Battle of Bentonville: Largest Civil War Battle in North Carolina

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Largest Civil War Battle of Bentonville History

Battle of Bentonville
General Joseph E. Johnston.gif
Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston

North Carolina's Last Stand

The battle which took place at Bentonville, North Carolina, from the 19th through the 21st of March 1865, was the largest land battle ever fought in North Carolina. It was fought over an area of about six thousand acres of pine woods and fields. By the end of the battle, five hundred forty-three men were killed, over twenty-eight hundred were wounded, and nearly nine hundred were missing. Bentonville was the only significant attempt to stop Sherman on his march northward from Atlanta, and the last major Confederate offensive of the War Between the States.
In March of 1865, Union General William T. Sherman and 60,000 Federal troops under his command were in North Carolina. Sherman was marching his troops north from Fayetteville. His ultimate goal was to march to Virginia and join forces with General Ulysses S. Grant. The Union men were divided into two wings of 30,000 men each.
Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston had assumed command of all Confederate forces from Florida to North Carolina on 23 February. In March, Johnston's forces numbered about twenty thousand men and he hoped to stop the Federals and prevent them from linking forces with General Grant.
Early on 18 March, General Johnston received a message from Lieutenant General Wade Hampton (Hampton was a Confederate cavalry commander who, after Reconstruction, served as the first Governor of South Carolina). The message stated that "Confederate forces had engaged one wing of Sherman's army." It was now very clear that Sherman was heading for Goldsboro where there were an additional 40,000 Union soldiers. Johnston began to move his troops south towards Bentonville and most of the Confederate troops were in place in the early morning of 19 March.
Johnston's troops desperately charged the Federal's left wing but they failed to overrun the Union line. Nightfall stopped the attack and the rest of Sherman's army, the right wing, arrived on March 20. There was a great deal of heavy skirmishing that day; during that night, both armies were drenched by a heavy rain which lasted until the morning of 21 March. Later that afternoon, Union General J. A. Mower came close to cutting off Johnston's only line of retreat across Mill Creek. But Mower, anxious to secure Mill Creek, rapidly advanced his troops and was exposed about three-quarters of a mile ahead of the other Union troops. Without supporting units, Mower was forced to retreat to his original position.
During the rainy night of 21/22 March, Johnston learned that Union troops under the command of Major General John Schofield had reached Goldsboro. There was no chance of success now for the Confederates, and Johnston began to withdraw his men towards Smithfield. By the morning of 22 March, Johnston's men had withdrawn from Bentonville. The Federals crossed Mill Creek and pursued Johnston for a few miles. Sherman's objective was Goldsboro so there was no serious pursuit of the Confederates.

While the Battle of Bentonville suffered a combined Union and Confederate total of nearly 5,000 in killed, wounded, missing and captured, the South had failed to halt the Union advance. The War in the Carolinas lasted for about another month, but on April 26 near Durham at the home of James and Nancy Bennitt, now known as Bennett Place, General Johnston agreed to surrender his army and the War was over in the Carolinas, Florida and Georgia. Continue to Battle of Bentonville Homepage.

Battle of Bentonville Civil War Largest Battle Map
Largest Civil War Battle North Carolina Map.gif
Largest Civil War Battle North Carolina Map

Sources: Jordan, Weymouth T., Jr. The Battle of Bentonville. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing, 1990; Hughes, Nathaniel Cheairs. Bentonville: The Final Battle of Sherman and Johnston. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996; Bradley, Mark L. Last Stand in the Carolinas: The Battle of Bentonville. Campbell, CA: Savas Woodbury Publishers, 1996; Angley, Wilson, Jerry L. Cross and Michael R. Hill. Sherman's March Through North Carolina: A Chronology. Raleigh: North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1995.

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