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.