Release: March 19, 2015
Contact: Fay Mitchell (919) 807-7389
Si Lawrence (910) 458-5538
BACKGROUND: The Battle of Bentonville
Fight for Morris Farm and The Last Grand Charge of the Army of Tennessee
and Morgan’s Stand
The Battle of Bentonville in March 18-21, 1865, was one of the last major Confederate offensives of the Civil War. It was the only full-scale attempt to stop Gen. William T. Sherman’s army which had scored convincing wins, including success at Nashville and Savannah. Victory seemed inevitable.
At Bentonville, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of the South launched a surprise assault against one wing of Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s Army in the heretofore overlooked Carolinas Campaign, which was Sherman’s plan to starve Con. Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of supplies.
The bloody war had dragged on for four years, and Bentonville was the Confederacy’s final hurrah. Part of Johnston’s once vaunted Army of Tennessee would deliver a grand charge against the enemy. Johnston organized his men in a hook-shaped line at Cole’s Plantation, and Sherman’s Left Wing stumbled into the trap. The Confederate assault there drove one Union division from the field and surrounded another division on three sides. This was the Fight for Morris Farm. A strong Union defense by the Left Wing XX Corps on the Morris Farm halted the Confederate advance and ended day one of the three-day battle.
Day two was full of skirmishes between the 60,000 Union troops and 20,000 Confederates. The Confederates were no match for the superior numbers. Nonetheless it was said the fighting was so intense as to shear the bark off the trees, and that the sound was a continuous peal of heavy thunder.
On day three, Gen. Johnston’s headquarters was overrun and the officers made a hasty retreat. In a Confederate counterattack, two Union brigades were forced back, and the Union commander called a halt to the operation. The delay in the Union assault allowed the Confederates to retreat, ending the battle. The three day battle over 6,000 acres was the largest engagement on North Carolina soil.
Gen. Sherman and Gen. Johnston would meet again in April to conduct surrender negotiations at Bennett Farm, near Durham. Nearly two weeks after Appomattox, Confederate Gen. Johnston surrendered the armies of Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas to Union Gen. Sherman. The laying down of arms of nearly 90,000 war weary troops was the war’s largest surrender and effectively ended the Civil War.
Those negotiations and the preface to them will be reenacted April 17-26 at Bennett Place State Historic Site in Durham.