The confrontation at Averasborough was the next to last sizable engagement of the Carolinas Campaign. The Union army of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman had occupied Fayetteville on March 12. His next objective was Goldsborough, where he planned to meet another Union force that had come inland from the coast. The Confederates, realizing that a junction of the 2 Union columns would make further Southern resistance hopeless, sought to block the Northern advance.
Sherman marched from Fayetteville in 2 columns, one threatening Raleigh, the other advancing toward Goldsborough. Sherman's left wing, Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum's Army of Georgia (XIV and XX Corps), moved north toward Averasborough while the right wing, Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard's Army of Tennessee, struck northeast toward Goldsborough.
When Slocum's column, accompanied by Sherman, approached Averasborough on the 16th, his cavalry, followed by the XX Corps, ran into some 6,000 entrenched Confederates, under Lt. Gen. William T. Hardee, posted on a narrow ridge with the Black River on one side and a swamp on the other. Two divisions of the XX Corps moved against Hardee's front while a brigade was sent (by Sherman's personal order) to try to envelop the Confederate right. The flanking force pushed the Confederates back while heavy fighting raged along the main line, but darkness soon fell, ending fighting for the day. The Federals went into camp in front of the Confederate position.
Hardee withdrew his men during the night and marched northeast toward Smithfield to unite with the other Confederate forces in the area.
The chief result of the fight was that Sherman's left column was delayed, increasing the distance between the wings of the Union force. The Confederates hoped to cripple the isolated left wing as it approached Bentonville on the 19th.