150 years ago, on the morning of March 19, 1865, the Battle of Bentonville opened with Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton’s cavalry delaying the advance of Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum’s Army of Georgia along the Goldsboro Road. Hampton had chosen the plantation owned by J.J. Cole, just below the village of Bentonville, as a concentration point for Gen. Joseph Johnston’s army. Consolidating his forces in the town of Smithfield following the Battle of Averasboro, Johnston, on Hampton’s recommendation, had decided to strike Slocum. The Cole plantation was an ideal place to make an attack. It lay near the road which Johnston would have to take to intercept the Yankees and a high plateau north of the house would provide cover for an attacking force. As Hampton engaged the Federals, Johnston moved his men into position.
As the Confederate resistance stiffened, Brig. Gen. William Carlin’s division from the XIV Corps began to deploy north of the road. Brig. Gen. James Morgan’s division would later form on Carlin’s right, below the road. Carlin made initial contact with elements of Johnston’s force along the Cole plateau and uncovered intelligence that Slocum was facing not just Hampton’s cavalry, but Johnston’s army.
Slocum immediately swung into action, sending couriers to Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, who was riding with Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard’s Army of Tennessee, southeast of Slocum. For the time being, however, Slocum would have to fight it out on his own.
At 2:45 p.m., Johnston launched his assault with the remnants of the Army of Tennessee. The Confederates slammed into Carlin’s division, putting them to flight. Advancing below the Goldsboro Road, they threatened the rear of Morgan’s division. Morgan’s infantry, who had been contending with Maj. Gen. Robert Hoke’s division, made a determined stand, fending off attacks from both the front and rear.
Morgan’s fight allowed Slocum to hurry up and deploy Maj. Gen. Alpheus Williams’ XX Corps along the Reddick Morris farm. Fueled on by their earlier success, Johnston continued to pound away at the Morris farm line but the Federals held firm. Unable to take the Morris farm, Johnston withdrew to his original position after nightfall.