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9-08-2015, 00:02

The Death Grip

INJANUARY of 1865 Mary Boykin Chesnut wrote in her diary of a holiday gathering she had attended, "Mrs. McCord and Mrs. Goodwyn had lost each a son, and Mrs. McCord her only one. Some had lost their husbands, brothers, sons. . . . The besoms of destruction had swept over every family there." The truth was, the Confederacy was now marching steadfastly toward an early grave. The year just ended had been one of almost unrelieved disaster for it. At New Year's of 1864, one might still hope to salvage victory from the crisis; Vicksburg and Gettysburg could be balanced by Chickamauga. But now, there was no offsetting triumph. Lee's army was crippled by the losses of the spring campaign, and grimly starving within the Petersburg lines; Hood's army had been smashed beyond repair by the Hammer of Nashville; Sheridan had devastated the Shenandoah, Sherman had burned and wasted his way through Georgia, and Farragut had stormed into Mobile Bay. What successes could the Confederacy pit against these Union victories? Very few; the frustration of Banks's Red River campaign, away out in the West, in a part of the Confederacy where no one even bothered to send letters anymore. And the temporary defeat of a Union expedition to take Wilmington, North Carolina, the South's last real port, already closely blockaded and carefully watched. Useless little victories, useless little men: Joe Johnston for dictator! Alexander Stephens for peace! Senator Wigfall for Senator Wigfall! The Confederacy was drowning in a sea of defeat, of failure political, economic and military, and of recrimination. If only Davis had done this, if only Hood had done that, if only Stonewall had not died, if only . . . if only . . . President Davis himself spent the holiday season at home. He had been sick in the week before Christmas, and rumors of his impending death had spread through Richmond and much of the Confederacy. But he recovered to spend Christmas with his family, and to attend church. On New Year's he was at church again, and wrote letters to his distant sister, "Another year has gone and the new one brings to us no cessation of our bitter trials." He of all people was conscious of the desperate situation that faced his Confederacy, and whatever his shortcomings as a leader, he deserved far better than the hatred of lesser men who spent their time blaming him for their own and their nation's shortcomings. By now the Confederacy was all but past saving, though not yet ready to admit it. The Union victories on the battlefield, and the reelection of President Lincoln in November, had virtually sealed its fate. Confederates responded to their ever more parlous situation by making a curious mental adjustment. They had gone from thinking the Yankees would never fight to thinking they could last them out; now they moved, many of them, to the comforts and consolations of religion. It was of course a religious age, when men and women still devoutly, and profoundly, believed in an immanent God who was personally interested in their being and behavior. Now their God appeared more and more as He was in the Old Testament, God the Judge, a God who had weighed the Confederacy and found it wanting. Now they must suffer for their sins of pride and foolishness; a few, a very few and seldom openly, came to the conclusion that the Almighty would not support a society founded upon the principle ofhuman slavery. More recognized this as a time of trial and tribulation, something to be borne as a burden from on high, and they determined to meet their fate as brave soldiers and Christian men and women. The only alternative was to make peace now, and though thousands had already done so, in those areas under Union occupation, and many thousands of others were perhaps ready to do so if given a chance, as a society, as a nation, the Confederacy was still not ready to give it all up. The cup would have to be drained to its dregs. Ironically, the men and women of both sides believed in and appealed to the same God, and when Abraham Lincoln took his oath of office for his second term in March of 1865, he made much the same kind of reference to the Almighty as was now current in Confederate pulpits. In his second inaugural address he stated, "Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still must be said, 'The judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.' " Indeed, unless there were now some divine intervention, the end of the war, and Northern victory and Southern defeat, was a foregone conclusion. The number of Confederates who could still see victory in the future was ever smaller; desertions from the army were up, inflation was skyrocketing, resources ever scarcer. But men fought on, for their refusal to admit they had been mistaken, for their comrades, for their sense of themselves, for their pride, or stubbornness, or their honor. It was an age very strong on honor; thousands of young men would die for it yet. Confederate options were increasingly narrow. They had few courses left to them, and their military forces could do little except respond, however inadequately, to the moves of their Union opponents. The reins were now firmly in the hands of Ulysses Simpson Grant. By and large, Grant's conduct of the campaign of 1864 had justified the confidence Lincoln placed in him. Early on he had attempted to achieve the strategic coordination in time and place that had eluded his predecessors. In this he had been only partly successful. Banks's abortive Red River operation had thrown off schedule both Sherman's advance toward Atlanta and the projected moves against Mobile in Alabama. Sigel's failure in the Valley caused distraction, and Butler's inept handling of the Bermuda Hundred campaign had taken much of the finesse out of the overland campaign of 1864 in northern Virginia. Yet Grant had recovered from these setbacks; Sherman had finally taken Atlanta, without Banks or his men, and Farragut had broken into Mobile Bay. In the East, albeit at immensely increased cost, Grant and Meade had crippled Lee's army and driven steadily south, ultimately past Richmond to bring Petersburg under siege. And they had held the Confederates there while Sheridan destroyed the Shenandoah and Sherman marched unimpeded through Georgia to Savannah. So the tale of Southern disasters, repeated here, became a tale of Federal vic- tories that vindicated Grant's overall vision of how the war should proceed. It was a question now of tightening the noose. Or perhaps not; some on both sides hoped that further suffering might be avoided, and once again, there was a little cautious diplomatic sparring. Francis P. Blair, the septuagenarian newspaper editor who was one of the great backroom powers of American politics, still thought he might engineer a compromise peace, and in January of 1865, with Lincoln's unofficial blessing, he visited Richmond to talk to President Davis. Blair's scheme was an odd one. He would avoid any more American bloodshed by getting the Union and the Confederacy to sign a truce, and then act jointly to expel Maximilian and the French from Mexico, presumably on the assumption that Americans killing Frenchmen would be less costly and painful than Americans killing Americans. This shared experience would then bring the two sides back together, and a compromise could be worked out. Although Davis still insisted on talking of "our two countries" while Lincoln talked of "our common country," Blair nonetheless did manage to get agreement on a meeting, and the Confederacy sent three commissioners who met quietly with President Lincoln at Hampton Roads in early February. But there were the same old sticking points, Lincoln insisting upon reunion and emancipation, and the Confederates insisting on independence. By now, of course, things had changed from the last time there were any explorations, and the major change was that the Union was patently winning the war. If Lincoln had not made concessions when he appeared to be losing, he was certainly not going to make them now, and the conference came to naught. That was pretty much what the few people who knew about it expected anyway, so once again the issue was thrown back to the battlefield. Blair's initiative, and the subsequent Hampton Roads Conference, was perhaps the last thin chance to end the war short of total military victory or defeat. Seen in that light, one might say the Confederate leaders threw away one opportunity to avoid an enormous amount of additional suffering. Davis, however, was true to his character: believing himself right, he would make no concession whatsoever, come what may and cost what it might. The cost was growing ever worse. For the soldiers, sitting around their campfires at night singing that saddest of Civil War songs, "Tenting Tonight," or huddling in the Petersburg lines dreaming of real food, the war stretched away, an infinity of waste and want, a vista as bleak as the battlefields over which they watched, enveloped in fog, mist, horrible odors, and misery. Young men grown old, they longed for the end of war as they longed for home, and warmth, and the normal comforts of life. Even as they realized, and most did, that this was the greatest experience they would ever have, they ached for it to be over. An all-pervasive war-weariness lay over the combatants and their countries like a wet blanket. No one sensed this more than General Grant; indeed, one of his qualities, like that of his opponent across the lines, was his ability to empathize with the ordinary man and to understand what he was feeling. Generals Grant and Lee were both highly extraordinary men, Lee an aristocrat to the manor born, and Grant the epitome, the achetype, of the ordinary man, and no small part of the genius of each was their ability to know what their men thought, and how they felt. Leading men, especially leading them to possible death, is far more a matter of sympathy and shared feeling than it is a matter of business management, a lesson Americans have periodically forgotten at great cost. General Lee knew his men were suffering, and he knew they were receiving despairing letters from home, when the mail got through at all, and there was very little he could do about it. Just as Lincoln's larger humanity had outweighed Davis's cooler rationalism, Grant's strategic vision, plus the resources to back it, had overcome Lee's tactical genius. By early 1865, there was very little that Robert E. Lee could do to alter the fate of his country. He was a master of mobile warfare, and he could not move. Little was accomplished around Petersburg by either side over the winter. In December, Gouverneur Warren's V Corps of the Army of the Potomac tore up forty miles of track of the Weldon Railroad, the easternmost of Petersburg's still open rail lines, and the Confederates pulled their belts in yet another notch. There was a steady seepage of desertion as hungry men in gray and butternut gave it up and and left for home, or slipped across the lines to surrender to the Federal pickets. Lee had to send units off to help defend Wilmington, and to cover South Carolina from the impending storm, but there was not much he could do about any of these things. In January the Richmond Congress, fed up and angry as always at Davis, created the post of commander in chief of the Confederate armies, and automatically appointed Lee to the office. If ever there were a hollow honor, that was it; Lee could do nothing about the Confederacy beyond Virginia even if he was thoroughly disposed to do so, which he was not. He shuffled a few officers around in the Richmond offices, and this slightly improved the army's supply situation, but there were few supplies anyway, so it did not make much difference. In early February Grant sent a strong force raiding along the Boydton Plank Road, which led into Petersburg from the southwest. Reports indicated that the Confederates were running wagon trains along that road, and bringing in substantial supplies. Federal infantry fought off a halfhearted attempt to stop them, and the blue cavalry rode here and there, but they found surprisingly little. The hard truth was that there was simply not much to find. Unless and until the Federals could reach the Southside Railroad, running into Petersburg from almost due west, they had about played out their hand here. The Southside gave the Confederates just enough to keep them alive and not much more, but it was beyond Federal reach, especially in winter, when the roads were mud and the rainwater lay oozing on the land. This meant that all the Confederates could do was wait it out; the Federals could do a little more, in a preparatory sort of way. They had supplies, they had reinforcements, and they spent the first few months of 1865 turning conscripts into soldiers, and getting ready for what they knew was coming. Horatio Wright brought VI Corps back from the Shenandoah Valley in December of 1864; over the opening months of the new year, the regiments filled up once more, the soldiers did their drill and took their turns in the lines surrounding Petersburg, and the waiting game went on. Lee finally concocted a scheme, full of desperation, but one that seemed the only choice to him. Somehow he must regain the initiative, and for him, that meant the ability to maneuver. He decided to launch a surprise attack on the Federal lines, hoping to break them and throw them completely off balance. That done, he would leave a much smaller force behind to guard his lines and protect Richmond, and march the greater part of his army off to the south. Somewhere in the Carolinas, he would effect a junction with Joseph Johnston, commanding there. The two together would fall on Sherman and destroy him, and then march back north and destroy Grant in turn. At the time he developed this idea, Lee commanded about 57,000 men in the Army of Northern Virginia; Johnston had perhaps 20,000 men. Grant had 125,000 with Meade in the Army of the Potomac, and Sherman had more than 60,000 in his army. The numbers alone suggest the futility of Lee's plans, but he could see no other choice; unless he did something, the end was inevitable. He set the first part of his plan, the attack on the Union lines, for late March. While the Confederacy was slowly withering, and Davis and Lee were casting about for some means of escape from fate, the South had enjoyed one last short-lived success, albeit a defensive one. That was courtesy of General Benjamin Franklin Butler. Who else? one might almost ask. Butler had managed to survive the Bermuda Hundred fiasco; there, Grant had given him the Army of the James and ordered him to advance on Richmond while Grant and Meade were fighting Lee's army in northern Virginia. Butler had managed instead to get himself halted and then virtually besieged; his 40,000 men were stopped at first by a scratch force of a few hundred Confederates under George Pickett, of Gettysburg fame. Once Butler stalled, the Rebels sent down General Beauregard to take command, and he built up a force that kept Butler where he was until the whole operation was subsumed by Grant's move against Petersburg. In spite of this glaring failure, Butler retained his strong congressional support, and neither Grant nor Lincoln could afford to be rid of him—this was still before the fall election. But they could at least get him out of sight, and Grant ordered him to command an expedition being prepared to take Fort Fisher and capture Wilmington, North Carolina. By this time, Wilmington was the South's only remaining major port, and it was a blockade runner's heaven. Reached by two widely separated openings in the outer banks, it was difficult to blockade properly. The Federals had thought to occupy the city ever since 1862, but it was well defended by a number of works, the most substantial being Fort Fisher guarding the New Inlet, and all in all, it was both a desirable prize and a formidable target. Behind its defenses, the town had enjoyed a wartime boom and suffered the attendant difficulties of inflation, increased crime, and general upheaval. Benjamin Butler would hardly be the worst of its visitors. The expedition turned into the usual military farrago when Butler was involved. With two infantry divisions and a couple of attached artillery batteries, 6,500 strong, the troops went aboard ships on the James, moved down to Fortress Monroe, and from there left for Wilmington, where they were joined by Admiral Porter with an enlarged naval squadron. Lee, on hearing of the departure from Hampton Roads, detached troops from the Army of Northern Virginia and sent them south. He guessed correctly that Wilmington must be the target, and he needed the supplies that came in there. So off went a badly needed division to bolster the city's defenses. Both sides were slow; the Union forces were delayed by bad weather at sea, and the Confederates by the near breakdown of their rail communications, which necessarily ran inland because the Federals held most of the Carolina low country around the sounds. Nonetheless, Butler got some of his people ashore, took a couple of isolated batteries, and was bombarding Fort Fisher, preliminary to assaulting it, when he received news of the approach of the Confederate reinforcements. At that, he hastily re-embarked his troops, over Porter's remonstrations, and sailed away to Hampton Roads, having captured about 300 prisoners for a loss of 15 wounded and 1 unfortunate drowned. That finally finished the military career of Spoons Butler. General Grant reported to the president "a gross and culpable failure," and added ominously, "Who is to blame will, I hope, be known." Not only was it known, but the election results were now safely in, and Lincoln no longer needed so much the support of the men who backed Butler. Grant, furious at Butler's casual disregard of his mission and his specific orders, relieved him of command and sent him home to Massachusetts, where he spent the remainder of the war "awaiting orders." Grant then assigned the same troops and the same mission to Alfred H. Terry, one of the junior commanders in the earlier expedition. A brilliant volunteer soldier, Terry was just too young for enduring Civil War fame, and is better known in connection with the Indian wars of the seventies. He now joined with Porter, and the two got along famously; Porter could be a difficult colleague, but after Butler he was able to cooperate with anyone at all, and the joint commanders worked out an effective plan for the bombardment and storming of Fort Fisher. The army quickly got four full divisions of troops ashore, three of them white and one black, another straw in the wind indicating the changing nature of the war, the army, and the country. Porter's ships launched an intense bombardment, while the black soldiers sealed off the area from outside rescue. On the afternoon of the 14th of January, the Federals made their assault. Two thousand sailors and marines from the fleet tried to carry the sea face of the fort, and were beaten down with heavy casualties. This turned out to be no more than a diversion, though, as an hour later, Terry launched three full brigades of infantry at the landward side. Advancing through heavy fire—all three brigadiers were badly wounded—the troops carried the parapet and stormed into the fort. The inner works consisted of a series of trenches and traverses, each of which had to be taken in succession, and the fighting went on until well after dark, when Terry committed reserves who finally overran the last defenders. All in all, it was one of the most desperate fights of the whole war, Federal forces sustaining more than 1,000 casualties of the 8,000 involved in the assault, and the entire Confederate garrison being killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. But it meant the end of Wilmington, the South's last real port. Over the next few days the other works around the city were abandoned, taken, or destroyed. There was much recrimination among Confederate commanders, as to who had failed to support whom, but none of that did any good. It was all too late now. March 25, 1865, turned out to be a day to remember; on that date, though no one could possibly realize it at the time, the Army of Northern Virginia undertook the last offensive operation of its glorious career. This was the opening of Lee's plan to disengage around Petersburg and get his army back into open country. Its immediate target was a large Union work known as Fort Stedman. The position was a mere 150 yards from the Confederate works, and located at the northern end of Grant's Petersburg lines, fairly close to both the city itself and the Appomattox River, which ran through it on its way to the James. Lee gave the task to John B. Gordon, one of the toughest fighters in an army renowned for such men, now in command of II Corps. Gordon's men were to take the fort in a rush, fan out to carry three smaller works behind it, and open a gate through which 1,000 Confederate cavalry could ride. Their destination was City Point, and the idea was that they could break into the Federal rear areas, tear up communications and burn supplies, and generally create havoc. This was not expected to accomplish anything permanent; it was all just to get Grant to pull back the western end of his line and consolidate a bit, thus allowing Lee to make his major move, his break to the south and west. In the dark of the early morning, the Confederates crept out and captured the Union picket line, by the simple expedient of pretending to be deserters. This gave them a considerable advantage, and at four o'clock, the main assault swept forward and carried the Union line with a rush. They hit it between Fort Stedman and Battery No. 10, then moved left and right and quickly overran those two works and the men in them, most of whom were captured even before they could tumble out and form up. The Confederates then sent special columns forward to take the secondary works, but got confused in the jumble of tracks and general mix-up behind the front line. In this way they lost their momentum, and the now aroused Federals responded quickly. Both Grant and Meade were away at the moment, but John Parke, the able commander of IX Corps, rallied his units and moved to seal off the breach. A heavy infantry counterattack drove the Confederates back into the fort and Battery No. 10, and by breakfast time they were trapped there, with Union infantry and guns to their front, and other batteries laying down a heavy crossfire on the open space back to their own lines. By eight o'clock General Lee realized the operation was not going to do any more good, and he sent over orders to retreat. Now, however, it was as dangerous to go back as it was to go forward, and though many of the soldiers took their chances and ran the gauntlet back to their own lines, many more simply surrendered. By mid-morning the Confederates had lost about 3,500 men, almost 2,000 of them prisoners. A remnant still held Fort Stedman, but when Meade got back later in the day, he ordered that cleared out too, and a heavy Federal attack, suffering 1,000 casualties, retook the fort and raised Confederate losses close to the 5,000 mark. As a diversion, the whole thing had not done much good, at a cost Lee's army could ill afford. Two days later, Philip Sheridan rejoined the Army of the Potomac, his job in the Shenandoah Valley completed; Grant was already putting his army in motion. The Army of Northern Virginia, and the Confederacy, had a mere fortnight left to live. During these months of waiting and wasting in Virginia, William T. Sherman was steadfastly pursuing his work of destruction. After taking Savannah, and allowing Hardee's garrison to escape north to Charleston, Sherman had refitted his army, which was in remarkably good shape anyway, and turned his attention north to the Carolinas. This was all part of his and Grant's overall plan, and indeed, the operations along the North Carolina coast were conceived with an eye to it. Wilmington fell soon after the taking of Fort Fisher, and the Federal troops there were organized to provide a field force capable of moving inland and supporting Sherman. There were further operations up around New Bern, in Federal hands ever since 1862, with the intent of using that area as a supply base and line once Sherman got that far north. Grant even directed Thomas in Nashville, and General Canby in Alabama, to initiate field operations to keep enemy troops in those areas busy, though in fact little was done there. Sherman had intended to move into South Carolina as soon as he could organize the Savannah base, but it took him a while to do that, and January proved a very bad month for weather, so it was the 1st of February before he was able to move. By then his army was in fine fettle and the troops were eager to be on the march again. South Carolina held no terrors for them. Quite the contrary: they looked forward to an opportunity to ravage what they considered the heart and soul of the rebellion. If Sherman had made "Georgia howl," his soldiers were determined to make South Carolina scream. He did have one other problem, as he made ready to march north, and it was indicative of things to come. Sherman, though he marched through the South as a liberator, was, to put it in the best possible light, almost completely uninterested in the fate of the slaves he freed on the way by. His troops largely ignored the blacks, and he himself, though the primary agent of a social revolution of immense consequences, cared little for them. He saw them, if at all, more as a military problem than a social or political one, and in that light he regarded them largely as a nuisance. A telling and tragic illustration of this occurred on the march to the sea, when one of his units, followed by a large crowd of blacks and pursued by Confederate cavalry, escaped by crossing a river on a pontoon bridge. The soldiers then tore up the treads, leaving the blacks stranded on the far side and at the mercy of the horsemen. Terrified, many of them leaped into the river, several drowned, and the whole scene was one of panic and dismay. Sherman casually dismissed it all as an accident of war, and determinedly supported his field commander in his decision. But such behavior did not go well with the Radical Republicans in Washington, who suspected Sherman of covert Southern sympathies and of being overtly anti-black. Thus ironically, the man who did much to end the war, and more to engender the subsequent postwar bitterness about how it had been waged, also fell into official disfavor with his own political superiors over his actions. To Southerners he was the vicious and vindictive man who waged war upon women and children; to certain Northern politicians, he was the secret sympathizer who wished to preserve the old social order of the South, and thus subvert the aims for which they—if not everyone—had fought the war. Both Salmon P. Chase and, more importantly, Edwin M. Stanton looked into his conduct, and Stanton made a trip to Savannah to investigate Sherman's attitude toward and treatment of blacks. The antagonism between the two lasted the rest of their lives. Before the war ended, men were fighting over what it meant. This was the kind of distraction no field commander needed, and the always mercurial Sherman was furious at imputations that he was less than loyal, or that his politics were somehow suspect. He had a war to finish, and he was in fact not interested in much beyond that. When he at last set out on his invasion of South Carolina, both he and his army had blood in the eye. By now, the first part of February, the Federal forces were so superior numerically, and indeed in every other way, that there was little to impede their progress. Sherman marched more or less due north from Savannah with the same 60,000 men who had accompanied him from Atlanta. When the forces operating out of Wilmington, and those from New Bern, joined in with him, his field forces rose to 80,000, to which might be added several thousands more left in garrisons along the coast and on the successive lines of communication. The Confederates had very little to place in their way. Hardee had about 8,000 men that he had gotten out of Savannah, there were some Georgia militia inland, some South Carolina militia and state troops over the state line, and there were a couple of divisions of regular Confederate cavalry scattered about. General Beauregard was sent down to take command of the whole, but the whole amounted to about 22,000 troops. The South still had good officers, Hardee, G. W. Smith, and Daniel Hill, with Joe Wheeler and Wade Hampton for the cavalry, but it just did not have the bodies anymore, and those it did have were not concentrated. Just as in Georgia, part of Sherman's plan was to keep the enemy scattered by confusing them as to his intentions. When he came north from Savannah, he did so on the usual broad front, so that it was impossible to tell where he was headed, for Augusta in Georgia, for Charleston on the seacoast, or for Columbia in South Carolina between the other two. The answer was Columbia, and the Federal troops reached it on February 16, after an incredible march through waterlogged country. One reason the Confederates failed to concentrate against them, aside from not knowing where they were going, was their confidence that no army could move through the flooded southern part of the state at that time of the year. But Sherman's people just kept on going, building rafts, corduroying roads, producing literally miles of trestle roads as they went. At that stage of the campaign, the axe was far more important than the rifle, and there were a great many men in that army who knew all about axes. Wade Hampton's cavalry put up a halfhearted resistance in front of Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, but got out of the way as Sherman's right wing came up. The city itself was surrendered by its mayor, and was a terrible mess. Confederate stragglers had looted some homes, cotton bales lay torn open everywhere, blacks wandered around wide-eyed, rejoicing while wondering what on earth had happened to them, and some nervous white citizens set out buckets of corn mash liquor to placate the invaders. Sherman put Oliver Howard in command of the city, and he managed to keep enough soldiers sober to put out some fires in the town's center. During the night, however, the wind picked up, and casual fires became a major blaze. Through the middle hours of the night the fires grew, mocking all efforts by the soldiers and everyone else to put them out, and by dawn the center of the city, about a third of the whole, was a blackened scar. Many Southerners believed ever after that this was a deliberate atrocity set in train by the arch villian of the Union, a charge made after the war by Wade Hampton to the Senate in Washington. From Columbia the army marched northeast toward Cheraw, fanning out over the countryside, sweeping all before them and terrorizing the inhabitants. The weather was bad, with unremitting heavy rain, and it was March 3 before Sherman reached his next objective. Hardee, with a few thousand men, was at Cheraw, but he wisely decided he was too weak to fight, and fell back across the state line to Fayetteville in North Carolina. Sherman's army, which had given pretty free rein to its views on punishing South Carolina, changed its habits when it crossed into North Carolina. The Old North State, a reluctant adherent of the Confederacy at first, had been ultimately one of the most vigorous members of the rebellion, but the soldiers, with their own rough but infallible notions of justice, regarded North Carolinians in a far different light from South Carolinians. March discipline firmed up, the bummers toned down, and North Carolina was treated, at least by the standards of this army, with something approaching military correctness. Robert E. Lee now sent Joseph Johnston, for several months languishing in enforced idleness, down to supersede Beauregard, though what Johnston was supposed to do, other than what he had always done—retreat—was uncertain. True to form, Johnston decided that (a) Sherman was probably heading for Raleigh, and {b) there was not much he could do about it. Lee suggested he attack one of Sherman's columns, if he could find an isolated one. Johnston tried to do it, and at Bentonville on March 19 he hit Slocum's wing of the Federal advance. Bentonville saw the heaviest fighting of the whole Carolinas campaign. Slocum came up against Hampton's cavalry and pushed through it, before being hit by Johnston's infantry, which slammed his men back into a defensive line. Then for the whole afternoon the Confederates launched charge after charge against the Union position, without breaking it. Johnston then drew off and took up a defensive position of his own, while Sherman sent his other troops marching to Slocum's support. The next day both sides held their ground and did some desultory patrolling, but the numerical odds against the Rebels grew longer and longer. On the 21st Sherman sent in a pinning attack while he maneuvered to get around Johnston's flank. Seeing this, the wily Confederate drew off and threw his forces into retreat. He had actually fought a pretty good battle, but like Napoleon in 1814, his army was just too small to accomplish much, and he paid 2,600 casualties for the 1,600 he inflicted. On the 22nd Sherman took up his march again, and got as far as Goldsboro, where Terry joined him with the troops from Wilmington, raising his numbers to 80,000. Johnston had moved north to Smithfield to cover the approach to Raleigh. While he reorganized his army, and added a few troops from other commands, he waited for the next Federal move. Instead of marching immediately, however, Sherman went off to Grant's headquarters in Virginia, taking a train down the newly repaired line to New Bern and going by steamer up to City Point in Virginia. There he had a warm reunion with Grant, and the two, along with Admiral Porter, conferred with President Lincoln, who was also visiting the army headquarters. It was a cordial, confident visit, as the two soldiers plotted what looked to be the last campaign of the war; Grant would maneuver Lee out of his lines and chase him southwest; Sherman would destroy Johnston—a matter now of little consequence, he assured his listeners—and move north, and Lee would be pinned between them. Lincoln's contribution was largely to hope there could be as little more bloodshed as possible; he repeated that any terms would be acceptable, if only the Rebels could be got to agree to them and the killing ended. Sherman then returned to his army, and Grant went off to begin the campaign leading toward Appomattox. In Richmond the Confederate Congress was debating the issue of arming the slaves to fight in defense of their own continued slavery.

 

 

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