SEAC: Featured Project
  • 3D Rendering of Shiloh Mound

    Southeast Archeological Center

    Cultural Resources National Park Service



General Sherman considered two options for the impending campaign in North Carolina: to continue north through Charlotte, Salisbury, and Greensboro, and invade western Virginia or to feint in the direction of Charlotte while turning his main body eastward toward Fayetteville, North Carolina (Barrett 1956; Cox 1882; Oates 1981).

Federal successes along the coast, General Sherman’s need for resupply, and the less restrictive ground to the east made the latter more attractive.

Lieutenant General Joseph Wheeler, C.S.A. (Source: U.S. Army).The course of action selected was to turn eastward and march on the intermediate objective, Fayetteville. The maneuver would threaten both Raleigh and Goldsboro and be conducted in cooperation with thrusts inland by Federal forces from the coast. From Fayetteville, General Sherman would move northeastward toward his main objective, Goldsboro, and link up with Federal forces moving in from the east and southeast.

Fayetteville, located at the highest navigable point of the Cape Fear River, would allow resupply from and communication with Federal forces in Wilmington.

Also, a large number of Confederate troops were west of the Cape Fear River awaiting an indication of General Sherman’s intentions. If Federal deceptions worked, General Sherman could beat the Confederates to Fayetteville, seize the bridges over the Cape Fear River, and trap the Confederates on the western side. If the Federal force didn’t reach Fayetteville first, they could still arrive in time to catch the Confederates in the vulnerable position of crossing the river.

From the coast, Federal forces under the command of Major General John M. Schofield, U.S.A., would move inland from their respective bases toward Goldsboro. Moving northward from Wilmington were Major General Terry and the X Corps; pushing westward from New Bern were Major General Jacob D. Cox, U.S.A., and the XXIII Corps.

To deceive the Confederates, General Sherman continued northward with his four Corps toward Charlotte. General Sherman’s force was organized in two wings; the left consisted of the XIV and XX corps and the right the XV and XVII Corps. Sherman’s Cavalry Division, commanded by Brevet Major General Kilpatrick, operated well forward, as if scouting a route to Charlotte. Once this demonstration had its effect, General Sherman planned to turn abruptly eastward, drawing his cavalry back in to screen his left flank.

At Fayetteville, General Sherman intended to raze the Federal arsenal and rendezvous with supply laden gunboats sent up the Cape Fear River from Wilmington.

The New Times March 1865:

It is quite evident that SHERMAN’S route into North Carolina was by far the best. At Columbia, two paths lay before him, each promising certain advantages. The one which his previous course had indicated as probable leads directly up the railroad to Charlotte, thence to Salisbury, thence to Greensboro.

Could this have been successfully pursued, its results would have been astonishing. First, it would have secured the three great railroad junctions already named and insured the destruction of hundreds of miles of the chief railway left to the Confederacy. Next, the slightest easterly advance from Greensboro would have forced the evacuation and capture of Raleigh. Finally, his columns would have threatened Lynchburg from the west, and would have cut off LEE’S retreat from Richmond, by interposing an army on his front and flank. But it was too dangerous an experiment. It involved the traversing of distances too enormous even for that strategy which has struck the world with astonishment by its boldness during the latter year of the war. It exposed SHERMAN’S army to the certainty of a series of battles. If successful, they would have cost him all his ammunition, and he would have been forced to drop his conquests, and retreat from his victories. If unsuccessful, they would have left him hundreds of miles from succor, and with a Moscow retreat to the coast as his only alternative.

The lower route was judiciously chosen. It has proved to be attended by advantages greater than those of the other, and by none of its perils. By moving from Columbia to Cheraw, and from Cheraw across toward Fayetteville, SHERMAN has outgeneraled JOHNSTON again, marching past his flank, and forcing him to follow at a rapid pace if he wishes to fight. Being compelled himself to march, he forces that necessity also upon his opponent. He takes away the enemy’s hope of successful concentration far up in the mountainous region, where defeat to SHERMAN would be destruction. JOHNSTON, who had watched to see whether unparalleled success would turn the head of his adversary, again baffled and disappointed.

This move, also, puts SHERMAN in direct cooperation with SCHOFIELD. He can get supplies and ammunition from the latter by way of the Cape Fear River, in case of needing them. He has a base to fall back upon in case of disaster. He is now traversing a region which no army has trod. It is high, fertile, and full of supplies. The roads are excellent, and now in good condition. The marshes which stretch away to the southeast, toward the coast, do not reach so high as SHERMAN’S present position. The people are well-to-do and, better than all, as loyal as in any part of the South. If anywhere in North Carolina supplies are to be had, it is precisely in the country SHERMAN is now traversing. The present movement, also, directly aids SCHOFIELD’S task, by forcing the enemy to withdraw from his front, to avoid being flanked. Even Raleigh is quite as directly threatened by this route as by the other, and Goldsboro still more so. But the taking of Raleigh will produce the evacuation of Goldsboro. Neither point is likely to be given up without a struggle, for the loss will signify too surely the loss of Richmond.

Such, then, are the moves by which the forces of the Union have been marshaled into position on the North Carolina field. The genius of the preparation is the best augury of success.

General Johnston had few options. Lieutenant General Hardee’s 6,000 man Corps was in close proximity to General Sherman’s 60,000 man force and could delay it for a short time, but could be expected to do little else against such overwhelming odds.

Besides, with Confederate troops in short supply, the possible loss of Hardee’s Corps was unacceptable. Elements of the Army of Tennessee were moving into the state, but even these additions left the Confederate force greatly inferior. When all expected forces were present, General Johnston could expect his men to number no more than 30,000.

General Johnston’s hope for success was to concentrate as much force as he could muster against one wing of Sherman’s Army. Compelled by terrain or the execution of a feint, General Sherman’s wings were at times beyond immediate supporting distance of one another. If General Johnston could predict this occurrence, he could attack one wing and destroy it, thus evening the odds.

Using the cavalry of Lieutenant General Wheeler and Major General Matthew C. Butler, C.S.A., General Johnston planned to delay Sherman while he organized his forces.

With the Confederate Cavalry delaying and providing information on General Sherman’s movement, General Johnston should have enough time to put his plan into action.


Return to the Table of Contents