Saving the Colors
— 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.* * *
Hoping to deflect Union Gen. William T. Sherman's army from Goldsboro, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston attacked Sherman's Left Wing here on March 19, 1865, after finding it separated from the Right Wing, located several miles southeast. As the fighting intensified, Sherman led the Right Wing here in support. Johnston's forces, vastly outnumbered, withdrew to Smithfield on March 21, and Sherman's army marched to Goldsboro.
You are looking toward the north side of Hannah's Creek, where on the evening of March 21, 1865, members of Gen. Hiram B. Granbury's Texas Brigade bivouacked and entrenched. They were the first to withdraw from the Bentonville battlefield during the night, and while they slept, the rest of Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's army marched by. The Texans did not awaken until a squadron of Gen. Joseph Wheeler's cavalrymen came thundering up from the south toward the Hannah's Creek bridge, which the troopers crossed and then set afire as elements of the 26th Illinois Infantry followed close behind. Skirmishing erupted and the Federals, led by color bearer Sgt. James Smith and the regimental color company, stormed the burning bridge. A Confederate battery on the opposite bank opened up with canister, killing Smith and wounding several others. The regiment's commander, Lt. Col. Ira J. Bloomfield, had his horse killed beneath him. When the regimental colors fell into the creek, Lt. Arthur Webster and his command, Co. E, braved small arms and artillery fire to save the colors and then doused the flames on the bridge. Granbury's men fled into the nearby swamp to the north. Soon afterward, the Federals received word to return to Bentonville and Mill Creek Bridge, having accomplished their mission of hastening the Confederate retreat.
"The new bridge over Mill Creek was not destroyed by the infantry and it would not burn ?. General Wheeler threw off the flooring and did all he could to destroy it, but says it can easily be repaired and I suppose the infantry can cross. The infantry did not cross till sunrise, and the enemy pressed Wheeler up to the [Hannah's Creek] bridge. I am preparing the bridge for burning."
- Gen. Wade Hampton, Hannah's Creek, March 22, 7:25 a.m.