Confederate First 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 at Bennett Place near Durham on April 26, ending the Civil War in the East.
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. After several bloody attacks and counterattacks on March 16, Hardee withdrew during the night, and Sherman turned toward Goldsboro.
This is the position of the first Confederate line when the Battle of Averasboro began on the afternoon of March 15, 1865. Col. Alfred M. Rhett's brigade manned the line, with skirmishers in front to engage Union Gen. H. Judson Kilpatrick's advancing cavalry division. The 9th Michigan Cavalry, at the head of Kilpatrick's column, drove the skirmishers back, but reinforcements delayed the Union advance. At nightfall, the Confederates held their ground here, although Rhett was captured. The next day at dawn, about 16,000 Federals under Sherman's direction attacked the 2,800 Confederates on their first and second defensive lines. Under a heavy artillery barrage and frontal and flank assaults, they withdrew under pressure to their third line.
John C. Smith's home, Oak Grove, stood in the line of Union brigades during the fight. Bullets and at least two cannonballs struck the house, which subsequently served as a Union hospital treating the wounded of both sides. It was moved across the highway from its original site in 2006.
Major funding for this project was provided by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, through the Transportation Enhancement Program of the Federal Transportation Efficiency Act for the 21st Century.