March 16, 1865
After rampaging through South Carolina, Gen. William T. Sherman’s Union army marched into North Carolina in two great wings. The right wing, commanded by Gen. Oliver O. Howard, marched toward Goldsborough, while Gen. Henry W. Slocum’s left wing, to confuse Rebel defenders, feinted toward the state capital of Raleigh. Shermna’s true objective for the two wings was Goldsborough, where he would meet up with another Union army marching inland from the coast. Then this great army would march on to Virginia, join forces with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Potomac, and crush the remaining Rebel force.
Condederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, with scant manpower, could not hope to defeat Sherman’s large force, but he could possibly defeat each part before the army concentrated its overwhelming numbers. Johnston selected Slocum’s left wing as the most vulnerable segment to attack. As he scrambled to amass enough reinforcements, he sent Gen. William J. Hardee’s corps of 6,000 men to delay Slocum and further increase the distance between the two Yankee wings.
On March 16, 1865, Slocum’s infantry ran into Hardee’s blocking force in the town of Averasborough. Sherman, traveling with Slocum’s wing, ordered one of his brigades to make a flank attack on Hardee’s right while other Union troops pressed the front. The attack succeeded, surprising and routing the Rebels out of their line. But somehow the Confederates managed to rally and formed another defensive line a mile to the rear. There, the Rebel defenders beat back repeated Union attacks until darkness stopped the fighting.
Having learned that a Union force was moving to turn his left, Hardee marched his men to join forces with Johnston’s reinforcements. Hardee suffered 865 casualties to Slocum’s l82, but had carried out his mission to delay Slocum’s wint. the road no longer blocked, Slocum’s wing continued its march — toward the small town of Bentonville.
Fascinating Fact: The Union army had done it’s worst damage in Sough Carolina, whose people they felt had started the war. Union troops were much easier on the people of North Carolina.