‘The Whole Thing Was Done So Quickly’ – Sherman Captures Fayetteville

March 11, 1865 (Saturday)

“The advance of the Fourteenth Army Corps last nigth reached Buckhead Creek,” wrote General Henry Slocum in his morning message to Sherman, “where they met the enemy in some force. [Absalom] Baird’s division is now moving from this point. The Twentieth Corps is several miles in rear. I shall soon learn whether they intend to defend the place and shall be in there at 9am if they do not.”

Absalom Baird!
Absalom Baird!

At the same time, Olive Otis Howard, commanding the Right Wing of Sherman’s forces, send a scouting party, helmed by a Captain Duncan. “He encountered the enemy’s pickets just outside town,” Howard related, “which he drove before him easily, but on entering the town he met a large force of the enemy’s cavalry.”

Still remaining inside the town was Confederate General Wade Hampton, who was now taking breakfast as a local hotel.

“General,” said one of his officers, “give me four or five men and I will run them out of town.”

But Hampton, looked upon this young man and considered the task one he himself might enjoy. “You scouts follow me and I will lead the charge.”

Another post-war report detailed the engagement:
“So calling to the scout and two members of his staff to follow, and picking up three privates from Company K 4th SCC, then serving as escort to General [Matthew] Butler, and also one man said to be from Wheeler’s command, whose name is unknown, and who was perhaps killed in the melee, the General dashed round the corner and gave the order, ‘Charge!’


“His seven followers (there were no other in the charge) obeyed with alacrity, and all, the General leading, flung themselves upon the Federals, who were drawn up in the street. These fired a volley with their carbines, but by that time the Confederates had struck them, and confused by the suddenness of the attack, the fierce yells, and the power-smoke, they did not realize the small number of their assailants. So they tried to wheel about to run, but among them there were pistol bullets at close quarters, and the hack and thrust of sabres.

“Less than a hundred yards down the street was a turn at right angles to the left into the by-road by which they had entered the town, and by which they were endeavoring now to escape. Here they became jammed together in confusion, all organization lost, and their pursuers cut and thrust like devils incarnate as the fugitives probably thought. Eleven Federals were killed and twelve captured, and the rest, many of them wounded, fled in wild panic carrying consternation to their friends, with exciting tales of hundreds of ‘men in buckram,’ as the best will do in such circumstances.”

However, another report had but this to say:
“The whole thing was done so quickly that some of us knew nothing about it until it was all over.”

General Lafayette McLaws, upon hearing of Wade Hampton’s wild tale, wasn’t buying it. “Report says he [Hampton] killed two with his own hand, but the chivalry have fallen so deep into the pit of ‘want of chivalry’ that they are constantly inventing Munchausen as to the prowess of those from that state, of defaming others in order that thereby the appear elevated by the contrast.”

However it happened, and however many Rebels killed whichever number of Federals, Captain Duncan, who led the Northern scouts, was captured, as was a Union spy named David Day, who was found dressed in a Confederate uniform. Hampton vowed that when they got themselves out of the city, he would have Day hanged. But before any of that could be accomplished, both Duncan and Day escaped and returned safely to Union lines.

Fayetteville Marketplace.
Fayetteville Marketplace.

“He afterwards escaped,” wrote Howard of Duncan, “and reports that he was stripped of everything valuable and in the presence of Hampton and Butler.”

But speaking of stripped, it was Matthew Butler who was forced to make a hasty retreat in little more than his drawers. The scouts entered town while he was still asleep and while a slave was washing his only uniform. When warned of the surprise, he had only his boots, overcoat and hat to ward off the chill.

After this bit of morning excitement, it was Absalom Baird’s infantry division which took the lead, marching a few miles ahead the rest of the Fourteenth Corps. Six miles before reaching Fayetteville, they “struck the rebel pickets at Beaver Creek,” and “drove them from their barricades, pushed on and entered the city at 9am, recapturing and placing guards over the old U.S. Arsenal, basely surrendered by the traitor, Samuel S. Anderson, at the beginning of the rebellion.”

The 89th and 92nd Ohio regiments made up the skirmish lines, “driving the rear guard of the enemy before us,” and the latter was the first to enter the town. Though these few regiments were the first, they were not the only ones from Baird’s division to reach the outskirts of Fayetteville so early, and not the only to exchange fire with the Rebel rear guards.

“On the morning of the 11th the forward movement was resumed,” read the report of Capt. Charles M. Gilbert, “the Thirty-eighth Ohio having the advance of the brigade. Some slight skirmishing soon occurred in the advance and the brigade was formed in column by regiments on left of the road to await the development of the enemy’s position, the Thirty-eighth occupying the front line. It being soon ascertained that no considerable force was in front to oppose the advance, the Thirty-eighth Ohio was ordered to a crossing about a mile farther up the creek, in which direction some desultory firing was heard, and to serve the double purpose of a picket and reconnaissance. At the crossing above referred to the bridge was found burned and a party of rebel cavalry posted on the opposite side. Company F was immediately deployed as skirmishers and advanced into position near the creek. After some inconsiderable firing upon both sides the enemy retreated; no casualties on either side. The road now being clear, the regiment was ordered to rejoin the brigade, or follow in rear of the train to Fayetteville.”

Today's approximate map.
Today’s approximate map.

In the meanwhile, the Federals had entered Fayetteville and began its dismantling as Sherman himself entered.

“I took up my quarters at the old United States Arsenal, which was in fine order, and had been much enlarged by the Confederate authorities, who never dreamed that an invading army would reach it from the west…. During the 11th the whole army closed down upon Fayettevile, and immediate preparations were made to lay two pontoon bridges, one near the burned bridge, and another about four miles lower down.”

Sherman was also able to contact General Alfred Terry, still holding Wilmington along the coast, some eighty miles southeast, down the Cape Fear River. Terry told Sherman of the forces he had with him, as well as those under John Schofield and Jacob Cox, near Kinston.”

In turn, Sherman told Terry of his plans and how his army would march next for Goldsborough. “We are all well and have destroyed a vast amount of stores and done the enemy irreparable damage. I will destroy the arsenal utterly.”

It was wished by Sherman that Terry’s force, as well as Schofield and Cox’s Twenty-third Corps could be in Goldsborough by the 20th. Cox was now breathing a bit better. For the previous several days, a force Rebels had gathered before him, giving him pitched battle. Just the day before, the Confederates hurled themselves twice upon his embattled position, and were twice repulsed. “The enemy was severely punished,” Cox reported, “and has during the night evacuated his lines in my front and fallen back toward Kinston.”

The next day, all Federal troops would begin again their march.1

Fayetteville's Market Place in the 1930s.
Fayetteville’s Market Place in the 1930s.

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 47, Part 1, p203, 422, 432, 551, 554, 561, 562, 573; Part 2, p785, 790; Butler and His Cavalry by Ulysses Robert Brooks; Hampton and His Cavalry by Edward Laight Wells; Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman; The March to the Sea by Jacob Dolson Cox; Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat by Judith Lee Hallock; Sherman’s March through the Carolinas by John G. Barrett. []


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