North of Fayetteville, North Carolina
The whole army is across Cape Fear River, and at once we began to march for Goldsboro’; the Seventeenth Corps still on the right, the Fifteenth next in order, then the Fourteenth and Twentieth on the extreme left; the cavalry, acting in close concert with the left flank. With almost a certainty of being attacked on this flank, I instructed General Slocum to send his corps-trains under strong escort by an interior road, holding four divisions ready for immediate battle. General Howard is in like manner ordered to keep his trains well to his right, and to have four divisions unencumbered, about six miles ahead of General Slocum, within easy support.
In the mean time, I dispatched by land to Wilmington a train of refugees who had followed the army all the way from Columbia, South Carolina, under an escort of two hundred men, commanded by Major John A. Winson so that we were disencumbered, and prepared for instant battle on our left and exposed flank.
I accompanied General Slocum, and tonight are thirteen miles out on the Raleigh road. This flank follows substantially a road along Cape Fear River north, and encountered pretty stubborn resistance by Hardee’s infantry, artillery, and cavalry, and the ground favors our enemy; for the deep river, Cape Fear, was on his right, and North River on his left, forcing us to attack him square in front. I proposed to drive Hardee well beyond Averysboro’, and then to turn to the right by Bentonville for Goldsboro’.
During the day it had rained very hard, and I had taken refuge in an old cooper-shop, where a prisoner of war was brought to me (sent back from the skirmish-line by General Kilpatrick), who proved to be Colonel Albert Rhett, former commander of Fort Sumter. He was a tall, slender, and handsome young man, dressed in the most approved rebel uniform, with high jackboots beautifully stitched, and was dreadfully mortified to find himself a prisoner in our hands. General Frank Blair was with me at the moment, and we were much amused at Rhett’s outspoken disgust at having been captured without a fight. He said he was a brigade commander, and that his brigade that day was Hardee’s rear-guard; that his command was composed mostly of the recent garrisons of the batteries of Charleston Harbor, and had little experience in woodcraft; that he was giving ground to us as fast as Hardee’s army to his rear moved back, and during this operation he was with a single aide in the woods, and was captured by two men of Kilpatrick’s skirmish-line that was following up his retrograde movement.
These men called on him to surrender, and ordered him, in language more forcible than polite, to turn and ride back. He first supposed these men to be of Hampton’s cavalry, and threatened to report them to General Hampton for disrespectful language; but he was soon undeceived, and was conducted to Kilpatrick, who sent him back to General Slocum’s guard.
The rain is falling heavily, and, our wagons coming up, so we went into camp there, and had Rhett and General Blair to take supper with us, and our conversation was full and quite interesting. In due time, however, Rhett was passed over by General Slocum to his provost-guard, with orders to be treated with due respect, and was furnished with a horse to ride.
HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, In the Field, on the Raleigh Road, March 15, 1865. 12 m.
Captain KEYSER, U. S. Steamer Eolus, Fayetteville:
CAPTAIN: Lest I may not have been sufficiently minute in my request of Captain Young, I will now repeat that I am moving toward Raleigh, but will swing over to Goldsborough. Tonight I will be at Kyle’s Landing; tomorrow, near the bridge across North River, and the day after near Bentonville. It may be that the enemy will attempt to oppose me, in which case it might become of some importance that I should send orders to Wilmington and Weldon. I therefore ask that the Eolus remain as near Fayetteville as possible, according to the stage of the water, and I think it would be will to have a tug messenger boat. If Captain Young has none to spare, I wish you would write to General Dodge, at Wilmington, saying that I want the army tug to keep moving up and down till it is known that I am at Goldsborough or in communication with General Schofield. I have no doubt, also, that a good many of our sick and footsore men will hang about the landing; they must not be allowed to suffer, though their officers should have provided for them. If you find any such clinging about the landing, have them camp near your boat on this bank, and send word to General Dodge, chief quartermaster, to send a boat for them. I ordered him yesterday to keep boats coming up as long as there seemed a chance of their being needed. If Colonel Garber, my chief quartermaster, is there, show him this letter, and he will attend to the details referred to in the last part of this letter, but if Colonel Garber is not there, I have no other alternative but to ask your kind assistance. I send two couriers with this. Please take charge of them and send them back to me in the morning with any news, letters, or papers you may have. My last New York dates are to the 6th.
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General
HDQRS. DEPARTMENT AND ARMY OF THE TENNESSEE, Cade’s Plantation, N. C., March 15, 1865-5. 30 p. m.
Major General W. T. SHERMAN:
General Blair has reached and crossed one division over South River. The enemy had not destroyed the bridge but had a regiment of Jeff. Davis’ Legion, Young’s division, on the other side. In charging across we had 1 officer (Captain Woodbury, Ninth Illinois Mounted Infantry) killed, and 2 men wounded. On the other bank we found 1 rebel dead, and 1 wounded. The prisoners report a brigade at the other crossing-General Logan’s. The country seems to be all swampy in that direction. General Corse was within three miles of his crossing at 3 p. m. today, and his cavalry at the crossing. The bridge had been burned, but he has probably repaired it by this time. There was a small cavalry force of the enemy on the other bank. There is, as we supposed, a Raleigh road soon after crossing Logan’s bridge.
The Refugees are on the way to Wilmington:
HDQRS. DEPARTMENT AND ARMY OF THE TENNESSEE, Cade’s Plantation, March 15, 1865.
Major General F. P. BLAIR, Commanding Seventeenth Army Corps:
The general commanding directs me to inform you that the refugee train, containing 6,000 to 8,000 refugees, with a sufficient guard, will follow in the rear of your column, leaving here tomorrow morning and taking the same roads as far as Clinton, and requests me to direct you not to destroy any bridges you may build, and when it becomes necessary to use any pontoon-boats for bridges they will be left until after the refugee train has passed and then be ordered to resume their position in the line of march. The general also requests you to pick up such wagons and teams and accumulate such supplies for the use of the refugees as you may be able to, which will be left at Clinton in charge of your rear guard until the refugee train arrives there. From Clinton the refugee train will march directly south to Wilmington.
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
JAMES WILSON, Colonel and Provost-Marshal-General, Army of the Tennessee
General Mower Reports:
Captain Searle, commanding my pioneer corps, reports that it will be impossible to cross the river with the train of my division without building a bridge about sixty yards long on the other side of the river, as the old road under water has entirely given out and cannot be repaired, the water being too deep and bottom verey soft. My pioneer corps has been at work ever since the head of the column moved across. I would respectfully request that a pioneer corps from one of the other divisions be detailed to assist in construction a bridge tonight. There is no lumber on this side of the river. Everything will have to be carrie from the other side. The most of my brigade and regimental wagons are still on the other side of the river. I have given the commanding officer of my pioneer corps directions to let his men get supper.
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
JOS. A. MOWER
HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, In the Field, twelve miles from Fayetteville, N. C., Raleigh road, March 15, 1865.
Major General Q. A. GILLMORE, Commanding Department of the South, Charleston:
GENERAL: I got a file of Northern papers yesterday from Wilmington, in which I observe you are in command of the Department of the South. I have had no official communications from the War Department or General Grant since my departure from Savannah, and am compelled to pick up information the best way I can. I wrote to General Foster from Fayetteville, supposing him to be in command of the department, and hope you got the letter, and it is a fear that its contents may not reach you promptly which induces me to write this.
When at Columbia I had the railroad broken down to Kingsville and the Wateree bridge. Subsequently from Cheraw I aimed to strike Florence, but sent too weak a party, but the enemy himself has destroyed of which is all important, and it should be done before any repairs can be made whereby they can be removed. I want it done at once, and leave you to devise the way. I think 2,500 men lightly equipped with pack-mules only, could reach the road either from Georgetown or the Santee bridge. I think also that you can easily make up that force from Savannah and Charleston. As to the garrisons of those cities, I don’t feel disposed to be over generous, and should not hesitate to burn Savannah, Charleston, and Wilmington, or either of them if the garrisons were needed. Savannah and Wilmington are the only really useful ports, because of their inland rivers. Still, I suppose you can always get garrisons of sick, disabled, or indifferent troops. All real good soldiers must now be marching.
Do not let your command rest on its oars, but keep them going all the time, even if for no other purpose than to exhaust the enemy’s country, or compel him to defend it. The simple fact that a man’s home has been visited by an enemy makes a soldier in Lee’s and Johnston’s army very anxious to get home to look after his family and property. But the expedition I have indicated to Sumterville and Florence has even higher aims. Those cars and locomotives should be destroyed, if to do it costs you 500 men. I know you can get there all the bacon, beef, meat, &c., your command may want, and a good deal of corn meal. The men could march without knapsacks, with a single blanket, and carry eight days’ provisions, which, with what is in the country, will feed the command two wee ks. Let it be done at once, and select your own point of departure. After destroying those cars and engines (not merely damaging them, but an absolute destruction of boilers, steam chambers, connecting rods, flanges, &c. -powder can be used to good advantage in blowing up boilers and engines, but we use cold chisels and crowbars)-you may reduce your garrisons to the minimum, and send every man to New Berne and Goldsborough. I want to collect an army that can whip Lee in open fight if he lets go Richmond, which I think he will soon be forced to do.
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General, Commanding