Chapter 6 (continued)
Safe on the other bank, what they learned spurred Wheeler to change direction from Charlotte toward Fayetteville instead.
So many Confederate
and Union soldiers funneling toward the same location made one or more
violent collisions unavoidable. On March 7, Confederate cavalry clashed
with the 1st Brigade of the Union cavalry at the small community of Rockingham
where Wheeler reported that his force killed or captured 35 soldiers.
By March 8, the two Union armies stationed along the North Carolina coast at Wilmington and New Bern were moving inland to link up with Sherman. General Braxton Bragg's Confederates attempted to block the way of troops leaving New Bern in a battle at Kinston, North Carolina.
Sherman's army was now in North Carolina, pouring toward Fayetteville. Also on March 8, the first Confederate infantry arrived in the city. Josephine Bryan Worth, a school girl at the time, described the scene: "...the vanguard of Johnston's Army consisting of Hardee's Corps entered Fayetteville. Only a few detachments and some officers with their staffs came in the first day and the greater part of the night...the defenders of Charleston poured through the place, making an incessant moving panorama of men, horses, cannons, and wagons."
The day was also significant for Confederate cavalry because Wheeler's Corps and the division commanded by Hampton and Butler united, with Hampton placed in charge. The appointment rankled some of Wheeler's soldiers, most of whom were unfamiliar with Hampton, Butler, and their subordinate officers.
Hampton, 47, and Wheeler, 29, shared many similar war experiences, but in different campaigns. Wheeler had fought just as hard and frequently just as successfully as Hampton, but had not drawn the same attention. Still, he had briefly outranked Hampton and commanded a cavalry corps before him. Competitive friction could be expected between them, but other factors favored their cooperation. Hampton, for example, had experience collaborating with a younger rival, Major General Fitzhugh "Fitz" Lee, in Virginia, and both he and Wheeler were astute leaders devoted to their soldiers and to the Confederacy. They also considered themselves gentlemen and therefore above petty quarrels. Nonetheless, to avoid aggravating a delicate situation, Hampton limited his commands to Wheeler, especially in the presence of Wheeler's men.
Despite good intentions, there was little time to develop a smooth working relationship. The Confederate cavalry had to overtake the infantry to protect them from Union strikes. As the Confederates advanced, their patrols, spread throughout the area, continued encountering Federal cavalry.
One patrol rode up a hill to a farm house near Drowning Creek, a tributary of the Lumber River, about noon on March 8. Evander McLeod, a Confederate soldier on leave from duty on the Carolina coast, was visiting home at the time. He later wrote how his mother and sister prepared food for the cavalrymen.
"They were splendid dashing young fellows from Mississippi, who said our patrols were in touch with Yankee cavalry all through the Pee Dee [River] country, and that they [the Union soldiers] would be along directly. They said to mother, 'Stand up to them, old lady. They will try to scare you, but they won't kill you.'"
Later, after the Confederates left, McLeod heard shooting. Guessing that the Union soldiers were arriving, he ran down to the swamps by the creek where his brother and a friend were hiding the family's horses. McLeod related how Union cavalry rode into the yard and entered his house where they "drew their shining swords and demanded of mother 'her gold, her sons, and her horses.' Mother stood up to them all right, and told them to wipe their feet before they came into the parlor."
The soldiers belonged to Kilpatrick's 3rd Brigade. The remaining force stretched out far to the rear, taking the rest of the day and late into the night to reach the area. Kilpatrick arrived with his staff around 8:00 p.m.
"For a little after dark a body of officers covered with mud and wet to the skin, dashed up to the house, and without ceremony took possession," said McLeod. "There were about 12 of them, led by a stocky bald headed man of medium height, who took instant charge of everything. He ordered dinner, but the girls wouldn't cook it. A soldier came with a bushel of sweet potatoes, which he said were to be prepared for the general and his staff. But the girls threw them in the pot and all got together with their mother in the east room. It was Judson Kilpatrick in command of all of Sherman's cavalry. He was really very decent to the women. He left them unmolested in their room."
Kilpatrick's 1st Brigade spent much of the night of March 8 struggling to cross Drowning Creek and nearby swamps and tributaries. Artillery and wagons bogged down in the swamps, forcing thecavalrymen to dismount to help haul the equipment through. They struggled in muddy water up to their armpits. Exhausted, the 1st Brigade finally camped about 4:00 a.m., March 9, just a little more than 24 hours before the confrontation at Monroe's Crossroads.
By 8:00 a.m., the entire Union cavalry division was pushing forward again. With little sleep, everyone must have been tired from the previous day's grueling travel. Rain fell, sometimes heavily, off and on throughout the day. Roads were more muck beds than byways; streams overflowed.
The cavalry passed through rolling hill country, covered in longleaf pine. Pine needles, accumulated over many years, formed a dense blanket on the forest floor. Many of the trees were hundreds of years old and enormous in this era before widespread clear cutting. Slashed scars were visible on the trunks of many trees, evidence of a common local source of revenue, tapping pines for sap. The sap was converted into turpentine used, among other things, to caulk the seams in wooden ships, spawning the term naval stores for turpentine. Small farms, often tucked into the forests, were widely distributed in the region.
As Kilpatrick ordered the Union cavalry to begin moving, first in line were the dismounted soldiers of the 4th Brigade who gradually fell behind as the mounted brigades overtook them. Kilpatrick was taking a risk pressing so hard because of the big gaps that developed between the brigades. If one were attacked, the others might be too far away to help. But Sherman's army was keeping a brisk pace, and Kilpatrick wanted to lead the first Union outfit into Fayetteville.
Despite the rush, Kilpatrick found time the morning of March 9 for more leisurely pursuits, riding in a buggy with two women. Kilpatrick developed a reputation as a lady's man after his wife died in 1863, and some sources reported that several young women accompanied him on his North Carolina campaign. His companions are variously described as stranded school teachers, disreputable characters, and females in men's clothing whom troops called Charley and Frank. In one persistent story, disputed as a legend by some historians, Marie Boozer and her mother were with the general.
Whether Marie Boozer accompanied Kilpatrick or not, she has been described as one of the prettiest women of the time in South Carolina. She and her mother, according to the story, began traveling with the Union cavalry after the fall of Columbia, their home.
Although the womens' identities are uncertain, Kilpatrick rode with his feet dangling outside a buggy and his head resting on the lap of a woman, according to Lieutenant H. Clay Reynolds, a Confederate prisoner walking directly behind them. Reynolds, who served under Wheeler, had been captured the night before. His feet were hurting terribly because his captors had taken his prized riding boots, forcing him instead to wear brogans, heavy work shoes that raised blisters and rubbed off his toenails.
Couriers occasionally brought messages to Kilpatrick from his various commanders and scouts. Scouts, common for both Union and Confederate armies, were vital during the Civil War. They knew how to move undetected in enemy territory, roving in teams across the countryside at all hours, gathering information about the opposition and details about possible routes for their own troops. Kilpatrick probably maintained a company of about 100 scouts, estimates Ken Belew, author of the military staff ride manual about the Monroe's Crossroads battle. On March 9, Union scouts, commanded by Captain Theo F. Northrop, patrolled 10 to 15 miles in front of the vanguard of Kilpatrick's main column.
Northrop arrived about 11:00 a.m. at Monroe's Crossroads, named for Charles Monroe who established the adjacent farm. By the time Northrop and his troops arrived, or shortly thereafter, the farm residents had fled to evade Union troops. The Monroe farm included the main house and a small cabin, apparently the residence of a black woman known to researchers only as Aunt Hannah. There were probably several additional buildings, including sheds and a barn, according to Douglas Scott, National Park Service battlefield archeologist.
Northrop, surveying the area, decided that the nearby field was too big and exposed for his headquarters or as a campsite for his small group of scouts. Instead, he led them south of the farm to the other side of a swamp, which is where Northrop and many of the scouts were when the battle began.
Some 10 miles away, the Union cavalry's 3rd Brigade began arriving at the town of Solemn Grove about 2:00 p.m. (shown as 1400 hours on Map 6). Solemn Grove, now gone, was a small creek-side community with a post office, country store, mill, and a few houses. A focal point for the surrounding rural area, Solemn Grove was where farmers bought supplies and visited far-flung neighbors. With the arrival of the 3rd Brigade, the community experienced a different sort of visitation.
The 3rd Brigade, with some 1,500 soldiers in three regiments, would bear the brunt of fighting at Monroe's Crossroads. Colonel George Spencer, a New York native who practiced law in Iowa before joining the Union Army early in the war, led the brigade after distinguishing himself during Sherman's campaign through Georgia.
As the 3rd Brigade moved into Solemn Grove, Union scouts approached, riding along Morganton Road, which passed through the community. The scouts reported to Spencer that a large body of Confederate infantry had recently marched through Solemn Grove, heading east on Morganton Road toward Fayetteville. Other Confederate infantry was also moving toward Fayetteville on another road just to the north. The scouts further relayed that numerous Confederate cavalrymen were some distance away to the northwest. In short, the 3rd Brigade would soon reach a point between the Confederate infantry and Confederate cavalry, commanded by Hampton.
Spencer, quickly grasping that he was in a situation offering both great opportunity and danger, ordered his troops to prepare defensive positions. They would wait where they were until the rest of the Union cavalry moved closer and until Spencer could talk directly to Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick soon arrived, and Spencer briefed him about the rapidly changing events requiring quick decisions.
Kilpatrick had two options, suggests author Ken Belew. He could wait for his entire division to close up and then hurry toward Fayetteville to try to slam into the exposed Confederate infantry. This probably appealed to Kilpatrick, Belew thinks, because it might garner him favorable notice in Northern newspapers, something Kilpatrick craved. But speeding ahead could prove disastrous. The Union cavalry units might be attacked while fragmented and in motion, when they were at a disadvantage. Even more serious was the chance that Confederate cavalry could slip behind the Union cavalry to attack Sherman's marching infantry, some of which, the XIV (14th) Corps, was already fewer than 10 miles to the south.
Kilpatrick's orders to protect the infantry made the second option his choice. He would divide his force to try to block every conceivable route the Confederate cavalry might use. But this strategy was also hazardous. Kilpatrick planned to avert a crippling Confederate attack by stationing each brigade close enough to the others so that if one fell into trouble the others could rush to the rescue. He underestimated the impact the bad roads and rain would have in providing such a defense.
Kilpatrick dispatched a courier to the 1st Brigade, still some distance away, ordering the troops to head toward Chicken Road, one possible Confederate cavalry route. That night, the 1st Brigade camped at Bethesda Presbyterian Church. Because of the continuing rain, many of the Federals crawled under the church to sleep. The 1st Brigade would be too far away to play any role in the upcoming battle.
Shortly before 5:00 p.m. (shown as 1700 hours on Map 7), Kilpatrick's 4th Brigade of 400 dismounted troops arrived at Solemn Grove. The soldiers, who had been walking vigorously to catch up with the 3rd Brigade, collapsed from fatigue. Now Kilpatrick had two brigades, the 3rd and 4th, assembled, along with some artillery. The 2nd Brigade was close by to the south. Kilpatrick was ready to enact the rest of his plan. He ordered the 3rd and 4th Brigades to head east on Morganton Road toward Fayetteville. They were to camp at Green Springs, a well-known haven among local residents, just south of Monroe's Crossroads. Farmers, on their way to market in Fayetteville, frequently camped at this cool spot with fresh water. Kilpatrick, and his Confederate counterparts, often used local guides, as well as scouts, to help find such key landmarks in an age when maps were often poor, if available at all.
All too soon, the tired 4th Brigade was marching again, followed shortly by the 3rd Brigade on horseback. Bringing up the rear were two horse-drawn cannons and the men who operated them. Together, this force heading for Monroe's Crossroads amounted to about 2,000 soldiers. The two women continued to ride in their buggy beside the troops, but Kilpatrick remained at Solemn Grove to await the 2nd Brigade. As rain started again, daylight began to fade.
Sometime before 6:00 p.m., the 2nd Brigade started arriving at Solemn Grove, commanded by Brevet Brigadier General Smith Dykins Atkins. Atkins, from Illinois, was another longtime veteran of the war and also a lawyer before military enlistment.
Kilpatrick explained his strategy to Atkins. When the entire 2nd Brigade reached Solemn Grove, the troops were to proceed down Morganton Road and camp within a few miles of Monroe's Crossroads. Once they were in camp and the other troops were stationed at Monroe's Crossroads, the Union cavalry would effectively obstruct Confederate access to two routes into Fayetteville - Morganton and Yadkin Roads. Kilpatrick thought he was springing a trap, unaware that instead the trap was about to be set for him.
Kilpatrick left Solemn Grove, while horse soldiers of the 2nd Brigade waited for the rest of the brigade to arrive. About 6:00 p.m., Kilpatrick rode down Morganton Road and into danger, accompanied by a small contingent of Kentucky cavalry riding in front. Kilpatrick, a few escorts, and his staff traveled close behind. There were about 40 men in all, trotting through the rain.
Thundering toward them was much of Hampton's Confederate cavalry. Kilpatrick still thought that the main opposing force was far behind, when in fact the Confederates were advancing down Yadkin Road which deadended at Morganton Road, just a short distance ahead of the Union commander. What's more, the Confederates intended to camp that night at Green Springs and Monroe's Crossroads, precisely where Kilpatrick planned to bed down.
Hampton rode some distance back in the long lines of Confederate cavalrymen. Butler's Division of about 1,200 soldiers led the column. Wheeler's Corps, numbering some 4,600 troops, followed. By 9:00 p.m., (shown as 2100 hours on Map 8), the first Confederates, part of Butler's Division, reached the intersection of Yadkin and Morganton Roads where they reined their horses to a stop.
The night was virtually pitch black. Saddles creaked; rain drummed on the men and their mounts. South Carolina troopers, alert for signs of Union soldiers, noticed thousands of hoof prints in the soft roadbed. They alerted their squadron commander, Lieutenant John Humphrey, who cautiously peered around through the dark, but could spot no Union troops. Humphrey walked his horse out onto Morganton Road, turned, and issued a quick command to a nearby soldier who spurred his mount back along the Confederate column to tell Butler to come forward at once.
Humphrey showed the hoof prints to Butler, pointing out that they were only partly filled with water, despite the heavy rain, indicating that the riders had traveled the road within the past hour. The two Confederate officers speculated that at least a brigade of Union cavalry was just ahead, a correct guess. Kilpatrick's 3rd and 4th Brigades and their artillery section, on the way to Monroe's Crossroads, had made the tracks shortly before.
A hushed voice behind them announced that riders were approaching. Humphrey and Butler grew still to hear the faint clip clop of horse hooves, steadily growing louder in the splashing rain. Did he have any patrols in that direction? Butler asked Humphrey. "No, sir," came the answer.
Quietly, the two officers backed their horses out of the intersection. The thick pine woods and darkness shielded them from the view of the oncoming riders. Butler motioned for everyone to keep still. He rode alone out to the middle of Morganton Road.
"Who comes there?" he shouted. The approaching horsemen, about 30 of them, brought their horses to a stop.
"Fifth Kentucky," was the reply.
Butler now knew he was dealing with Union troops commanded by Kilpatrick.
"Ride up, sir. I want to talk with you," Butler instructed, his voice commanding authority. A Union officer and an orderly obediently walked their horses toward Butler, who then turned his own mount, telling the two to follow him. Darkness, and the heavy mud splattered on them all, made distinguishing their different uniform colors impossible, so Butler easily led the pair toward a cluster of Confederate soldiers. Whipping out his revolver, he pointed it at the Federals, and quietly, but firmly, ordered their surrender. At that moment, the South Carolina troops charged out and surrounded the other 26 Union soldiers farther down the road. With no chance of escape, the Federals dropped their reins in submission. Their part of fighting in the Civil War had come to an end. They were captured without a shot.
A second group of riders, not far behind, escaped by riding into nearby woods. Kilpatrick, the Union cavalry commander, was among them. They crashed blindly through the trees, branches grabbing at their clothes, sometimes lashing their faces. Some riders lost their hats as they fled.
The Confederates decided not to pursue. Kilpatrick apparently assumed he had just narrowly eluded another small Confederate patrol, not the first wave of Hampton's entire corps. Riding through the woods, Kilpatrick made his way toward Monroe's Crossroads, some four miles to the east.