Union General William T. Sherman was proud of his army. In late 1864, they covered 285 miles in 5 weeks, fighting dozens of skirmishes, devastating Georgia, and capturing the city of Savannah. It was not surprising that he felt great confidence in his men—confidence he would display again as he prepared to lead them through the Carolinas.
The decision to march through South and North Carolina represented the second part of the plan Sherman and General Ulysses S. Grant developed after the fall of Atlanta. The first part was the march to Savannah. Then, Sherman pushed for an overland approach through the Carolinas, destroying the South’s ability and will to continue fighting.
Sherman’s campaign began at the end of January, with one column advancing toward Columbia from the east and another from the south along the Savannah River. The Federals marched through South Carolina destroying the state’s infrastructure as they converged on Columbia, which was captured on February 17. Significantly, Columbia’s capture led to Charleston’s abandonment. After fighting fires and destroying rail lines, Sherman marched his army out of the city and north towards Goldsboro, North Carolina.
On March 3, Sherman entered North Carolina. Confederate forces under Hampton and General Braxton Bragg conducted small offensives at Monroe’s Crossroads and Wyse Fork. On March 15-16, Federal cavalry and infantry engaged Confederates under General William Hardee near Averasborough. Though a defeat, the action delayed Sherman long enough for General Joseph E. Johnston to bring his army to Bentonville where, after three days of fighting in North Carolina’s largest battle, the Confederates were defeated in their last true encounter.
The following month, Johnston surrendered his army and other forces under his control to Sherman at Bennett Place near Durham’s Station.