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Home North Carolina Johnston County City of Smithfield Historical Markers Sherman's March

Sherman's March

Brogden Road at Brightleaf Boulevard, Smithfield, NC, USA

Latitude & Longitude: 35° 30' 0.36", -78° 21' 3.8124"
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
"Enroute from Goldsboro to Raleigh, Sherman's army camped 1 mile east and on April 12, 1865, celebrated the news of Lee's surrender."
     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.

     Following the occupation of Goldsboro, Sherman continued his march through North Carolina as he set his sights on Raleigh. While on the march from Goldsboro to Raleigh, Sherman and his men camped near Smithfield. Troops did little burning to the town but did ransack community buildings and the courthouse. While in camp on the evening of April 12, 1865, Sherman received word of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Sherman wired his congratulations to General Grant in Virginia and conveyed his belief that Lee’s terms of surrender were “magnanimous and liberal.” Sherman indicated that he would follow Grant’s lead if General Joseph E. Johnston followed Lee’s example. Sherman told his men of the surrender: “Glory to God and to our Country, and all honor to our comrades in arms, toward whom we are marching. A little more labor, a little more toil on our part, the great race is won, and our Government stands regenerated after four long years of bloody war.” Messengers carried the news throughout the camps, sparking celebrations by the troops.
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
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Sherman's March Historical Marker Location Map, Smithfield, North Carolina