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Sherman's Carolinas Campaign

  • Time Period: February- April, 1865
  • Area: From Georgia coast up through South Carolina to North Carolina
  • Explanation: Gen.-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant ordered Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman to leave Georgia after he completed his "March to the Sea" Campaign. Sherman would start an overland march through South and North Carolina, believing that by occupying those states his army could permanently sever supply lines connecting Richmond and Petersburg, Virginia with the Confederate heartland. He also wished to bring destruction and terror, and suffering to unscathed parts of the South.

As Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman neared the end of his "March To The Sea", Gen.-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant considered having Sherman's armies in Georgia bypass their objective, Savannah. Instead, he would place them in transports and ship them directly to the Virginia front, where they could aid local forces in crushing Gen. Robert E. Lee's weakened but still defiant army. Sherman agreed with this plan, but without enthusiasm.

Soon afterward, however, with Sherman's march completed, Grant reconsidered and gave the conqueror of Georgia his choice of a route north. Immediately, Sherman opted for an overland march through South and North Carolina, believing that by occupying those states he could permanently sever supply lines connecting Richmond and Petersburg with the Confederate heartland. This would constitute "as much a direct attack upon Lee's army as though we were operating within the sound of his artillery". Sherman had another, possibly more compelling motive for choosing the overland route. A proponent of total war, he wished to bring total terror, destruction, and suffering to the unscathed parts of the South. Sherman wrote Grant, saying that by turning north from Savannah, he could punish South Carolina, which the state deserved. This was so because South Carolina led the secession of the southern states in the first place.

Sherman prepared to start northward by the middle of January, but rain, high rivers, and other logistical problems kept him from leading his main army into South Carolina until February 1, when he forged ahead, leading 62,000 veterans. His command still consisted of XV and XVII corps of the Army of the Tennessee, under Maj. Gen. Oliber O. Howard; the XIV and XX corps of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum's Army of Georgia; 2 cavalry brigades under Brig. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick; and a 64-gun artillery brigade.

The troops were confident, even cocky: they had met little significant opposition in Georgia, and they doubted that the Confederacy would make life any tougher for them in South Carolina. Fearing no repercussions, many roamed far from the march route, looting and destroying. Kilpatrick's troopers carried boxes of matches in their saddlebags, ready to use whenever they saw an appealing target. The "Bummers" in the infantry columns allowed few chicken coops and smokehouses to escape their attention.

One reason for their freedom of movement was Sherman's ability to outmanuever his opponent. By the 2nd week in February, the invaders were moving up the Charleston & Augusta Railroad from Midway to Johnson's Station, a route that split the few Confederates in the state, under Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard. The railroad carried them between forces along the coast and would-be pursuers near Aiken, South Carolina and Augusta, Georgia. This route also allowed Sherman to cut off Charleston from the interior of the state, forcing the evacuation of the garrison, under Maj. Gen. William J. Hardee. Beauregard ordered Hardee's troops to Cheraw, near the North Carolina border, where he hoped to make a stand against Sherman at last.

Before reaching Cheraw, Sherman's 2 column march, Howard forming the right or eastward wing, Slocum and Kilpatrick forming the left flank, passed through several towns memorable ever afterward for the destruction wrought there. The greatest devastation occured on February 17 with the capture of Columbia, much of which went up in flames. Though Southerners blamed Sherman for deliberately causing a "perfect reign of terror" in the capital, most of the damage occured before his arrival, when local Confederates torched bales of cotton piled in the streets.

Reaching Cheraw on March 3, Sherman still had no enemy to fight. Hardee--now subordinate to Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, recently brought back into the field, superseding Beauregard-- had fled north to Fayetteville, North Carolina, on the federals' approach. He fell back yet again, once the invacers left scarred and battered South Carolina for the tarheel state, completing the occupation of Fayetteville on the 11th. After a 5-day stopover, Sherman led his troops northeastward, planning to link at Goldsborough with forces recently sent to support him. The Goldsborough forces comprised of 2 corps fresh from capturing Wilmington and reoccupying New Berne under Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield.

Forseeing this junction, Johnston finally forced a showdown. Desperate to strike one of Sherman's columns near Goldsborough, he sent Hardee to block the path of Slocum's wing below Averasborough, which led to a spirited encounter on the 16th, endind with a beaten Hardee retiring toward Smithfield to regroup, and a victorious Slocum curving eastward toward Bentonville. Wishing to strike again while time remained, Johnston collected every force available to him, including Hardee's; troops under Gen. Braxton Bragg, cavalry led by Gen. Wade Hampton, and the remnants of the Army of Tennessee, now under Lt. Gen. A.P. Stewart- a total of 21,000 men.

At Bentonville, on the 19th, Johnston hurled all these troops at Slocum. The wing leader, however, withstood every blow, evn after his left flank collapsed, until Sherman could rush the rest of the army to his assistance, whereupon Johnston drew off, having suffered 2,600 casualties against Slocum's 1,500. Refusing to strike Sherman's reunited command, he dejectedly headed north, allowing the Federals to reach Goldsborough without any further difficulty. En route, Sherman met a part of Schofield's force, under Maj. Gen. Alfred H. Terry, and, on his arrival in the city on th 23rd, linked with the rest.

The junction effectively quashed Sherman's opposition. After trying to assemble a coherent force near Smithfield, Johnston decided that further resistance to the Union command, now 80,000 strong, would be futile. By mid-April he was sending out peace feelers. Sherman was receptive, and on the 26th, Johnston surrendered his remaining forces at Durham Station, near Raleigh.

Campaign Battles

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