Battle of Bentonville (March 19 – 21, 1865)

Updated: October 13, 2016

The Battle of Bentonville, fought from March 19 through March 21, 1865, near Bentonville, North Carolina, was the final battle of Major General William T. Sherman's Carolinas Campaign.

After William T. Sherman captured Savannah, Georgia in December 1864 at the end of his March to the Sea, he began making plans to march through the Carolinas to join George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac in Virginia. Just three days after the fall of Savannah, Union General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant instructed Sherman, "Without waiting further directions, than, you may make your preparations to start on your northern expedition without delay. Break up the railroads in South and North Carolina, and join the armies operating against Richmond as soon as you can."

The prospect of Sherman marching his armies north from Savannah and punishing the Carolinas as he had Georgia, prompted many Southerners to begin questioning President Jefferson Davis' competency as commander-in-chief of Confederate forces. Opposition to Davis' leadership reached a crescendo on January 23, 1865 when the Confederation Congress enacted legislation creating the post of General-in-Chief of Confederate forces. The same bill contained a resolution stating "That if the President will assign Gen. JOSEPH E. JOHNSTON to the command of the Army of Tennessee, it will, in the opinion of the Congress of the Confederate States, be hailed with joy by the army and receive the approval of the country."

With no recourse available, in late January 1865 Davis nominated Lee for the position of General-in-Chief. On February 1, (the same day that Sherman left Savannah) Samuel Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector General (CSA) informed Lee that the Confederate Senate had confirmed his appointment. On February 6, Cooper issued General Orders, No. 3 announcing that Lee was officially General-in-Chief of the Confederate Armies.

Meanwhile, Sherman had departed from Savannah with nearly sixty thousand battle-hardened veterans on February 1, 1865. He divided his forces into two wings. The Army of the Tennessee, commanded by Major General Oliver O. Howard, was on the right and the Army of Georgia, commanded by Major General Henry W. Slocum, was on the left. Their first goal was Columbia, South Carolina.

Inclement weather and flooded tidewater swamps hindered Sherman's progress more than the few Rebel troops in the area. It took the Federals only a little more than two weeks to occupy and neutralize the South Carolina capital. On March 8, Sherman's soldiers crossed into North Carolina, leaving behind a path of destruction similar to the damage that they had inflicted upon Georgia during the March to the Sea. Sherman's next goal was Goldsboro, North Carolina, where he planned to join forces with Major General John Schofield's Army of the Ohio, which was advancing west from Wilmington. The projected rendezvous would swell Sherman's command to over ninety thousand soldiers.

On February 22, Lee ordered General Joseph E. Johnston to "Assume command of the Army of Tennessee and all troops in Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida." Lee went on to order Johnston to "Concentrate all available forces and drive back Sherman." On the same day, Johnston advised Lee that "It is too late to expect me to concentrate troops capable of driving back Sherman. The remnant of the Army of Tennessee is much divided."

Johnston's assessment was correct. On March 6, 1865, Confederate officials added the Department of Southern Virginia to Johnston’s command. The general designated the 20,000 to 25,000 men serving under him in North Carolina as the Army of the South. In reality, Johnston's army was a paper tiger, as he commanded few fit soldiers.

Outnumbered nearly three-to-one, Johnston determined that his best chance to stop the Federal onslaught was to attack one wing of Sherman's divided forces before the planned merger at Goldsboro could take place. On March 19, 1865, Johnston entrenched his army on the Goldsboro Road, blocking the path of Major General Henry W. Slocum's advancing left wing.

When initial skirmishing erupted that morning, Sherman was convinced that all that lay between Slocum and Goldsboro was Johnston's cavalry. Unconcerned, Sherman ordered Slocum to advance up the road, while he rode off to check on the progress of his right wing. Later, Slocum confirmed Sherman's belief, informing the commander that all was going well. As the fighting intensified however, Slocum realized that he was facing more than a cavalry unit. Consequently, he sent a dispatch to Sherman requesting reinforcements, stating, "Johnston and Hardee are here."

At 2:45 in the afternoon, Johnston confirmed Slocum's concerns, launching an all-out attack on the Federals, spearheaded by the Army of Tennessee. The initial wave drove the surprised Yankees back down the Goldsboro Road in disarray. Late in the afternoon, reinforcements from Slocum's 20th Corps began arriving on the scene and stemmed the Rebel assault as darkness brought an end to the fighting.

During the night, as Johnston withdrew and reestablished his lines, Sherman responded to Slocum's earlier request with reinforcements from Howard's right wing. Fighting was light on March 20, as Johnston gradually conceded his gains from the previous day. On March 21, the action escalated as Johnston bought time for a full-scale evacuation during the night.

On the following day, Sherman pursued only briefly, preferring instead to delay a confrontation with Johnston until unifying his forces with Schofield at Goldsboro. The showdown never took place. After receiving news of General Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House, Johnston contacted Sherman on April 16 to discuss capitulation. The generals met the next day near Durham, where Johnston surrendered the 89,270 troops under his command throughout the South, ending the Carolinas Campaign.

The Battle of Bentonville was the largest Civil War engagement fought in North Carolina. Estimated total casualties during the battle range from 4,100 to 4,700 men. Union forces suffered 1,527 casualties (194 killed, 1,112 wounded, and 221 missing/captured) and Confederate forces suffered 2,606 casualties (239 killed, 1,694 wounded, and 673 missing/captured). It was also the only major Confederate attempt to stop Sherman after the Battle of Atlanta, in August, 1864. In addition, the Battle of Bentonville was the last major Confederate offensive of the Civil War.

Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Bentonville included:

Infantry units:

7th Independent Company Ohio Volunteer Sharpshooters

5th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

11th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

14th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

17th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

20th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

21st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

27th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

29th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

30th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

31st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

32nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

33rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

37th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

38th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

39th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

43rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

46th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

47th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

52nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

53rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

54th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

55th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

57th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

61st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

63rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

66th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

68th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

69th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

70th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

73rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

74th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

76th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

78th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

79th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

81st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

82nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

89th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

92nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

94thRegiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

98th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

100th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

105th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

108th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

113th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

121st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Cavalry units:

5th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

9th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

10th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

McLaughlin’s Squadron of Cavalry

Artillery units:

Battery C, 1st Regiment Ohio Light Artillery

15th Ohio Independent Battery of Ohio Volunteer Artillery

Cite this Entry

MLA Style

"Battle of Bentonville," Ohio Civil War Central, 2017, Ohio Civil War Central. 25 Jul 2017 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=973>

APA Style

"Battle of Bentonville." (2017) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved July 25, 2017, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=973

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