SEAC: The Confederates Retire
THE CONFEDERATES RETIRE
On the battlefield, Lieutenant General Wheeler was involved in organizing his men and trying to retrieve his wounded when he was approached by Lieutenant General Hampton, accompanied by Dibrell’s Brigade. A quick discussion of available options by the two commanders resulted in the opinion that nothing more could be gained by continuing. Lieutenant General Hampton decided "that in view of the probability that Federal infantry would soon be on the scene" (Dodson n.d.), withdrawal was the prudent course of action.
Individually and in small groups the riders began to pull out of line and make their way to the road. As they fell back, the firing slackened. Dibrell’s Brigade deployed to resist if the Federals tried to pursue. Many of the Federal troopers instinctively moved forward to close on the withdrawing Confederates. But exhausted, out of ammunition, and receiving no encouragement from their commanders, the Federals did not continue the pursuit.
The Confederates quietly formed into a column on the road. Wagons and prisoners were moved to the front. Soon hoarse commands were issued, and the weary Confederate cavalrymen moved forward on Morganton Road, disappearing into the piney woods. Under the command of Lieutenant General Wheeler, the Confederate rearguard remained, allowing the Confederate main body time to move a safe distance from the battlefield. Several moments passed as the Southern cavalrymen sat stoically facing their northern counterparts. Then, with a few quick shots, the Confederate rear guard wheeled round and followed the main body. The muffled thud of the rear guard and the distant rumble of wagons slowly receded. The only remaining sounds were occasional moans from the wounded who were already being moved toward the main house.
The dazed Federal cavalrymen were grateful to hear the sounds of the Confederate column disappear to the east. Colonel Spencer and Lieutenant Colonel Way, free of their barricaded position on the second floor of the house, appeared on the porch. Colonel Spencer viewed the melancholy scene of the many wounded slowly making their way toward the house. Quickly the commanders began issuing orders to assist the wounded and convert the house into a field hospital.
Brevet Major General Kilpatrick soon joined the Brigade commanders. Brevet Major General Kilpatrick, somewhat shaken, expressed the urgency of departing the area as soon as the wounded were tended.
Major Aaron B. Robinson, 121st Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OR 1885):
Brigadier General Mitchell’s infantrymen were detailed to assist the cavalrymen in preparing the wounded for movement and burying the dead. The dead were taken to several locations near the house where shallow pits had been prepared. With little ceremony, the dead were placed in the pits and covered with sand.
As Brevet Major General Kilpatrick paced the porch, the Division Surgeon and his assistants worked feverishly on the mangled bodies of the wounded.
The possibility of the Confederates returning, perhaps with infantry, put a sense of urgency into the efforts of the Federal cavalrymen. The arrival of Brigadier Generals Atkins and Jordan relieved some of Brevet Major General Kilpatrick’s anxiety. He ordered them to position their Brigades to defend against the possible return of the Confederates, while Colonel Spencer and Lieutenant Colonel Way prepared to move. Brigadier General Mitchell and his infantry were released to return to XIV Corps.
All the seriously injured were treated by the surgeon and his staff. Those with minor wounds would have to wait to see the surgeon until the Division arrived at its next position. After treatment, the wounded unable to walk or sit a horse were placed in wagons.
As the last casualty requiring immediate treatment was released by the surgeon, Colonel Spencer sent word to Brevet Major General Kilpatrick that he was ready to move. Brevet Major General Kilpatrick mounted a borrowed horse, his string of valuable horses having been taken by the Confederates. As he started toward the Blue’s Rosin Road, Brevet Major General Kilpatrick and his staff passed through the assembled regiments, issuing commands to fall in behind and follow.
The reunited Cavalry Division proceeded south, leaving behind the debris-strewn field they had known but a few hours, but that many would be able to recall vividly decades later.
Moving south, Kilpatrick’s Division soon struck Chicken Road and turned east. Also on the road marching east were elements of the XIV Corps. On this occasion, the spirited ribbing that commonly occurred when the horsemen encountered the foot soldiers did not happen. The infantry stepped aside and allowed the cavalry to pass silently.
The 3rd Cavalry Division continued on for some eight miles. As the command approached the crossing of Little Rockfish Creek, Brevet Major General Kilpatrick instructed his men to cross over and establish camp on the far side.
Soon the sound of axes being enthusiastically used against the pine trees echoed through the woods as a breastwork perimeter was erected.
Care for the wounded continued, with the most seriously injured taken to the nearby home of William Shaw. Three of the men died in the house and were buried in the yard. A Sergeant John W. Swartz was one of them.
The Confederates’ early morning surprise had made an impression on Brevet Major General Kilpatrick. His move south from Monroe’s Crossroads took the 3rd Cavalry Division off the flank of the Army and into the safer vicinity of the Federal Infantry. His selection and fortification of his next position demonstrate a dramatically more cautious man.
On retiring from Monroe’s Crossroads, the Confederate Cavalry proceeded down Morganton Road toward Fayetteville. For the sake of the wounded, the long grey column moved slowly. Out of necessity, the Confederate dead had been left on the battlefield.
Near dusk the cavalrymen passed through the line of Confederate Infantry thrown out to the west of Fayetteville by Lieutenant General Hardee. As they passed by the Old Federal Arsenal, some regiments fell out to make camp on its grounds. The wagons bearing the wounded continued toward town and medical assistance. From the hill that commands the western approach to the town, the cavalrymen could see the Cape Fear River to the east.
Below lay Fayetteville. Coming from hundreds of campfires, a large, dark cloud hung low over the town, attesting to the presence of Lieutenant General Hardee’s main camp and suggesting the mood of the town.
Josephine Bryan Worth, A Fayetteville schoolgirl (Oates 1981):
11 March 1865
The Federal cavalry scouts entered the town by a secondary road which the Confederates had neglected to picket. They nearly surprised Lieutenant General Hampton, but Scout Hugh Scott rallied a total of seven men and charged the Yankees on one of Fayetteville’s side streets. The Federals were caught by surprise and attempted to withdraw, but unit disintegration set in and eleven were killed and twelve captured.
This little action nearly embarrassed Major General Butler and an aide who were sound asleep in a private home nearby. They were without clothes as well because their uniforms were being laundered by a household servant in the backyard. Major General Butler and his aide hurriedly dressed in boots and overcoats, mounted their horses, and headed away from the skirmish.
Cavalry from the XIV Corps and a mixture of other troops followed the Federal scouts into Fayetteville where they took possession of the arsenal grounds. By late morning the Confederates had retired across the Cape Fear River bridge in good order, leaving only a few cavalry to defend the bridge’s approach.
The Confederates were able to position a section of artillery across the river to defend the bridge and fire on the Federal skirmishers attempting to take the bridge intact.
The Union soldiers, thinking a general attack was ordered, followed the out-of-control horse and its rider. The few remaining Confederate skirmishers raced across the bridge, which the Confederates had piled high with rosin logs in anticipation of destroying it.
As the last of the Confederates crossed the bridge, their comrades set it afire. By the time the would-be Union charge reached the structure, it was fully engulfed in flames. The bridge was ruined. The Federal pursuit of Confederate forces across the Cape Fear would have to wait.