Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman


Text to Speech

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General.

HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, IN THE FIELD,

FAYETTVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA, Sunday, March. 12, 1885.

Major-General TERRY, commanding United States Forces,

Wilmington, North Carolina.

GENERAL: I have just received your message by the tug which left

Wilmington at 2 p.m. yesterday, which arrived here without

trouble. The scout who brought me your cipher-message started back

last night with my answers, which are superseded by the fact of

your opening the river.

General Howard just reports that he has secured one of the enemy's

steamboats below the city, General Slocum will try to secure two

others known to be above, and we will load them with refugees

(white and black) who have clung to our skirts, impeded our

movements, and consumed our food.

We have swept the, country well from Savannah to here, and the men

and animals are in fine condition. Had it not been for the foul

weather, I would have caught Hardee at Cheraw or here; but at

Columbia, Cheraw, and here, we have captured immense stores, and

destroyed machinery, guns, ammunition, and property, of inestimable

value to our enemy. At all points he has fled from us, "standing

not on the order of his going."

The people of South Carolina, instead of feeding Lee's army, will

now call on Lee to feed them.

I want you to send me all the shoes, stockings, drawers, suger,

coffee, and flour, you can spare; finish the loads with oats or

corn: Have the boats escorted, and let them run at night at any

risk. We must not give time for Jos. Johnston to concentrate at

Goldsboro'. We cannot prevent his concentrating at Raleigh, but he

shall have no rest. I want General Schofield to go on with his

railroad from Newbern as far as he can, and you should do the same

from Wilmington. If we can get the roads to and secure Goldsboro'

by April 10th, it will be soon enough; but every day now is worth a

million of dollars. I can whip Jos. Johnston provided he does not

catch one of my corps in flank, and I will see that the army

marches hence to Goldsboro' in compact form.

I must rid our army of from twenty to thirty thousand useless

mouths; as many to go down Cape Fear as possible, and the rest to

go in vehicles or on captured horses via Clinton to Wilmington.

I thank you for the energetic action that has marked your course,

and shall be most happy to meet you. I am, truly your friend,

W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General.

In quick succession I received other messages from General Terry,

of older date, and therefore superseded by that brought by the tug

Davidson, viz., by two naval officers, who had come up partly by

canoes and partly by land; General Terry had also sent the

Thirteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry to search for us, under Colonel

Kerwin, who had dispatched Major Berks with fifty men, who reached

us at Fayetteville; so that, by March 12th, I was in full

communication with General Terry and the outside world. Still, I

was anxious to reach Goldsboro', there to make junction with

General Schofield, so as to be ready for the next and last stage of

the war. I then knew that my special antagonist, General Jos. E.

Johnston, was back, with part of his old army; that he would not be

misled by feints and false reports, and would somehow compel me to

exercise more caution than I had hitherto done. I then

over-estimated his force at thirty-seven thousand infantry,

supposed to be made up of S. D. Lee's corps, four thousand;

Cheatham's, five thousand; Hoke's, eight thousand; Hardee's, ten

thousand; and other detachments, ten thousand; with Hampton's,

Wheeler's, and Butler's cavalry, about eight thousand. Of these,

only Hardee and the cavalry were immediately in our front, while

the bulk of Johnston's army was supposed to be collecting at or

near Raleigh. I was determined, however, to give him as little

time for organization as possible, and accordingly crossed Cape

Fear River, with all the army, during the 13th and 14th, leaving

one division as a rearguard, until the arsenal could be completely

destroyed. This was deliberately and completely leveled on the

14th, when fire was applied to the wreck. Little other damage was

done at Fayetteville.

On the 14th the tug Davidson again arrived from Wilmington, with

General Dodge, quartermaster, on board, reporting that there was no

clothing to be had at Wilmington; but he brought up some sugar and

coffee, which were most welcome, and some oats. He was followed by

a couple of gunboats, under command of Captain Young, United States

Navy, who reached Fayetteville after I had left, and undertook to

patrol the river as long as the stage of water would permit; and

General Dodge also promised to use the captured steamboats for a

like purpose. Meantime, also, I had sent orders to General

Schofield, at Newbern, and to General Terry, at Wilmington, to move

with their effective forces straight for Goldsboro', where I

expected to meet them by the 20th of March.

On the 15th of March the whole army was across Cape Fear River, and

at once began its march for Goldsboro'; the Seventeenth Corps still

on the right, the Fifteenth next in order, then the Fourteenth and

Twentieth on the extreme left; the cavalry, acting in close concert

with the left flank. With almost a certainty of being attacked on

this flank, I had instructed General Slocum to send his corps-

trains under strong escort by an interior road, holding four

divisions ready for immediate battle. General Howard was in like

manner ordered to keep his trains well to his right, and to have

four divisions unencumbered, about six miles ahead of General

Slocum, within easy support.

In the mean time, I had dispatched by land to Wilmington a train of

refugees who had followed the army all the way from Columbia, South

Carolina, under an escort of two hundred men, commanded by Major

John A. Winson (One Hundred and Sixteenth Illinois Infantry), so

that we were disencumbered, and prepared for instant battle on our

left and exposed flank.

In person I accompanied General Slocum, and during the night of

March 15th was thirteen miles out on the Raleigh road. This flank

followed substantially a road along Cape Fear River north,

encountered pretty stubborn resistance by Hardee's infantry,

artillery, and cavalry, and the ground favored our enemy; for the

deep river, Cape Fear, was on his right, and North River on his

left, forcing us to attack him square in front. I proposed to

drive Hardee well beyond Averysboro', and then to turn to the right

by Bentonville for Goldsboro'. During the day it rained very

hard, and I had taken refuge in an old cooper-shop, where a

prisoner of war was brought to me (sent back from the skirmish-line

by General Kilpatrick), who proved to be Colonel Albert Rhett,

former commander of Fort Sumter. He was a tall, slender, and

handsome young man, dressed in the most approved rebel uniform,

with high jackboots beautifully stitched, and was dreadfully

mortified to find himself a prisoner in our hands. General Frank

Blair happened to be with me at the moment, and we were much amused

at Rhett's outspoken disgust at having been captured without a

fight. He said he was a brigade commander, and that his brigade

that day was Hardee's rear-guard; that his command was composed

mostly of the recent garrisons of the batteries of Charleston

Harbor, and had little experience in woodcraft; that he was giving

ground to us as fast as Hardee's army to his rear moved back, and

during this operation he was with a single aide in the woods, and

was captured by two men of Kilpatrick's skirmish-line that was

following up his retrograde movement. These men called on him to

surrender, and ordered him, in language more forcible than polite,

to turn and ride back. He first supposed these men to be of

Hampton's cavalry, and threatened to report them to General Hampton

for disrespectful language; but he was soon undeceived, and was

conducted to Kilpatrick, who sent him back to General Slocum's

guard.

The rain was falling heavily, and, our wagons coming up, we went

into camp there, and had Rhett and General Blair to take supper

with us, and our conversation was full and quite interesting. In

due time, however, Rhett was passed over by General Slocum to his

provost-guard, with orders to be treated with due respect,--and was

furnished with a horse to ride.

The next day (the 16th) the opposition continued stubborn, and near

Averysboro' Hardee had taken up a strong position, before which

General Slocum deployed Jackson's division (of the Twentieth

Corps), with part of Ward's. Kilpatrick was on his right front.

Coming up, I advised that a brigade should make a wide circuit by

the left, and, if possible, catch this line in flank. The movement

was completely successful, the first line of the enemy was swept

away, and we captured the larger part of Rhett's brigade, two

hundred and seventeen men, including Captain Macbeth's battery of

three guns, and buried one hundred and eight dead.

The deployed lines (Ward's and Jackson's) pressed on, and found

Hardee again intrenched; but the next morning he was gone, in full

retreat toward Smithfield. In this action, called the battle of

Averysboro', we lost twelve officers and sixty-five men killed, and

four hundred and seventy-seven men wounded; a serious loss, because

every wounded man had to be carried in an ambulance. The rebel

wounded (sixty-eight) were carried to a house near by, all surgical

operations necessary were performed by our surgeons, and then these

wounded men were left in care of an officer and four men of the

rebel prisoners, with a scanty supply of food, which was the best

we could do for them. In person I visited this house while the

surgeons were at work, with arms and legs lying around loose, in

the yard and on the porch; and in a room on a bed lay a pale,

handsome young fellow, whose left arm had just been cut off near

the shoulder. Some one used my name, when he asked, in a feeble

voice, if I were General Sherman. He then announced himself as

Captain Macbeth, whose battery had just been captured; and said

that he remembered me when I used to visit his father's house, in

Charleston. I inquired about his family, and enabled him to write

a note to his mother, which was sent her afterward from Goldsboro'.

I have seen that same young gentleman since in St. Louis, where he

was a clerk in an insurance-office.

While the battle of Averysboro' was in progress, and I was sitting

on my horse, I was approached by a man on foot, without shoes or

coat, and his head bandaged by a handkerchief. He announced

himself as the Captain Duncan who had been captured by Wade Hampton

in Fayetteville, but had escaped; and, on my inquiring how he

happened to be in that plight, he explained that when he was a

prisoner Wade Hampton's men had made him "get out of his coat, hat,

and shoes," which they appropriated to themselves. He said Wade

Hampton had seen them do it, and he had appealed to him personally

for protection, as an officer, but Hampton answered him with a

curse. I sent Duncan to General Kilpatrick, and heard afterward

that Kilpatrick had applied to General Slocum for his prisoner,

Colonel Rhett, whom he made march on foot the rest of the way to

Goldsboro', in retaliation. There was a story afloat that

Kilpatrick made him get out of those fine boots, but restored them

because none of his own officers had feet delicate enough to wear

them. Of course, I know nothing of this personally, and have never

seen Rhett since that night by the cooper-shop; and suppose that he

is the editor who recently fought a duel in New Orleans.

From Averysboro' the left wing turned east, toward Goldsboro', the

Fourteenth Corps leading. I remained with this wing until the

night of the 18th, when we were within twenty-seven miles of

Goldsboro' and five from Bentonsville; and, supposing that all

danger was over, I crossed over to join Howard's column, to the

right, so as to be nearer to Generals Schofield and Terry, known to

be approaching Goldsboro'. I overtook General Howard at Falling-

Creek Church, and found his column well drawn out, by reason of the

bad roads. I had heard some cannonading over about Slocum's head

of column, and supposed it to indicate about the same measure of

opposition by Hardee's troops and Hampton's cavalry before

experienced; but during the day a messenger overtook me, and

notified me that near Bentonsville General Slocum had run up

against Johnston's whole army. I sent back orders for him to fight

defensively to save time, and that I would come up with

reenforcements from the direction of Cog's Bridge, by the road

which we had reached near Falling-Creek Church. The country was

very obscure, and the maps extremely defective.

By this movement I hoped General Slocum would hold Johnston's army

facing west, while I would come on his rear from the east. The

Fifteenth Corps, less one division (Hazen's), still well to the

rear, was turned at once toward Bentonsville; Hazen's division was

ordered to Slocum's flank, and orders were also sent for General

Blair, with the Seventeenth Corps, to come to the same destination.

Meantime the sound of cannon came from the direction of

Bentonsville.

The night of the 19th caught us near Falling-Creek Church; but

early the next morning the Fifteenth'Corps, General C. R. Woods's

division leading, closed down on Bentonsville, near which it was

brought up by encountering a line of fresh parapet, crossing the

road and extending north, toward Mill Creek.

After deploying, I ordered General Howard to proceed with due

caution, using skirmishers alone, till he had made junction with

General Slocum, on his left. These deployments occupied all day,

during which two divisions of the Seventeenth Corps also got up.

At that time General Johnston's army occupied the form of a V, the

angle reaching the road leading from Averysboro' to Goldsboro', and

the flanks resting on Mill Creek, his lines embracing the village

of Bentonsville.

General Slocum's wing faced one of these lines and General Howard's

the other; and, in the uncertainty of General Johnston's strength,

I did not feel disposed to invite a general battle, for we had been

out from Savannah since the latter part of January, and our wagon-

trains contained but little food. I had also received messages

during the day from General Schofield, at Kinston, and General

Terry, at Faison's Depot, approaching Goldsboro', both expecting to

reach it by March 21st. During the 20th we simply held our ground

and started our trains back to Kinston for provisions, which would

be needed in the event of being forced to fight a general battle at

Bentonsville. The next day (21st) it began to rain again, and we

remained quiet till about noon, when General Mower, ever rash,

broke through the rebel line on his extreme left flank, and was

pushing straight for Bentonsville and the bridge across Mill Creek.

I ordered him back to connect with his own corps; and, lest the

enemy should concentrate on him, ordered the whole rebel line to be

engaged with a strong skirmish-fire.

I think I made a mistake there, and should rapidly have followed

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