|The Battle of Bentonville - Four Oaks, North Carolina
|Copyright 2014 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Updated: November 7, 2014
Battle of Bentonville, NC
The battlefield monument was
placed in 1927 by the North
Carolina Historical Society and
These earthworks were built by
the First Michigan Engineers on
March 19, 1865. They were held
throughout the battle.
BATTLE OF BENTONVILLE
Four Oaks, North Carolina
|Battle of Bentonville
An interpretive panel looks out on the scene of
Confederate High Tide at the Battle of Bentonville.
The last hope of Southern victory ended here.
The Final Confederate Offensive
The last major offensive by a Confederate
army took place at Bentonville Battlefield in
North Carolina on March 19-21, 1865.
The Battle of Bentonville was the last time
that famed Confederate generals Joseph E.
Johnston, P.G.T. Beauregard, Braxton Bragg,
William J. Hardee, Daniel H. Hill, Alexander
P. Stewart and Robert F. Hoke ever led men
into a major engagement. The battlefield is
now a North Carolina state historic site.
The Confederacy was nearing its end when
Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman led 60,000
Union troops into North Carolina. The March
to the Sea was history and Sherman had
driven through South Carolina in February,
leaving behind a trail of misery and ashes.
By the time the Union army reached North
Carolina, however, Confederate resistance
was beginning to stiffen. Gen. Robert E. Lee
had prevailed on President Jefferson Davis
to return Joseph E. Johnston to command.
Davis and Johnston were personal enemies
and the latter had been removed from the
head of the Army of Tennessee by Davis on
the eve of the Battle of Atlanta in 1864.
Gen. Johnston was back in command and
trying to organize an army in North Carolina
when Sherman crossed into the state. His
efforts were bolstered by Lt. Gen. William J.
Hardee, called "Old Reliable" by his men.
Hardee had evacuated Charleston as the
Union army sacked Columbia. He and his
men reached Fayetteville ahead of Sherman
to find Johnston waiting there for them on
March 9, 1865.
Johnston needed time to gather troops and
organize an army. Hardee provided this, with
some help from famed Confederate cavalry
commanders Wade Hampton and "Fighting
Joe" Wheeler. As Hardee moved desperately
needed supplies and weaponry out of the
Fayetteville arsenal, Hampton and Wheeler
attacked the Left Wing of Sherman's army at
the Battle of Monroe's Crossroads.
The fight gave time for Hardee to complete
the evacuation of Fayetteville. It also proved
an embarrassment to Sherman's cavalry
commander, Judson Kilpatrick. The Southern
troop had attacked so suddenly that Kilpatrick
barely escaped by running away wearing only
By the time Sherman took Fayetteville, the
Confederates had withdrawn and burned the
bridges over the Cape Fear River. The Union
advance stalled while Sherman's "wreckers"
destroyed the Fayetteville arsenal. By the
time it was moving again, Hardee was ready
to fight at Smithville, a small community near
Using tactics first employed by Gen. Daniel
Morgan at the Battle of Cowpens during the
Revolutonary War, Hardee formed his men in
three lines. The result was a brilliant delaying
action that played out exactly as Hardee had
planned and the day ended with his final line
still in place blocking Sherman's advance.
The Battle of Averasboro (March 16, 1865)
gave Gen. Johnston the time he needed to
bring troops together from throughout North
Carolina. Joining him at Smithfield to form
the new army were Lt. Gen. A.P. Stewart with
what remained of the Army of Tennessee,
Gen. Braxton Bragg with troops from the
coast, Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard who had
come up from Augusta, the young soldiers of
the North Carolina Junior Reserves and a
host of other leaders with their units.
Hardee pulled out of his lines at Averasboro
during the night and began his final march to
join Johnston. "Old Reliable" had lived up to
Sherman tried to fool the Confederates into
thinking that he was headed for Raleigh, but
Wade Hampton was able to divine his true
intent. He reported to Johnston that the
Federals were marching for Goldsborough
(now Goldsboro), a key rail junction.
Hampton then suggested an idea for a major
attack. Believing from faulty maps that
Sherman had allowed the two wings of his
army to stray beyond supporting distance,
Gen. Hampton urged that Johnston bring the
army forward to Cole's Plantation near the
small community of Bentonville. Johnston
agreed and ordered Bragg and Stewart to
march for Bentonville with two wings of his
army. Hardee was directed to community as
The opportunity recognized by the Southern
generals would allow them to attack the Left
Wing of Sherman's much larger army. If they
could crush it before the Right Wing could
move to its support, then they could fight the
much larger Union army with a reasonable
chance of success.
Gen. Hampton chose the ground for the fight
on March 18, 1865, and held it against a light
Union attack. The main Confederate army
reached Bentonville during the night and
prepared to attack.
The Battle of Bentonville opened on the
morning of March 19, 1865. The main body of
Sherman's Left Wing arrived just as the
Confederates completed a formation to block
the Goldsboro Road. The Federals made a
light attack but quickly realized that they were
now facing Confederate infantry in force.
Cannon at Morris Farm
Union artillery at Morris Farm
helped drive back Confederate
attacks on the first day of the
As the Union probe failed, Johnston ordered
the last major Confederate attack of the War
Between the States (or Civil War). The shrill
sounds of the Rebel Yell rose above the
thunder of the guns as Southern infantry
attacked in sweeping lines with battle flags
flying. Hardee's Corps led the assault.
The Union XIV Corps was driven from the
field but the XX Corps clung desperately to its
position at the Morris Farm. Union cannon
showered cannister into the faces of the
Confederates, who attacked again and again.
In the end, numbers told the tale. The attacks
had been desperate and brave, but Johnston
simply did not have the strength he needed
to drive the Federals from the field.
Gen. Braxton Bragg, known for his sour
disposition and grizzled attitude, left the
young soldiers of the North Carolina Junior
Reserves behind when he ordered his men
to attack. Although he is still criticized for this
move, the general knew that the end was
near and could not bring himself to send
hundreds of the Tarheel State's courageous
boy soldiers to their deaths.
The Right Wing of Sherman's army arrived on
the battlefield at around noon on March 20,
1865. Sharp skirmishing continued all along
the lines, but the Federals now had nearly
60,000 men on the field compared to only
20,000 for the Confederates. Johnston knew
that there was little hope. He began to
evacuate his wounded, but ordered his men
to dig in.
Gen. Johnston now hoped to draw Sherman
into attacking his fortified lines, much as he
had done at Kennesaw Mountain the year
before. The Union general inadvertently
As the battle moved into its third day on
March 21, 1865, Gen. Joseph A. Mower's
Division from the XVII Corps was ordered to
probe the left flank of the Confederate army.
Mower thought he saw an opportunity,
however, and his reconnaissance turned into
a full-scale attack. Johnston's headquarters
were overrun and his potential escape route
over Mill Creek Bridge was threatened.
Hardee again came to the rescue. His men
counter-attacked, driving Mower back. "Old
Reliable's" attack ended in success, but at
tremendous personal cost. The general's
only son, 16-year-old Willie Hardee of the 8th
Texas Cavalry,was mortally wounded in the
attack on Mower.
Furious with Mower and unwilling to commit
his army to a direct assault on the dug-in
Confederates, Sherman called a halt to the
action on the afternoon of March 21, 1865.
The Battle of Bentonville was over.
Johnston's men evacuated the field during
the night, using the Mill Creek Bridge saved
by Hardee. Although a few skirmishes took
place over the coming weeks, the Army of
Tennessee had fought its last major battle.
With all reasonable hope gone, Johnston
surrendered to Sherman at Bennett Place
near Durham on April 26, 1865.
The Confederates lost 239 killed, 1,694
wounded and 673 missing or captured at
Bentonville. Union losses totaled 194 killed,
1,112 wounded and 221 missing or captured.
Much of the scene of the action is preserved
today at Bentonville Battlefield thanks to the
cooperative efforts of private owners and
North Carolina Historic Sites. The park
features a driving tour, walking trails, miles of
preserved earthworks, a Confederate mass
grave, monuments, interpretive signs and the
preserved Harper House.
Bentonville Battlefield is located at 5466
Harper House Road, Four Oaks, North
Carolina. The park is open Tuesday-Saturday
from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Sunday and
Monday). The park is free to visit.
Please click here to visit the battlefield's
outstanding website for more information.
Also of interest is the Civil War Preservation
Trusts outstanding Bentonville page.
Seed Corn of the Confederacy
The North Carolina Junior
Reserves, three regiments and
one battalion strong, took part in
the bloody three day battle. The
soldiers were 17-18 years old.
The final battlefield headquarters
of General Joseph E. Johnston
occupied this site for all three
days of the Battle of Bentonville.
|Copyright 2015 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Updated: March 21, 2015
Morris Farm at Bentonville
This farmland at Bentonville was
the scene of the last major attack
by a Confederate army. Heavy
fighting too place here on March
Civil War Earthworks
Miles of earthworks thrown up by
soldiers during the battle still
wind through the Bentonville
Battlefields of the Carolinas