Tuesday, March 21, 1865

Bentonville, North Carolina

We are skirmishing all along the front with Johnston’s troops. He is outnumbered and cannot but retreat. I do not wish a general engagement because supplies are low and we would have a long distance to transport our wounded. I prefer that Johnston retreat and that we march to Goldsboro to refit.

SPECIAL FIELD ORDERS, Numbers 33.
HDQRS. MIL. DIV., OF THE MISSISSIPPI, In the Field, near Bentonville, N. C., March 21, 1865

I. Major-General Howard, commanding Right Wing, will retain only such wagons as are essential to immediate operations and dispatch the balance, under small escort, to Kinston for a supply of provisions. He will establish a temporary depot for his command south of the Neuse River and east of the Wilmington and Goldsborough Railroad, in which to deposit his camp equipage, whilst his wagons are engaged in bringing up stores.

II. Major-General Slocum, commanding Left Wing, will in like manner establish a temporary depot at a point south of the Neuse River and west of the Wilmington and Goldsborough Railroad, in which to deposit his camp equipage, whilst his wagons are engaged in bringing him supplies from Kinston. He will send his wounded to a temporary hospital camp on the Wilmington and Goldsborough Railroad convenient to Goldsborough. The wagons needed for immediate operations will be shifted around the left flank of the Right Wing to a point between Cox’s Bridge and the rear of the Right Wing.

III. General Kilpatrick, commanding cavalry, will in like manner establish a temporary depot on the Wilmington, and Goldsborough Railroad, near Mount Olive Station, to which point he will send all incumbrances that will impede his march.

IV. General Slocum will send his bridge train to Cox’s Bridge to report to Major-General Terry, who will effect a crossing of Neuse River at that point and cover it on the north side by at least one brigade intrenched. General Howard will send his bridge train to some good crossing between his temporary depot and Goldsborough.

V. Major-General Schofield, commanding Army of the Ohio, will occupy Goldsborough and make disposition to cross over Little River in the direction of Smithfield.

VI. Colonel W. W. Wright will use extraordinary exertions to complete the railroad into Goldsborough, and provide rolling-stock for moving a maximum quantity of supplies.

By order of Major General W. T. Sherman

No information has been received today of importance. Several prisoners have been captured, but they seem to know little relative to the movements of the army. Those captured were in front of the First Division, and belong to Hoke’s command. They state that last night troops were moving to their left, and that their command was ordered to move, but they knew not where. The order, however, was countermanded during the night. They state that nearly the whole of the army was on this side of the river this morning. Their opinion is that the enemy intends crossing the river.

Slocum Writes:

I am informed by Colonel Poe that you design swinging this wing to the left and rear of the Right. It can be done, I think, without difficulty. I shall, of course, keep my present lines, withdrawing gradually from my extreme left. I shall not commence the movement without further orders from you, but shall be prepared to commence it tomorrow morning.

A deserter from Cheatham’s command has just come into our lines. He says Hoke, Cheatham, Lee, Stewart, and Hardee are there, Hoke on their left and Hardee on their right. He says two divisions from Lee’s army have just arrived. Came last evening and this morning. He states that they have a strong line of works about half a mile the order side of the creek. He is intelligent and I am disposed to believe him.

I reply:
You may commence the movement, viz, from your left to the left rear of the Right Wing tomorrow morning. General Terry has arrived at Cox’s Bridge and awaits the arrival of your bridge train.

P. S. -The best mode of drawing from your left to the right is to let the cavalry relieve by a thim skirmish line the skirmishers of the left corps till it has gained its new position, when it, too, can withdraw. So instruct General Kilpatrick.
SHERMAN.

Kilpatrick Writes:

I am still upon the left, holding the roads to the left and rear. Everything is quiet this a. m. I have not yet heard from the Thirteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry. I am very anxious to have it join me, and send a staff officer to see if it can be found.

I Reply:
General Kilpatrick: Your two communications of this date are received. The Thirteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry is now with General Terry, and until the railroad is completed will be required for service between the army and Kinston, and so long as we draw supplies from that point there will be greater need than ever for foraging by the infantry.

HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, In the Field, March 21, 1865-3 p. m.
General KILPATRICK, Commanding Cavalry:
I think General Mower has got around the flank toward Mill Creek, threatening the enemy’s line of retreat. Look out, and in case of a general battle hold your cavalry massed and dash at infantry toward the Mill Creek bridge on the road from Bentonville to Smithfield.
Yours, truly,
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General, Commanding

HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, In the Field, near Bentonville, N. C., March 21, 1865.

Major-General SCHOFIELD, Commanding Army of the Ohio:
Captain Twining is here and I send by him an order that you will perceive looks to staying here some days. I thought Johnston, having failed, as he attempted to crush one of my wings, finding he had not succeeded but that I was present with my whole force, would withdraw, but he has not. I must fight him here. He is twenty miles from Smithfield with a bad road to his rear, but his position is in the swamps, difficult of approach, and I don’t like to assail his parapets, which are of the old kind. As soon as you get to Goldsborough leave a small garrison, break the bridge across Little River above the railroad, but use the one near its mouth at old Waynesborough and advance to Millard, where you can effect a junction with Terry. He need leave a very small picket at Cox’s Bridge.

Make up a force of about 25,000 men, leaving at Goldsborough Carler’s division, if as I understand, it is composed of troops properly belonging to this army. Let me know the moment these combinations are made, when we can act. I would like to have your pontoon bridge across Neuse about Jericho, so that our trains to and from Kinston can use it. General Howard will bridge at or near Goldsborough and General Slocum at Cox’s. The roads are now comparatively good and I want to make the most of the good weather, but the moment Johnston gives ground I propose to fall back on Goldsborough and await the completion of our railroad and re-equipment of my army.

I will probably post you at Kinston, General Terry about Faison’s, and this army at Goldsborough. You will probably find plenty of corn, bacon, and corn meal in the country from Waynesborough to Millard. The road near the Neuse is also better than the one back, as it is better drained. All the heads of creeks in this region are swamps and level pine lands that afford bad roads. I expect you surely at Goldsborough today and that you have at once secured the bridge across Little River. I don’t think you will find over there anything but cavalry. Hoke is to our front. We took prisoners from his command yesterday.

Yours, truly,
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General

HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, In the Field, near Bentonville, N. C., March 21, 1865.
Major-General TERRY, Commanding at Cox’s Bridge:
I have just learned of your arrival at Cox’s Bridge by Major Graves, of your staff. I have no orders other than those sent you this morning. You can do nothing north of the Neuse River till the pontoon bridge reaches you. I have not heard by what road General Slocum sent it, but fear he sent it by the back road which will come into Cox’s by way of Falling Creek Church. This rain will again spoil our roads, and it is vital to us to get supplies up. We have pretty well stripped this region, but I know there is a good country north of the Neuse. Find out as soon you can when General Schofield is in Goldsborough and let me know. I think there is nothing in that quarter but cavalry and not much of that. From the front of infantry displayed by the enemy Johnston must have here his entire army.
Yours, truly,
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General, Commanding.

HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, In the Field, Near Bentonville, N. C., March 21, 1865. 6 p.m.

Major-General TERRY, Cox’s Bridge:
It is manifest that we are not to be favored with weather. After raining six weeks it has apparently set in for another six weeks. I wish whilst waiting for the pontoon train you would keep strong details corduroying the roads at the low places, especially in the bottoms of Falling Creek at both bridges, or at the bridges on both roads, viz, the one from Cox’s to Goldsborough, and the one from Falling Creek School-House to Goldsborough. Better keep 1,000 men on detail for such work. We will corduroy back toward you, and you toward Goldsborough. Rails are pretty good, but pine saplings ten inches through the cut, split in two, the flat side laid down, make a better road. We have had some pretty sharp skirmishers all round the line, but nothing either way.

If I could get the railroad done to Goldsborough I would be better off than Johnston, as he has the same weather and, I think, a worse road to his base at Smithfield- both distances twenty miles. I am very anxious to hear of General Schofield at Goldsborough, and especially that the railroad is done to that point. It should have been completed before I got here.

Yours, truly,
W. T. SHERMAN, Major-General, Commanding

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