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"General Sherman, with a part of his army, on March 9-10, 1865, camped here at Bethel Presbyterian Church (organized before 1800)." In late 1864, Union General William T. Sherman began moving his forces, some 60,000 battle-hardened soldiers strong, northward from Atlanta 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.
Sherman’s army entered North Carolina in stages and he traveled with the 15th corps as they entered the state on March 8th. Sherman and his men camped that evening at Laurel Hill. Sherman planned to march toward Fayetteville and rest there for three days before continuing his march to Goldsboro. After spending the night at Laurel Hill, Sherman and his men left for Goldsboro but were forced to stop at Bethel Presbyterian Church to take shelter from “a terrible storm of rain” that lasted into the night. The downpour made roads impassable and his men were forced to cut trees and lay logs on roads to improve their progress once they began to move again. The church at Bethel was one of the oldest congregations in the area, having been organized before 1800. The church building in which Sherman sought shelter was just completed a few years before the commencement of the war. The building and its contents were not damaged by Sherman and his men.
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.