Diary of Orrin Brown—March 19, 1865

Harper House, c. 1850Diary of Orrin Brown, Bentonville, North Carolina

Sunday–March 19th

The 1st Div. 14th Corps. passed us this morning and went in advance; they had not gone more than 3 miles before they came onto rebs. the 1st Div. formed in line and drove them about 1 1/2 miles and the rebs made a stand. There was steady firing on both sides till about 1 PM and then the rebs charged our lines and drove us back about 1/4 mile and they captured 3 guns of the 19th Ind. Battery and perhaps some others. They also captured some of our amunition-wagons and I suppose some prisoners, just then the 20th Corps has been engaged. There must be a heavy loss on boath sides I know that we have met with a heavy loss. It is now about dark and they are still at it I am still quite unwell and not able to be with the regt. or else I should stand my chance with them. Read 4 Chapt. today.

Battle of Bentonville

After Averasboro, Johnston figured out Sherman was headed for Goldsboro, not Raleigh, and adjusted accordingly.  Sherman thought the Rebels would contest the city, but in continued hit-and-run raids not in battle formation.  However, on the night of the 18th, Gen. Wade Hampton recommended the Cole Plantation as favorable ground on the Goldsboro road south of Bentonville for engagement.  Kilpatrick and the XIV Corps outnumbered the Confederate troops, but were camped several miles ahead of the XX Corps, and Sherman’s right wing was even further away across the swamps.

Early in the morning on the 19th, Union foragers stumbled on Hampton’s pickets, but didn’t warn the First Division of the XIV Corps who had started out at 7am.  Gen. Slocum figured he faced the usual cavalry harassment and deployed Brig. Gen. William P. Carlin‘s First Division to the left along the road, Brig. Gen. Absalom Baird‘s Third Division in the center rear, and brought up Brig. Gen. James Dada Morgan‘s Second Division on the right (without our hero’s help), with the nearest division of the XX Corps in support when they could get there.  Brig. Gen. William Vandever‘s First Brigade of the Second Division took position on the extreme right of the Union line, in a low, wet piney wood, with the XIV Michigan in the front line.

Battle of Bentonville map, mid-day 19 March

Just before noon, Rebel infantry advanced on Carlin’s left.  These were veterans of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, looking for redemption for their previous losses to Sherman in the West.  They soon drove the Federal troops back while Baird tried to fill the gap.  About 2:30 pm, the Rebs overran the Union left flank, nearly capturing Gen. Carlin, attacking Gen. Morgan’s division on three sides and threatening Slocum’s Headquarters at Harper House.  Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg then attacked Morgan’s division head-on.   Vendever reported in the Official Records:

About 4 o’clock the enemy began to press my front with vigor.  the Seventy-eight Illinois Infantry, having exhausted its ammunition, fell back to the rear line of my works.  At this time the rebels advanced with great determination and assaulted the line of works occupied by the Sixteenth Illinois and the Fourteenth Michigan.  They were allowed to approach within thirty paces of our works, when a deadly and destructive fire was poured into them, which drove them back in confusion.  The enemy soon rallied and return a second time to the charge; again they were driven back, when the Fourteenth Michigan and a part of the Sixtieth Illinois rushed over our works in pursuit of the retreating foe and drove them with heavy loss back to their own line of works.  In this pressing the enemy back a large number of prisoners were taken, the Fourteenth Michigan capturing and bringing off the colors of the Fortieth Regiment North Carolina.

Lt. Col. George W. Grummond, in command of the 14th Michigan, reported his troops fired volleys of seven or eight minutes length in the defense above.  The First Brigade then received a bit of a scare when Southern troops took the line of works put up by the 10th Michigan, to the rear-left.  The 14th Michigan and 60th Illinois charged the rear, capturing about 100 prisoners and the 54th Virginia Regiment’s flag.  Confederate Gen. Robert Hoke was captured briefly before managing to escape.  Grummond reported 28 casualties for the 14th Michigan, 5 killed, 19 wounded, 4 missing this day.  In recognition of strong performance in the field, Second Division commander James D. Morgan received a brevet promotion to Major General of Volunteers (Vandever would receive the same honor in June).

As Pvt. Brown notes, fighting continued after nightfall.  Confederate troops fell back after midnight to entrench their original positions.  Nothing much happened the next day aside from strategic positioning, although the 14th Michigan saw some action.  Johnston apparently was hoping to entice the Union troops back on to his chosen ground.  The XVII Corps had come in reinforcement late on the 19th, and XV Corps arrived about noon on the 20th.  Limited action resumed on the 21st.  Essentially, however, Johnston had lost the initiative…and his last major battle of the Civil War.

See also Civil War Daily’s excellent summary of Day One at Bentonville.

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1 Response to Diary of Orrin Brown—March 19, 1865

  1. Pingback: Diary of Orrin Brown—March 20, 1865 -JC Shepard(dot)com

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