Third Confederate Defensive Line
— Carolinas Campaign —
The Carolinas 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 Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia to crush Gen. 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 on April 26, essentially ending the Civil War.* * *
As Gen. William T. Sherman marched north from Fayetteville, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston positioned his army near Smithfield, uncertain whether Sherman's destination was Raleigh or Goldsboro. On March 15, 1865, the head of Sherman's Left Wing struck Confederate Gen. William J. Hardee's skirmishers guarding the road just south of Averasboro. Hardee struck back, and the fight began.
By the afternoon of Mar 16, 1865, Confederate Gen. William J. Hardee's men had retreated from their first and second defensive positions to their third line of defense here. Col. Henry Case's late morning flanking attack had pushed Col. Alfred M. Rhett's South Carolina brigade 200 yards north from the first to the second line, held by the brigade of Gen. Stephen Elliott, Jr. Early in the afternoon, Elliott's line collapsed under Federal attacks, and the Confederates withdrew 600 yards north to the third line. An increasingly heavy rain made the already muddy terrain even worse for troop movements, and Confederate Gen. Joseph Wheeler thwarted an attack on the right flank near the Cape Fear River before darkness ended the fighting. That night, while the Federals made plans to press the Confederates at dawn, Hardee withdrew his artillery and then his infantry, leaving campfires burning to disguise the maneuver.
Of about 12,000 Union troops engaged, 682 were reported killed, wounded, or missing, while the approximately 7,000 Confederates lost about 500. Hardee had delayed the Union advance for a day, buying precious time for Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, who was skillfully uniting his scattered forces for a more substantial attempt to stop Sherman's progress. The stage was set for the Battle of Bentonville.
"The infirmary was here and - oh! It makes me shudder to think of the awful sights I witnessed that morning. ?.I just felt like my heart would break when I would see our brave men rushing into battle and then coming back so mangled. ?We could hear the commands and the groans and shrieks of the wounded ? about four o'clock the Yankees came charging, yelling and howling. I stood on the piazza [porch] and saw the charge made. ?The palings [fences] did not hinder them at all. They just knocked them down like so many mad cattle."
- Jane "Janie" Smith, 18-year-old daughter of Farquhard Smith, at Smith House on the map.