Early in 1865, while Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman was marching through the Carolinas attempting to join forces with Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia and crush the Confederacy between them, Maj. gen. George H. Thomas at Nashville was ordered to send some of his troopers on a raid into the Carolinas as a diversion. There were few organized bodies of Confederates left to divert the Federals from anything at this late date, and the raid, under Maj. Gen. George Stoneman, was intended to destroy property more than armies.
Originally, the plan had been for Stoneman to threaten Columbia, the South Carolina capital, but Sherman had already burned and passed through that city and had reached Goldsborough, North Carolina, before the Union cavalry was ready to move on March 20th. Leaving Tennessee, the troopers rode into the western North Carolina mountains, wrecking parts of the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad around Salem and Wytheville, Virginia, and the Piedmont Railroad between Danville and Greensborough, North Carolina. Stoneman marched through Ashville and stopped at Hendersonville when he learned of the surrender of the Army of Tennessee under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, to the Union forces under Sherman.
Stoneman was then ordered to Raleigh, by Sherman, to place his cavalrymen along the supposed escape route of Pres. Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Cabinent into North Carolina from Virginia, but he did not achieved any success.
Only a few scattered remnants of Confederate cavalry and militia had opposed the raid, and Federals captured about 2,000 prisoners. Since the raid started about 2 weeks before the end of the war, the railroad track and other property destroyed were of no military advantage to the South, making the raid an exercise in military waste.