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"Moving on Goldsboro, Sherman's Army was temporarily checked by Hardee's Confederates, Mar. 16, 1865, in Battle of Averasboro, 3 1/2 mi. W." In late 1864, Union General William T. Sherman began moving his forces, some 60,000 battle-hardened soldiers strong, northward from Atlanta, Georgia to “divide the Confederacy in two.” The plan was to march the Union forces through Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina in order to squeeze Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee in Virginia between Sherman’s men to the south and those of General Ulysses S. Grant to the north. Along the way, Sherman hoped to disrupt Confederate supply lines and break the will of southerners on the home front. This “total war” assault on civilians – women and children included – by Union forces was a break from traditional warfare that had, up until this time, focused largely on military targets.
In Georgia and South Carolina Sherman’s men freely plundered their surroundings as they marched, leaving whole towns in ashes. As they approached North Carolina, Sherman’s forces were divided into separate divisions or corps. They traveled across the state to protect each other’s flanks, forage for supplies and to spread their influence throughout the state. The forces were more restrained in North Carolina because many had grown uncomfortable with the wholesale destruction wrought upon South Carolina. Additionally, North Carolina had been the last state to secede and was home to many Unionists who fostered the largest peace movement in the Confederacy. Union forces under Sherman entered North Carolina in early March and trekked northward through the state, engaging in skirmishes and battles, before exiting the state on May 4, 1865.
As planned, Sherman’s army left Fayetteville on March 15, 1865, and marched toward Goldsboro. Sherman ordered General H. W. Slocum to send his supply train to Bentonville, protected by two divisions, and to make a feint toward Raleigh by following the Raleigh road to Averasboro. At Averasboro, Sherman’s men met well entrenched Confederate troops under the command of General William J. Hardee. His troops planned to delay Slocum’s men so that General Joseph Johnston, commander of Confederate forces in the state, could organize his army without fear of attack. The battle at Averasboro lasted two days. At the end of the day on March 16th, Union forces had captured a Confederate brigade and the rest were withdrawn from the area toward Smithfield. The Union forces pushed Hardee’s men beyond Averasboro and resumed their march on Goldsboro.
Wilson Angley, Jerry Cross, and Michael Hill, Sherman’s March Through North Carolina: A Chronology (1995)
Charles Royster, The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans (1991)
John G. Barrett, Sherman’s March through the Carolinas (1956)
Joseph T. Glatthaar, The March to the Sea and Beyond: Sherman’s Troops in the Savannah and Carolinas Campaigns (1985)
William T. Sherman, Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman (1875)
Related Themes: C.S.A., Confederate States of America, Confederacy
North Carolina Civil War Historical Markers.