In the field in front of you skirmishers from the 64th Illinois, armed with Henry repeating rifles, overran Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's headquarters, forcing the general and his staff to flee on foot toward Bentonville (to your left). Maj. Gen. Joseph Mower had set out to do a "little reconnaissance" of the Confederate left flank on the morning of March 21, 1865. Due to driving rain and difficult terrain (deep swamps, briars, and dense undergrowth), it took Fuller's and Tillson's brigades nearly an hour to reach the Confederate lines.
"It was a terrible job getting over the swamp, sinking in to the knees and sometimes to the hips?."
Pvt. Abel Stilwell, 64th Illinois.
"In our front the marsh was so deep, and such a tangle of vines, that all mounted officers were speedily on foot."
- Col. Charles Sheldon, 18th Missouri.
Mower's advance - nearly cutting off Johnston's only avenue of retreat across Mill Creek - was halted by a counterattack by Confederate Gen. William Hardee. The Federals captured an abandoned artillery caisson of Earle's Battery and Johnston's headquarters, including his personal effects and several staff horses. Without adequate support, Mower was called back by General Sherman. Mower's retreat allowed Johnston to withdraw his army (including the wounded) across Mill Creek bridge and fall back to Smithfield, thus ending the Battle of Bentonville.
"One gun of [William] Earle's Battery?commanded by Capt. Earle in person, opened, and Gen. Law rode directly to it in a gallop, and seeing the moving line of Yankee infantry, said: ?Capt. Earle, get your gun out here.' This was done, but the reserve caisson, in turning got into a tree between the wheel and the limber chest?.The enemywept our line back until it reached our field hospital on the side of the road leading to the bridge, and in sight of it."
Maj. James G. Holmes, staff of Gen. Evander Law.
"I suppose, General, after I get into position, there will be no objection to my making a little reconnoisance [sic]."
Maj. Gen. Joseph A. Mower to Maj. Gen. Francis B. Blair Jr., March 21, 1865.
"[We] form line of battle in a heavily wooded country and move forward?.Nothing joins our extreme left - skirmishers engaged - as we advance rebel batteries shell us - we push forward rapidly - [striking a] line of rebels behind log breastworks; [we were] onto them so quick we captured half of them?.Our skirmishers got into Joe Johnston's headquarters tents."
Lt. Matthew H. Jamison, 10th Illinois.