Shooting stopped at Monroe's Crossroads about 9:00 a.m., March 10, 1865, ending a comparatively short, but brutal battle. The Union cavalry, remaining after the Confederates departed, turned the main house into a makeshift hospital where soldiers carried the most seriously wounded to be examined and treated by physicians. An infantry brigade arrived soon after the battle ended and helped transport the wounded and bury the dead. Union troops buried both Confederate and Union soldiers in shallow graves they mounded over with sand.
Union Brevet Major General Judson Kilpatrick was anxious to leave because he was concerned that the Confederates might return reinforced with infantry. Therefore, by midafternoon, the cavalry division moved out. Because they were delayed by the surprise Confederate attack, they were not the first Union troops to occupy Fayetteville, after all, as Kilpatrick had hoped. Instead, the division camped that night within the protective reach of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman's infantry, still some distance from Fayetteville.
Before anyone rested that night, Kilpatrick ordered soldiers to ax down pine trees to build defensive barriers surrounding the military encampment. Caution was the new watchword for the chastened Union officer. There would be no more buggy rides with women while in enemy territory, no more bivouacs left precariously unguarded.
After withdrawing from Monroe's Crossroads, the Confederate cavalry, at a funeral pace to protect the many wounded, approached Fayetteville late in the day. Some regiments fell out and camped at the Old Federal Arsenal, while others rode through town, escorting the long, sad column of prisoners and the wagons carrying the wounded. A young girl, Josephine Bryan Worth, watched the procession.
"Toward the close of the day the melancholy line of ambulances came in bearing the wounded, and to me the still more melancholy file of prisoners," she recalled. "I would have liberated them all if I could. I had not made the acquaintance of Mr. Sherman's bummers [soldiers who stole food, livestock, and supplies from civilians] then."
There were too many casualties for one hospital to care for, so the Confederates divided the wounded among three facilities in Fayetteville.
"About 9 o'clock they sent for me to come to the hospital, and the horrible scene I witnessed there I shall never forget, the wounded had been brought in....[The cavalrymen] had an engagement with Sherman's men," recalled a hospital volunteer, Mrs. James Kyle. "I stayed with them until just before daylight and did all I could to relieve their wants. Even then I did not hear a single murmur. Such fortitude has no parallel in history."
The Confederate infantry, commanded by Lieutenant General William Hardee, began marching across the Cape Fear River Bridge as Federal forces closed in from the west. Advance Union cavalry scouts surprised elements of Confederate Lieutenant General Wade Hampton's Corps in Fayetteville early in the morning on March 11. Confederate Major General Matthew C. Butler was among those caught off guard. He and an aide were asleep when the Union scouts began shooting in the streets. The two Confederates had given their filthy clothes to a servant to wash, so when the guns sounded, they leaped from their beds, hurriedly pulled on boots, and escaped, wrapped only in overcoats. Ultimately, Confederate cavalry subdued the Federal scouts, killing 11 and capturing 12.
Other Union troops followed, but by midmorning most Confederate forces had evacuated Fayetteville, leaving only a scattering of Confederate soldiers behind. At noon, as Union infantry approached the Cape Fear River, a Union soldier's horse bolted for the bridge. Federal troops rushed forward, thinking an assault had been ordered. Seeing them, the few remaining Confederate soldiers hurried across the bridge, their feet barely on the other side before their fellow troops torched rosin logs they had stacked high on the structure. The flaming bridge effectively delayed Sherman's pursuit of the Confederates and stopped the bloodshed briefly.
There is no accurate count of the casualties from the Battle of Monroe's Crossroads. Reports seem to show about 100 deaths, but official records, when maintained at all, vary greatly in reliability.
Records from one Union company from Ohio reported that 60 Confederates died in the battle, but Kilpatrick gave a higher estimate. He contended that Federal soldiers killed 80 Confederates, a number that cannot be verified because, late in the war, Confederates did not tabulate deaths among their ranks or file reports of casualties.
Incomplete Union records show 24 Federal soldiers killed, but there is no record of the 4th Provisional Brigade's casualties, and these dismounted troops suffered heavily. Again, no Confederate estimate of Union soldiers killed has been found.
Hundreds more on both sides were wounded, many quite seriously. Typically, four to five times more men were wounded than killed in Civil War battles. If the estimate of 100 total dead is accepted, perhaps 500 soldiers suffered wounds, although there is no certainty in this number. Union records for the 1st Alabama (U.S.) Regiment show 27 wounded, while the State of Ohio lists 73 soldiers killed, wounded or missing. Other Union states represented and units involved, along with the Confederates, did not compile data on the wounded. Both sides suffered painful losses of veteran officers, either killed, wounded or captured.
Confederates took as many as 350 to 400 prisoners and also freed about 150 of their own soldiers held captive at the Monroe farm. Union soldiers, according to Kilpatrick, took 30 prisoners. Some 300 horses and mules also fell in the battle.
The identity of the Union officer shot loading the cannon near the end of the battle is a persistent puzzle. Some researchers think that Union First Lieutenant Ebenezer Stetson was killed in the battle, but 10th Wisconsin Battery records do not list him or any other unit members among the killed at Monroe's Crossroads. Union Sergeant John Swartz, severely wounded, died soon after the battle and is buried near the site. Swartz reportedly was assigned to artillery, but his name does not appear in 10th Wisconsin Battery records, so it is unclear whether he was the officer shot while attempting to fire the artillery piece. Perhaps the story of one brave man continuing to operate the cannon while every other Union soldier around him fell is only a legend, suggests military staff ride manual author Ken Belew. There seems little doubt that Stetson did seize control of the cannon and fire it, causing heavy casualties among the Confederates.
Efforts to honor the dead from Monroe's Crossroads began shortly after the battle. Neill S. Blue, 15 at the time, apparently saw the battlefield before Union forces finished digging graves. He remembered seeing many dead soldiers around the log barn where fighting had been particularly heavy. The boy returned to the farm again after the Union cavalry left and placed sandstone slabs to mark the graves.
A South Carolina soldier returning home at war's end visited the Monroe farm about a month after the battle. He arrived about dusk and never forgot the horrid scene. The house was still deserted, an empty shell. All around were rotting carcasses of some 300 horses and mules killed during the fight. Remains of some Union and Confederate dead were also visible, washed out of the graves or dug up by animals.
Local residents reburied the soldiers in mass graves, according to Ken Belew. Many killed Confederates were later transferred to Long Street Presbyterian Church cemetery, a few miles east of the battlefield. Other remains were reinterred in Fayetteville. Some families from farther away retrieved their fallen relatives and took them home for burial, which was the case for Confederate Lieutenant Colonel Barrington S. King, killed in the last minutes of the battle. His brother had his remains returned to Georgia.
Beginning in 1921, the Army marked various Union graves, which reportedly contain the remains of 39 unknown Federal soldiers, graves pointed out by Neill S. Blue. When National Park Service archeologist Douglas Scott determined that a mass grave of 27 unknown Union soldiers was likely to contain unknown Confederate remains as well, the Army placed a Confederate marker at the grave. In 1996, the Army erected a monument dedicated "To the American Soldier" on the battlefield at Monroe's Crossroads.
Now, as time and history provide distance, the significance of the Battle of Monroe's Crossroads can be measured. The delay of Kilpatrick's cavalry for a day was foremost among the consequences of the engagement. This delay prevented the Union cavalry from delivering a potentially punishing blow to the Confederate infantry as it crossed the Cape Fear River at Fayetteville. If Kilpatrick had not been stalled, and if Union cavalry had wreaked havoc on Confederate Lieutenant General William Hardee's infantry and blocked Confederate troops from crossing the Cape Fear River, there probably wouldn't have been a battle at Averasboro, North Carolina. In addition, Confederates, with an infantry weakened by Kilpatrick's cavalry, would have mounted less of a fight at Bentonville, North Carolina, speculates Ken Belew. Without the Battle of Monroe's Crossroads, the war in North Carolina probably would have ended a few weeks sooner, in his view. How many lives would have been spared, how many men would have escaped being wounded, can only be conjectured.
The impact of the battle on the Civil War that continued to rage elsewhere also stirs speculation. Because Hampton, Butler and their cavalry weren't in Virginia when Confederate General Robert E. Lee retreated from Petersburg, Lee had fewer mounted forces and inadequate leadership to fend off Union Lieutenant General Philip Sheridan's cavalry. Consequently, Lee had no choice but to surrender at Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9. Would the presence of Hampton and Butler in Virginia have made a difference? This is probably a moot point because the Confederacy was undeniably on its knees by this stage of the war. Only the timing of surrender might have been different. Lee's army in Virginia was starving, about to be overwhelmed, and Confederate General Joseph Johnston's army in North Carolina was vastly outnumbered in men and materiel.
As it happened, Johnston met with Sherman to discuss peace terms on April 17, 1865, at a farm near Durham's Station, North Carolina. Sherman shook hands with Johnston and was reportedly cordial to every Confederate officer present - except Hampton. Sherman was still angry over what he considered to be the Confederate cavalry's brutal treatment of Union prisoners.
According to some accounts, while Johnston and Sherman negotiated inside the farm house, outside Kilpatrick approached Hampton, trying to strike up amiable conversation. But Hampton rebuffed the attempt, saying he disliked any talk of surrendering. "I never could bring myself to live again with a people that have waged war as you have," Hampton reportedly said.
Kilpatrick countered by pointing out that Hampton's cavalry had burned parts of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, on October 12, 1862, during Confederate Major General J.E.B. Stuart's second ride around Union forces. He also cited other instances when civilians in northern states suffered at the hands of Confederates, contending that such depredations required a Union response. Hampton reportedly didn't argue the matter, but threatened retribution for Union acts which he thought violated accepted standards of war. Nonetheless, the relationship between Hampton and Kilpatrick may not have been as acrimonious as the preceding story indicates. According to one account, Kilpatrick sent a message to Hampton under a truce flag shortly after Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House. Kilpatrick asked for the return of his prized spotted horse and possibly other mounts of his taken at Monroe's Crossroads, and Hampton reportedly returned the horse or horses.
Still, there was ample bitterness among many others on both sides long after the war ended. In the South, men who were powerful before the conflict sought to reassert their control over former slaves through Jim Crow legislation sanctioning unequal treatment of blacks. Segregation became the law throughout the region, a separation sometimes violently enforced by hooded gangs calling themselves the knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The institutionalized inequality remained for some one hundred years until passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s prodded by protests by blacks and others.
Reconstruction after the Civil War for the devastated South was a noble goal, but not one widely embraced. Defeated Confederates deeply resented the continued presence of Union troops in their midst, while in the North sentiment was strong among the citizens against spending any of their tax money to help rebuild the former rebellious Confederate states. The wounds healed slowly. Many former military leaders for both sides took up civilian careers, and some became prominent figures.
Among those who fought at Monroe's Crossroads, several became politicians, a likely development because their names and reputations were well-known due to their wartime service.
Hampton, one of only three Confederates without formal military training to be promoted to lieutenant general, was elected governor of South Carolina in 1876. He also served as a U.S. Senator from 1879 to 1891 and for five years was commissioner of Pacific Railways. He died in Columbia, South Carolina in 1902.
Butler, facing financial ruin after the war, recovered his fiscal equilibrium, and he too was elected to the U.S. Senate from South Carolina, serving from 1876 to 1894. Butler and his frequent comrade-in-arms, Hampton, served side by side in the Capitol for many years.
Butler eventually ran a mining company and became vice president of the Southern Historical Association. He died in 1909 in Washington, D.C.
Kilpatrick was also active in politics after the war and eventually was named, for two separate terms, U.S. minister to the government of Chile. He married a wealthy Chilean woman and died in Santiago in 1881. His body was returned for burial on the grounds of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
Confederate Lieutenant General Joseph Wheeler settled in Wheeler, Alabama, where in 1881 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Wheeler went to the floor of Congress when Sherman died on February 14, 1891, to praise his former adversary. "The entire country, the South together with North, the Confederate with Federal, forgetting all the feelings of the past, join in the deep grief which has befallen our country in the death of this distinguished man," he said.
Wheeler, later a major general in the U. S. Volunteers, fought in the Spanish-American War in 1898. Then in his 60s, he was part of a U.S. offensive that breached Spanish earthworks in Cuba. According to a journalist, as an exultant Wheeler stood atop the earthworks, cheering on his soldiers, he forgot which war he was fighting and yelled, "We got those damn Yankees on the run!" He was later commissioned a brigadier general in the U.S. Regulars and served in the Philippines. He died in Brooklyn, New York in 1906, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.
Although many generations have come and gone since the cavalry battle at Monroe's Crossroads, the sounds of combat persist because of modern military training exercises conducted where the Civil War soldiers fought that foggy March morning in 1865.
Today, Fort Bragg and the U.S. Army carefully protect the battle site, prohibiting any unauthorized digging or collecting of relics.
And by publishing this book with the National Park Service, the Army is further seeking to keep alive the memory of the sacrifices of Monroe's Crossroads and to honor those who made them.