Carolinas Campaign (February – April 1865)

Updated: October 13, 2016

Major General William T. Sherman's Carolinas Campaign of 1865 was the last major Union offensive in the Western Theater of the American Civil War.

At the dawn of 1865, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant's strategy of having all Union forces in the field act in concert was coming to fruition. In the East, despite suffering unprecedented casualties under horrific battlefield conditions during the Overland and the Richmond-Petersburg Campaigns of 1864, Major General George Meade's Army of the Potomac had General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia under siege at Petersburg, Virginia. In the West, Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Army of the Cumberland and the Army of the Ohio, had shattered General John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee during Hood's desperate Franklin-Nashville Campaign in late 1864. In the Deep South, Major General William T. Sherman's combined forces from the Army of the Tennessee and the Army of Georgia had cut a sixty-mile-wide swath of destruction across Georgia during his March to the Sea and captured the port city of Savannah, Georgia on December 21, 1864.

With a new campaign season about to begin, Grant intended to tighten the noose. In December, he ordered Sherman to transport his forces by sea to Virginia to reinforce the Army of the Potomac outside of Richmond and Petersburg. Sherman, however, had other ideas. Rather than traveling by ship, he proposed marching his army north through the Carolinas to reach Virginia. Sherman believed that his plan would cut off supplies and reduce any remaining hopes for reinforcement of Lee's army from the south. At the same time, a march through the Carolinas would further demoralize Southerners, much as the March to the Sea had done. Grant acceded to Sherman's wishes, and in a dispatch dated December 27, 1864, he instructed Sherman, "Without waiting further directions, then, 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." Sherman immediately began preparing for his expedition.

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, 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. On February 3, 1865, 1,200 Confederate soldiers, commanded by Major General Lafayette McLaws, attempted to prevent Slocum's wing from crossing the Salkehatchie River at the Battle of Rivers' Bridge. The Federals flanked their opponents by crossing downstream, forcing McLaws to concede the crossing. Nearly unopposed for the next two weeks, Sherman's soldiers constructed bridges and corduroy roads that enabled them to traverse the rugged terrain. As they moved north, they cut railroads and laid hard hands on South Carolinians in their path.

In just two weeks, Union troops reached the outskirts of Columbia, and the garrison stationed there began evacuating. On February 17, Sherman occupied the city. On the same day, faced with the prospect of being isolated, the Confederate garrison at Charleston evacuated that city as well. That night, much of Columbia went up in flames. The source of the fire remains undetermined. Unionists claimed that Rebel soldiers started the inferno, burning Columbia's cotton stores to keep them from falling into enemy hands. Some Columbia residents maintained that drunken Union soldiers initiated the blaze, perhaps in revenge for South Carolina's role in launching the war. Whatever the source of the fire, roughly two-thirds of Columbia was destroyed.

While Sherman's army ravaged South Carolina, Federal forces in North Carolina were in the final stages of completing the Union blockade of the Confederacy's Atlantic seacoast. On February 12, 1865, troops commanded by Major General John Schofield began operations against Wilmington, North Carolina, the Confederacy's last open port on the Atlantic. Attempts by Confederate General Braxton Bragg's 6,600 defenders to halt Schofield's 12,000 soldiers proved fruitless. On the night of February 21-22, Bragg ordered the destruction of Wilmington's stores, and his troops evacuated the city. On the day after Wilmington fell into Federal hands, Sherman resumed his march towards the North Carolina border, but only after destroying anything in Columbia that might be of use to the Confederacy.

As Sherman moved north nearly unabated, alarmed Southerners called for Lee to do something to stop the Union marauders. Lee redeployed the remnants of the Army of Tennessee to bolster the Confederate forces in the Carolinas. On February 22, 1865, the General-in-Chief 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.

In early March, Schofield's force was designated as the Army of the Ohio (not to be confused with the Union armies with the same name organized in 1861 and 1863). Schofield began marching his army inland to unite with Sherman at Goldsboro, North Carolina. On March 7, Braxton Bragg attempted to thwart Schofield's plans by attacking the Union army at Kinston, North Carolina. Although the Rebel offensive, known as the Battle of Wyse Fork, delayed Schofield's progress for three days, the assault failed, and Bragg was unable to prevent the rendezvous.

As Sherman's army moved north, Lieutenant General Wade Hampton's Confederate cavalry surprised Brigadier-General Judson Kilpatrick's cavalry division, which was encamped at Cumberland (now Hoke) County, North Carolina, on March 10. The startled Federals fled in panic, abandoning their supplies and artillery, but a counterattack later in the day forced the Rebels to concede their gains and to withdraw. Kilpatrick's men won the Battle of Monroe's Crossroads, and the inexorable march north continued.

On the following day, March 11, 1865, Sherman's forces entered Fayetteville, North Carolina, facing little resistance. Sherman rested his army for one day and then resumed his trek toward Goldsboro. On March 14, his rearguard destroyed the arsenal at Fayetteville along with anything else that might be useful to the Confederacy, including railroad trestles, mills, and factories.

Sherman met stiffer resistance near Averasboro on March 16, when he ordered General Slocum's wing to attack entrenched Rebels north of town. Slocum's men flanked the Confederates, forcing them to withdraw to a second defensive line. The Rebels made a brief stand at the second line before falling back to their third and final line of defense. Despite several Union assaults, the Confederates held their position until nightfall and then withdrew to Bentonville under the cover of darkness.

On March 19, 1865, Johnston decided to make a stand, entrenching his army at Cole's Plantation, blocking the road to Goldsboro. Once again, Slocum's wing was the target. That afternoon, Johnston launched an assault on the Federals, forcing them to fall back temporarily. By nightfall, Slocum's men checked the Rebel advance, and the first day of fighting at the Battle of Bentonville ended in a stalemate. On the next day, Federal reinforcements arrived, and Slocum gradually pushed Johnston's men back. Johnston held on until March 21, when he withdrew during the night. Sherman pursued only briefly the next day, preferring instead to meet Johnston on another day, after increasing the size of his army by completing his rendezvous with General Schofield and the Army of the Ohio at Goldsboro.

With Johnston out of the way, Sherman reached Goldsboro on March 23, 1865. The addition of the Army of the Ohio swelled the size of Sherman's forces to nearly 90,000 soldiers. On March 27, General Grant summoned Sherman to his headquarters at City Point, Virginia to meet with President Lincoln. Anticipating the imminent fall of the Confederacy, the three men discussed procedures and terms of surrender for the Rebel armies remaining in the field.

Sherman returned to Goldsboro on April 11, 1865, planning to move on the North Carolina state capital of Raleigh. The next day, he received word that General Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Sherman moved on and occupied Raleigh on April 13.

With Lee's army defeated and the Confederate government in exile, Johnston realized the hopelessness of his situation. Isolated and outnumbered three-to-one, Johnston contacted Sherman on April 16 to discuss capitulation. The generals met the next day at a farmhouse known as Bennett Place, near Durham, where Johnston surrendered the 89,270 troops under his command in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. The agreement that the two men signed on April 18, 1865 was the largest surrender of Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War. Unfortunately, Radical Republican leaders in Washington, embittered by President Lincoln's assassination on April 14, rejected the accord, because it went beyond strictly military issues. Sherman and Johnston met again at Bennett Place on April 26, 1865 and signed a new surrender document, using the same terms Grant and Lee had agreed to at Appomattox Court House. The signing of the new agreement brought Sherman's Carolinas Campaign to an end.

Ohio units that participated in the Carolinas Campaign included:

Infantry units:

Company G Independent Ohio Volunteer Sharpshooters

Company H Independent Ohio Volunteer Sharpshooters

Company K Independent Ohio Volunteer Sharpshooters

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

49th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

50th 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

80th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

81st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

82nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

89th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

92nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

94th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

98th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

100th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

103rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

104th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

105th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

108th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

109th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

111th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

113th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

118th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

121st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

174th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

177th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

178th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

180th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

181st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

183rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Cavalry units:

4th Ohio Independent Battalion of Cavalry

5th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

7th 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

Battery D, 1st Regiment Ohio Light Artillery

9th Ohio Independent Battery of Ohio Volunteer Artillery

15th Ohio Independent Battery of Ohio Volunteer Artillery

19th Ohio Independent Battery of Ohio Volunteer Artillery

Cite this Entry

MLA Style

"Carolinas Campaign," Ohio Civil War Central, 2018, Ohio Civil War Central. 19 Oct 2018 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=969>

APA Style

"Carolinas Campaign." (2018) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved October 19, 2018, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=969

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