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"On a raid through western North Carolina Gen. Stoneman's U.S. cavalry passed through Mount Airy, April 2-3, 1865." In late March 1865, Union cavalry under Major General George Stoneman, commander of the Union army “District of East Tennessee,” marched throughout western North Carolina during one of the longest cavalry raids in history. About 5,000 men under Stoneman’s command entered North Carolina with a mission “to destroy and not to fight battles” in order to expedite the close of the Civil War. Stoneman’s raid coincided with the raids of General William T. Sherman in the eastern sections of the state, stretching local home guard and militia units thinly across the state and forcing Confederate commanders to make hard choices on where their men were needed most.
Stoneman divided his men and sent detachments throughout the region, securing the destruction of the region’s factories, bridges and railroad lines. The army relied heavily on local citizens for food and supplies, often emptying storehouses. Stoneman’s raids in North Carolina lasted from late March until May when they assisted in the search for Confederate President Jefferson Davis as he fled the collapsed Confederacy. The men had marched more than 1,000 miles during the raid and historians credit their march with assuring the death of the Confederacy as they captured artillery pieces and took thousands of prisoners while destroying Confederate army supplies and blocking a line of possible retreat for both Lee and Johnston’s armies.
Stoneman’s troops marched quickly through Boone and Wilkesboro, gathering supplies and fresh horses along the way. After leaving Wilkesboro, he turned his men northward toward Virginia and supply lines there that supported the rear of General Lee’s army. Along his march from Wilkesboro toward Virginia, Stoneman’s men passed through Surry County and gathered additional supplies as they destroyed local Confederate supplies. Stoneman entered Virginia after leaving Mount Airy on April 3. After a brief trip through southwestern Virginia in which troops destroyed railroad lines that would have benefited the retreat of General Lee from Petersburg and Richmond. Stoneman and his men turned southward to North Carolina again, entering the state the day that Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, April 9.
Mark A. Snell, ed., North Carolina: The Final Battles (1998)
John G. Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina (1963)
Cornelia Phillips Spencer, The Last Ninety Days of the War in North Carolina (1866)
Ina Van Noppen, Stoneman’s Last Raid (1961)
Vernon H. Crow, Storm in the Mountains (1982)
Related Themes: C.S.A., Confederate States of America, Confederacy
North Carolina Civil War Historical Markers.