On this day in 1985, at the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina, Confederate General Joseph Johnston makes a desperate attempt to stop Union General William T. Sherman’s drive through the Carolinas in the Civil War’s last days; however, Johnston’s motleyforce cannot stop the advance of Sherman’s mighty army.
Following his famous March to the Sea in late 1864, Sherman paused for a month at Savannah, Georgia. He then turned north into the Carolinas, destroying all that lay in his path in an effort to demoralize the South and hasten the end of the war. Sherman left Savannah with 60,000 men divided into two wings. He captured Columbia, South Carolina, in February and continued towards Goldsboro, North Carolina, where he planned to meet up with another army coming from the coast. Sherman intended to march to Petersburg, Virginia, where he would join General Ulysses S. Grant and crush the army of Robert E. Lee, the largest remaining Confederate force.
Sherman assumed that Rebel forces in the Carolinas were too widely dispersed to offer any significant resistance, but Johnston assembled 17,000 troops and attacked one of Sherman’s wings at Bentonville on March 19. The Confederates initially surprised the Yankees, driving them back before a Union counterattack halted the advance and darkness halted the fighting. The next day, Johnston established a strong defensive position and hoped for a Yankee assault. More Union troops arrived and gave Sherman a nearly three to one advantage over Johnston. When a Union force threatened to cut off the Rebel’s only line of retreat on March 21, Johnston withdrew his army northward.
The Union lost 194 men killed, 1,112 wounded, and 221 missing, while the Confederates lost some 240 killed, 1,700 wounded, and 1,500 missing. About Sherman, Johnston wrote to Lee that, “I can do no more than annoy him.” A month later, Johnston surrendered his army to Sherman.