"O when will this cruel war end"
— Carolina Campaign —
The Carolina Campaign began on February 1, 1865, when Union Gen. William T. Sherman led his army north from Savannah, Georgia, after the March to the Sea. Sherman's objective was to join with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia to crush Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Scattered Confederate forces consolidated in North Carolina, the Confederacy's logistical lifeline, where Sherman defeated Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's last-ditch attack at Bentonville. After Sherman was reinforced at Goldsboro late in March, Johnston saw the futility of further resistance and surrendered near Durham on April 26, essentially ending the Civil War.
On March 8, 1865, part of Union Gen. William T. Sherman's army, having crossed into the state from South Carolina, camped near Old Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church. Here Sherman authorized a change in foraging policy as his troops entered North Carolina. His men, blaming South Carolina for starting the war, had looted ruthlessly as they marched through the state. Hoping that North Carolinians would embrace the Federal army and quickly rejoin the Union, Sherman issued orders to "deal as moderately and fairly by the North Carolinians as possible, and fan the flame of discord already subsisting between them and their proud cousins of South Carolina. There never was much love between them." Although foraging for supplies continued, the number of structures torched declined, except those considered of military value. Sherman sent two separate couriers, a sergeant and a Corp. Pike, to the Federal commander in Wilmington to ask that he send a boat with supplies up the Cape Fear River to Fayetteville. Sherman's army spent several days nearby while heavy rain hampered its progress toward Fayetteville.
"On the 8th of March the headquarters staff was bivouacked in the woods near Laurel Hill. The army was absolutely cut off from everywhere. It had no base; it was weeks since Sherman had heard from the North or since the North had heard from him."
-Samuel H.M. Byers, of Sherman's staff
This church was one of several buildings in the thriving town of Laurel Hill at the time of the war. Organized in 1797, the congregation constructed the current sanctuary in 1856. Laurel Hill was a prominent stop on Old Wire Road, a main thoroughfare through the region. After the Civil War, the increased dependence on the railroad meant that Laurinburg, a stop on the Wilmington, Charlotte and Rutherford Railroad to the south, outgrew Laurel Hill.
(right) Several Union soldiers wrote their names in the plaster of the church steeple. The piece to the right is inscribed; "O when will this cruel war end and we poor soldiers go home. J.M. Leca ? March 9th 1865"