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"On a raid through western North Carolina Gen. Stoneman's U.S. cavalry fought a skirmish with southern troops near here, April 12, 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 mission was to destroy Confederate supply lines and one of his targets was the town of Salisbury. On the advance toward the city, Stoneman and his men met significant resistance from Confederate forces, particularly as they crossed Grant’s Creek. A small force of 500 Confederates with two artillery batteries and 200 former prisoners from the Confederate prison removed the bridge flooring and defended the bridge crossing as trains loaded with supplies fled the city. Union forces did not attempt a frontal assault but, instead, the men were divided and crossed the river at other points, enabling the forces to flank the entrenched Confederates. Despite the strong Confederate stand at the bridge, seen as the heaviest fighting of the entire raid, the Union forces were still able to capture the city with little trouble.
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.