salkehatchie River, but Sherman's men just built a bridge and outflanked the rebel force.

Columbia burning
On February 17, Columbia surrendered to Sherman's advancing men, and the Confederate cavalry abandoned the city. That night chaos broke out among the freed slaves and Union soldiers and freed prisoners, fueled with plentiful supplies of alcohol. A hard wind was blowing, and when fires broke out much of the city was destroyed. It is unlikely that these were lit under orders of the Federal high command, but Sherman certainly was not sorry it happened. The next day the Union troops destroyed anything left in the city of military value.

Ruins of Columbia