Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Sherman's Carolinas Campaign

Dates: 1 February to 26 April, 1865


Union: Major General William T. Sherman, commander of the Union’s Western Theatre of Operations.

Confederate: General Joseph Johnston, commander of a makeshift Confederate army formed from militia units and the remains of the Army of Tennessee.

Prelude: Since 21 December, 1864, Sherman’s army was encamped in the city of Savannah, GA. Now being resupplied by way of the US Navy, Sherman took the time to rest and refit his army in preparation for the next operation. There was discussion with the Commander of all Federal armies, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant about that same matter. Grant had planned to bring Sherman and his 60,000 to Virginia, combine them with the Army of the Potomac, and use that overwhelming power to crush General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The presence of a makeshift Confederate force in North Carolina might have made Grant change his mind. Possibly there was a political reason for the change. South Carolina was considered the birthplace of secession and Northerners tended to blame South Carolinians for the war. To inflict punishment on that state would be very popular in the North. With this in mind, Grant orders Sherman to march through the Carolinas, take out Johnston’s army, and then link up with him in Virginia.

As Sherman plans his movement, the Confederate Army in South Carolina consisted of the Charleston Garrison, commanded by General P.T.G. Beauregard, and the recently evacuated Savannah Garrison, commanded by Major General William Hardee. They might put up a fight, but would likely delay, but not stop the advance.

1 February, 1865: With all in readiness, Sherman orders his army to begin moving into South Carolina. To keep the Confederates off balance, his left wing, Major General Henry Slocum’s Army of Georgia, moved toward Augusta while the right wing, Major General Oliver Howard’s Army of the Tennessee moved toward Charleston. After entering South Carolina, the two wings began to follow parallel paths, both aimed at the state capital of Columbia. The Federal movement was observed by Confederate cavalry who could do no more than try to delay the advance.

As the Union forces moved through the south part of South Carolina, movement was slowed by swampy ground. This provided the defending Confederates to make several attempts to block the Federals, resulting on several skirmishes.

8 February, 1865: As Sherman’s army pushes to Columbia, he receives a message from Major General Joseph Wheeler, commanding the Confederate cavalry in the area, complaining that Sherman’s men are destroying private property. Sherman answers that he gave orders that private property would be respected. Of course, Sherman still had his bummers, those men who kept his army supplied during the March to the Sea, and they were still gainfully employed. Empty houses were considered fair game, but one must consider that the occasional occupied house was also hit.

11 February, 1865: Sherman’s army cuts the rail line connecting Augusta, GA and Charleston, SC, preventing a scratch force at Augusta from rendering any assistance. This action caused Beauregard to call for the evacuation of the Charleston Garrison before they could be encircled.

As the Federal advance continued, rain began to hamper their speed. Wagons would halt until Sherman’s engineers could corduroy the dirt (now muddy) roads. To corduroy a road was to put logs or planks over the road to create a surface that made it easier for wagons and artillery to move.

14 February, 1865: The Federal advance crosses the Congaree River amid skirmishing. The best the Confederate troops could do was to find isolated Federal units and capture them.

15 February, 1865: Sherman reaches the outskirts of Columbia. That afternoon, the Confederate garrison evacuates the city. At the same time, the Charleston Garrison is considering the same thing.

17 February, 1865: Columbia, SC falls to Federal forces. During the night, fires began to burn across the city. These fires were either set by retreating Confederates burning cotton stores, of by drunken Union troops. Either way, the city was leveled.

Also on this night, the Confederate Garrison of Charleston was evacuated. One of the last Confederate positions abandoned was Fort Sumter, the flash point of the entire war.

18 February, 1865: Sherman orders all property that was usable to the enemy destroyed in Columbia before ordering his troops to resume movement. At the same time, Charleston, SC formally surrenders to Federal forces led by Major General Alexander Schimmelfennig.

23 February, 1865: Sherman’s army is back on the march in a heavy rain, aiming for the North Carolina border.

Sherman was getting some help, on 22 February the port city of Wilmington, NC fell to Federal forces. This was the last Confederate port on the Atlantic coast.

Johnston was given command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, despite the fact that his only striking power was sitting in North Carolina.

25 February, 1865: Johnston assumes command of his makeshift army, consisting of the remains of the Army of Tennessee and reinforced by various militia units and backed by Wheeler’s cavalry.

3 March, 1865: Union troops reach Cheraw, SC, just inside the line from North Carolina. While the town was being occupied, some Union soldiers found a cache of very fine wine that was sent there from Charleston. The wine was distributed amongst the men. It must have a sight to see fine European wines drunk from tin cups. The Confederates retreat into North Carolina.

6 March, 1865: Sherman resumes his march, crossing into North Carolina and heading for Fayetteville.

Johnston’s area of responsibility was increased to include North Carolina and Virginia up to Petersburg.

7 March, 1865: Sherman receives additional help when Federal forces seize New Berne, allowing a supply line to be established.

8 March, 1865: The first serious Confederate challenge to Sherman takes place at Kinston, NC as troops led by General Braxton Bragg turn back s Federal corps that was rushing to join Sherman. The corps was merely delayed.

9 March, 1865: That evening, Confederate cavalry under Major General Wade Hampton and Wheeler attack the camp on Major General Judson Kilpatrick’s Federal cavalry. It has been said that Kilpatrick was surprised in bed and that he fled into the woods naked. A somewhat fitting occurrence to the unpopular commander, known as “Kill-cavalry” for losing many of his troopers in battle.

10 March, 1865: Kilpatrick manages to get his act together and beats off the Confederates. At the same time, Bragg withdraws, leaving the way for Federals to join Sherman.

11 March, 1865: Fayetteville, NC falls to Sherman’s forces.

12 March, 1865: Sherman orders the same treatment for Fayetteville that he gave Atlanta and Columbia. All rail, storehouses, the arsenal, and machine shops were destroyed.

14 March, 1865: Sherman resumes the march, this time heading toward Goldsboro.

16 March, 1865: The most serious Confederate resistance occurs when Slocum’s wing runs into trenches north of Averasboro. Sherman launches an attack, having Slocum hit the trenches on the flank while XX Corps keeps them busy. Hardee, commanding the defenses, is forced to pull back. The Confederates head down the road towards Bentonville.

18 March, 1865: Johnston has amassed an army of about 17,000 near Bentonville. The plan was to isolate and wreck Slocum’s wind, hopefully causing Sherman to pause.
Both sides entrench.

19 March, 1865: Battle of Bentonville. Johnston launches an attack which drives back XIV Corps. A Federal counterattack forces the Confederates back to their entrenchments. Fighting dies down at sundown.

20 March, 1865; Sherman and the remainder of his army have reached Bentonville and launched a series of attacks on the Confederate center. Wheeler’s cavalry skirmishes with Union troops throughout the day with little effect.

21 March, 1865: The Federal XX Corps launched an attack on Johnston’s left flank, hoping to surround them. Hardee and Hampton gather a force and launch a counterattack, which is repulsed with heavy losses, including Hardee’s 16 year-old son. That night, Johnston orders his forces to pull back about two miles. The Confederates lost about 2600 at Bentonville, and there were no replacements coming.

23 March, 1865: Sherman has reached Goldsboro where he meets Major General John Schofield’s corps, who marched up from Wilmington to join Sherman. This gives him about 90,000 troops.

While his troops were resting, Sherman is ordered to City Point, VA where he is to meet with Grant and President Lincoln on board the River Queen where the procedures and terms for dealing with soon to be defeated Confederacy were discussed.

11 April, 1865: Sherman is back with his army and they begin moving on the state capital of Raleigh.

12 April, 1865: A message arrives at Sherman’s headquarters with great news. Lee had surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House, VA three days ago, removing a major Confederate army from the field. News is also received that Richmond, the Confederate capital, has fallen and the confederate government is on the run.

13 April, 1865: Raleigh, NC falls to Federal troops while Kilpatrick’s cavalry reached Durham Station, 25 miles to the northwest.

16 April, 1865: Johnston, seeing that he was seriously outnumbered, asks Sherman for a meeting to discuss surrender. He might have already heard of Lee’s surrender, leaving him the only operational army in the East, and that with only about 31,000.

17 April, 1865: At a farm house, Sherman and Johnston meet to discuss terms of surrender. Johnston offers to surrender all Confederate armies still in the field, including Major General Edmund “Kirby” Smith’s army in the Trans-Mississippi.

18 April, 1865: Sherman and Johnston sign a peace treaty that went far beyond his mandate, touching on political issues like full rights restored to former Confederates. When the report of this reaches Washington, it sets off a firestorm in Congress and the Northern press. Sherman believed he was following President Lincoln’s orders. It is possible that he had not yet heard of Lincoln’s assassination and that Andrew Johnson is the new President.

24 April, 1865: Grant arrives at Raleigh with orders for Sherman. The treaty he and Johnston signed was null and void and that a new surrender accord, using the same terms that Grant Gave Lee, had to be agree to or Sherman had to resume the offensive within 48 hours.

25 April, 1865: Sherman and Johnston meet once again. Johnston is notified of Lincoln’s death and of Sherman’s orders to resume the offensive. They agree on a new accord, based on Grant’s terms to Lee; all troops are paroled and sent to their homes, officers to keep side arms, horses and mules that are claimed to be taken home. That afternoon Johnston formally surrenders to Sherman.

In over two months, Sherman had carried the war through the Carolina’s to a final surrender at Durham. This action removed a second Confederate army from the field. With the surrender of Major General Richard Taylor’s forces on 4 May and Kirby Smith’s on 2 June, the Confederate Army ceased to exist and the American Civil War came to an end.

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