Starting yesterday, the 152nd Anniversary of the Battle of Bentonville began. Fought over three days in late March, 1865, the battle was the last-ditch effort by Gen. Joseph Johnston to stop Union General William T. Sherman’s army group as it moved through the Carolinas.
I had the chance to work on a publication, as part of the Emerging Civil War Series, with Daniel Davis, that covered the Battle of Bentonville. When writing a book on the American Civil War, there is always a quote, or a depiction, of a view of the battle, that sticks in your mind, that brings the human element and struggle to the forefront.
The quote that had that impact on me from writing Calamity in Carolina, comes from a member of the North Carolina Junior Reserves, a testament in itself of the depletion of Southern manpower by 1865, the states were employing teenagers as young as 16 in combat.
At approximately 2:45 p.m. on the 19th of March, the remnants of the Confederate Army of Tennessee moved forward for one last dramatic charge. A member of the Junior Reserves captured the moment;
“It looked like a picture…several offices led the charge on horseback…with colors flying and line of battle in such perfect order…gallantly, but it was painful to see how close their battle flags were together…regiments being scarcely larger than companies and [a] division not much larger than a regiment should be.”
One can almost picture in their mind’s eye, the tattered battle flags flapping in the March breeze, gray and butternut uniforms standing in ranks under those banners. Sons from across the Deep South, through Arkansas and Tennessee. All veterans of the horrors of war, all survivors of the Atlanta Campaign, the 1864 Fall Campaign to Franklin and Nashville. These were the stalwarts, the ones that followed the colors to North Carolina, to this moment in time, where all they had bled for, seen friends and family die for, was wrapped up in one last charge.
With the ringing of the “rebel yell” the proud remnants of the Army of Tennessee launched themselves at their adversaries.
Students of the war know that the attack was limited in its success and eventually numbers prevailed, forcing Confederate General Joseph Johnston to cede the field and start the trek that led to the Bennett Place and the surrender of Confederate forces. But, that one quote, from a teenager, remembering the proud and defiant last advance of the Confederate Army of Tennessee will be one of the lasting memories of mine of this book and battle. Much like the survivors of the charge itself.