March 21, 1865: Full report on Bentonville

William T. Sherman

Carolinas campaign

Sherman reports to Grant on the events from the 14th through the 21st. He reports that Johnston tried and failed to break Slocum’s wing, while Schofield took Goldsborough. He plans to rest the troops a bit, and then move toward Raleigh.

Official Records:

In the Field, Cox’s Bidge, over Neuse River, N. C.,
March 22, 1865.
Lieutenant General U. S. GRANT, Commander-in-Chief, City Point, Va.:

GENERAL: I wrote you from Fayetteville, N. C., on Tuesday, the 14th instant, that I was all ready to start for Goldsborough, to which point I had also ordered General Schofield from New Berne and General Terry from Wilmington. I knew that General Joe Johnston was supreme in command against me, and that he would have time to concentrate a respectable army to oppose the last stage of this march. Accordingly General Slocum was ordered to send his main supply train under escort of two divisions straight for Bentonville, whilst he, with his other four divisions disencumbered off all unnecessary wagons, should march toward Raleigh by way of threat as far as Averasborough. General Howard in like manner sent his trains with the Seventeenth Corps well to the right, and with the four divisions of the Fifteenth Corps took roads which enable [him] to come promptly to the exposed left flank.

We started on the 15th, but again the rains set in, and the roads, already bad enough, became horrible. In Thursday, the 15th [16th], General Slocum found Hardee’s army from Charleston, which had retreated before us from Cheraw, in position across the marrow, swampy neck between Cape Fear and North Rivers, where the road branches off to Goldsborough. There a pretty severe fight occurred, in which General Slocum’s troops carried handsomely the advanced line held by a South Carolina brigade, commanded by a Colonel Butler. Its commander, Colonel Rhett, of Fort Sumter notoriety, with one of his staff, had the night before been captured by some of General Kilpatrick’s scouts from his very skirmish line. The next morning Hardee was found gone and was pursued through and beyond Averasborough. General Slocum buried 108 dead rebels, and captured and destroyed 3 guns. Some 80 wounded rebels were left in our hands, and after dressing their wounds we left them in a house attended by a Confederate officer and four privates detailed out of our prisoners and paroled for the purpose.

We resumed the march toward Goldsborough. I was with the Left Wing until I supposed all danger was passed, but when General Slocum’s head of column was within four miles of Bentonville, after skirmishing as usual with cavalry, he become aware that there was infantry at his front. He deployed a couple of brigades, which, on advancing, sustained a partial repulse but soon rallied, and he formed a line of the two leading divisions, Morgan’s and Carlin’s, of Jeff. C. Davis’ corps. The enemy attacked these with violence but was repulsed. This was in the forenoon of Sunday, the 19th. General Slocum brought forward the two divisions of the Twentieth Corps, and hastily disposed of them for defense, and General Kilpatrick massed his cavalry on the left.

General Joe Johnston had the night before marched his whole army, Bragg, Cheatham, S. D. Lee, Hardee, and all the troops he had drawn from every quarter, determined, as he told his men, to crush one of our corps and then defeat us in detail. He attacked Slocum in position from 3 p. m. of the 19th till dark, but was everywhere repulsed and lost fearfully. At the time I was with the Fifteenth Corps, marching on a road more to the right, but on hearing of Slocum’s danger directed that corps toward Cox’s Bridge and that night brought Blair’s corps over, and on the 20th marched on Johnston’s flank and rear. We struck him about noon and forced him to assume the defensive and to fortify.

Yesterday we pushed him hard, and came very near crushing him, the right division of the Seventeenth Corps, Mower’s, having broken in to within 100 yards of where Johnston himself was, at the bridge across Mill Creek. Last night he retreated, leaving us in possession of the field, dead and wounded. We have over 2,000 prisoners from this affair and the one at Averasborough, and am satisfied that Johnston’s army was so roughly handled yesterday that we could march right on to Raleigh, but we have now been out six weeks, living precariously upon the collections of our foragers, our men “dirty, ragged, and saucy,” and we must rest and fix up a little.

Our entire losses thus far, killed, wounded, and prisoners, will be covered by 2,500, a great part of which are, as usual, slight wounds. The enemy has lost more than double as many, and we have in prisoners alone full 2,000. I limited the pursuit this morning to Mill Creek, and will forthwith march the army to Goldsborough to rest, reclothe, and get some rations.

Our combinations were such that Schofield entered Goldsborough from New Berne, Terry got Cox’s Bridge with pontoons laid and a brigade across intrenched, and we whipped Joe Johnston, all on the same day.

After riding over the field of battle to-day near Bentonville, and making the necessary orders, I have ridden down to this place, Cox’s Bridge, to see General Terry, and to-morrow shall ride into Goldsborough. I propose to collect there my army proper; shall put General Terry about Faison’s Depot and General Schofield about Kinston, partly to protect the road, but more to collect such food and forage as the country affords, until the railroads are repaired leading into Goldsborough. I fear these have not been pushed with the vigor I expected, but I will soon have them both going.

I shall proceed forthwith to reorganize the three armies into bodies of 25,000 men each, and will try and be all ready to march to Raleigh or Weldon, as we may determine, by or before April 10. I inclose you a copy of my orders of to-day. * I would like to be more specific but have not the data. We have lost no general officers or no organization. Slocum took three guns at Averasborough, and lost three at the first dash on him at Bentonville. We have all of our wagons and trains in good order.

Yours, truly,
Major-General, Commanding.

This entry was posted in Henry W. Slocum, Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, J.M. Schofield, Joseph Johnston, North Carolina, Sherman's March, William J. Hardee, William Tecumseh Sherman. Bookmark the permalink.

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