Campaign Through the Carolinas: An Ohio Cavalryman’s Recollections in the National Tribune

This is the second part of the account of the final days of the Civil War in North Carolina by an unidentified captain of the 10th Ohio Cavalry.

Kilpatrick’s cavalry was still ahead. He had driven Wade Hampton’s cavalry through Raleigh, while the infantry column took a more southerly course.

For the past four days the cavalry had kept up a running fight with Wheeler’s and Hampton’s Legions, as they called themselves. We had captured, while crossing a swamp, a part of his wagon-train and nearly all of Wheeler’s headquarters teams. I have a package of papers that I then picked up, belonging to his Quartermaster.

On the morning the cavalry entered Chapel Hill we had quite a brisk skirmish with Wheeler’s cavalry. His rear-guard gave ground stubbornly, and as we came in sight of the church spires of that beautiful shaded city the enemy’s rear-guard hastily withdrew through the town, taking a strong position among the hills to the west of the town.

Having charge of the skirmish-line that morning, I noticed in the distance several men dressed in citizens’ clothing approaching with a white flag. As they came near I halted the line and rode forward to meet them. Dismounting, I was handed a package by an old gray-headed gentleman, who said he was the Mayor of Chapel Hill, and these men with him were the City Council (introducing them); that they had come out to ask protection on behalf of the innocent women and children of that place, and to surrender their beautiful city into our hands, asking our merciful protection, praying that there be no unnecessary destruction of life or property, as they were helpless and without protection, altogether at our mercy. I replied that so long as the enemy did not attack, they need have no fears; that their prayer would be respected, but in the event of an attack while entering the city, the result must rest with them. I had previously sent my Orderly back to inform Col. Sanderson that a flag of truce was in our front, and requesting that he ride forward. He very soon came up, and Kilpatrick was with him, to whom I handed the package. The General received them very cordially, shaking hands with each; opened and read the prayer of the truce, and gave them satisfactory evidence that their request would be granted; then turning to Col. Sanderson he ordered him forward. As we moved in through the town no resistance was offered, hut as we passed by the University building a few REBEL FLAGS WERE WAVED AT US, which we demanded and carried away.

The short delay had given the enemy time to withdraw outside the limits of the town, where we found he had taken a strong position, and as we came up opened on us with shell. It was noon before our lines were formed and our artillery in position, when we opened with solid shot. After an hour of artillery duel their guns were silenced, when our skirmishers moved forward into the dense woods which obstructed our view of their lines, but as we advanced soon became engaged and the racket went on, but there seemed to be some delay. The artillery had ceased firing and the reserve did not come up, but we kept blazing away all the same, until Maj. Stratton, commanding battalion, ordered us to withdraw to the edge of the woods, dismount, and wait further orders. Here we lay till 3 o’clock, neither side firing a gun. Our cartridge-boxes were full. What could it mean? Had we taken the wrong road? No. Were we to advance? No. The war was ended; we had fired our last round, but we did not know it.

Becoming impatient, I rode back a short distance to get instructions from our Colonel, whom I found at the head of the regiment, who were dismounted and the men standing at their horses’ heads. I inquired: “What’s up? Have we run up against a snag?” No one could account for the delay. Still further back I could see the brigade was dismounted. After two hours’ delay the Second Brigade was ordered to fall back and go into camp, while the First Brigade was ordered to Durham Station and the 3d Brigade to go into camp at Midway. At officers’ call that evening we received the first intimation that Johnston desired an interview with Sherman, already described.

Then followed the six days’ armistice. Thus on the 17th of April, 1865, while before Chapel Hill, N. C, Kilpatrick’s Cavalry Division fired their last shot in defense of their country’s cause.

On the 14th Gen. Kilpatrick received by flag of truce a package from Gen. Johnston, addressed to Sherman, then at Raleigh, accompanied by a letter dated April 13, which reads as follows:

JOHNSTON TO SHERMAN.

The results of the recent campaign in Virginia have changed the relative military condition of the belligerents. I am therefore induced lo address you in this form, inquiring whether, to stop the further effusion of blood and devastation of property, you are willing to make a temporary suspension of active operations, and to communicate with Gen. Grant, commanding the armies of the United States, the request that he will lake like action in regard to other armies, the object being to permit the civil authorities to enter into the needful arrangements lo terminate the existing war.

To which Sherman replied on the 14th as follows:

General: I have this moment received your communication of this date. I am fully empowered to arrange with you any terms for the suspension of further hostilities between the armies commanded by you and those commanded by myself, and will be willing to confer with you to that end. I will limit the advance of my main column to-morrow to Morrisville, and the cavalry to the University, and expect that you will also maintain the present position of your force until each has notice of a failure to agree. That a basis of notion may be had, I undertake to abide by the same terms and conditions as were made by Gens. Grant and Lee at Appomattox Courthouse on 9th inst., relative to our two armies; and, furthermore, to obtain from Gen. Grant an order to suspend the movements of any troops from the direction of Virginia. Gen. Stoneman is under my command, and my order will suspend any devastation or destruction contemplated by him. I will add that I really desire to save the people of North Carolina the damage they will sustain by the march of this army through the central or western parts of the State.

I am, with respect, your obedient servant

W.T. Sherman,

Major-General.

Sherman sent the above reply by his Aid-de-Camp, Col. McCoy, up to Durham Station, with instructions to receive the answer, to telegraph its contents back to him at Raleigh, and to arrange for an interview.

On the 10th he received a reply from Gen. Johnston, agreeing to meet him the next day at a point midway between our advance at Durham Station and his rear at Hillsboro.

The next morning, entering the cars to go up, the telegraph operator informed him that he was then receiving an important dispatch for him from Morehead City, which he ought to see. It was from Mr. Stanton, announcing the ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN, and the attempt on the life of Mr. Seward and son. Instructing the operator not to reveal the contents of the dispatch till he returned at night, he took the train for Durham Station, where Gen. Kilpatrick had a squadron of cavalry drawn up to receive him. After spending a few moments at his headquarters they mounted some led horses which he had prepared for himself and staff, and Gen. Kilpatrick sent a man ahead with a white flag, followed by a platoon, behind which they rode, followed by the balance of the escort.

They rode up the Hillsboro road about five miles, when their flag-bearer discovered another coming to meet them. They met, and passed word back that Gen. Johnston was near at hand, when Sherman rode for ward and met Johnston on horseback, with Wade Hampton by his side.

They shook hands, and introduced their respective attendants. They had never met before, though both had been in the Regular Army many years. What look place between Sherman and Johnston during the afternoon, at the Bennett House, is still fresh in the memory of the readers of The National Tribune.

The two belligerents met for the first time side by side, to solve and to end the war as quickly as possible.

Johnston was thinking during the night he could procure authority to act in the name of all the Confederate armies then in existence, they agreed to meet the next day at noon at the same place, and parted, he for Hillsboro and Sherman for Raleigh. They rode back to the station in the same order they had come. Reaching Raleigh that night, Sherman published the following orders to the army, announcing the assassination of the President; and I doubt if in all the land there were more sincere mourners over his sad fate and untimely end than there were among Sherman’s army in and about Raleigh.

 

About Eric J. Wittenberg

Award-winning Civil War historian Eric J. Wittenberg focuses on cavalry operations in the Civil War.
This entry was posted in Armies, Battlefields & Historic Places, Campaigns, Cavalry, Civil War Events, Common Soldier, Leadership--Confederate, Leadership--Federal, Lincoln, Newspapers, Personalities and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Campaign Through the Carolinas: An Ohio Cavalryman’s Recollections in the National Tribune

  1. Ed Sargus says:

    Very good article…Thanks Eric.

  2. Lynne C.Hess says:

    Thank you for sharing this letter. It is the first account that I have read regarding Sherman’s move through the Carolinas that seemed real. I look forward to the rest of these posts.

  3. Henry Crook says:

    Very informative!

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