Battle of Monroe's Crossroads

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Battle of Monroe's Crossroads
North Carolina Civil War History

Battle of Monroe's Crossroads
North Carolina Civil War History

Civil War Battle of Monroe's Crossroads
Battle of Monroe's Crossroads.jpg
(North Carolina Historical Marker)

OVERVIEW
Monroe’s Crossroads was a small Civil War battle, during the Campaign of the Carolinas, involving about 4,000 men. The action was an engagement of mounted Confederate cavalry against dismounted Union cavalry. The fight lasted several hours on the morning of 10 March 1865.
 
The Confederate assault was a deliberate attack against a poorly guarded and sleeping Union camp.  While initially routed, the Federal cavalry recovered and counterattacked, pressuring the Confederates to relinquish the camp.  Anticipating the approach of Federal infantry,  the Confederate commanders ordered their troops to disengage from the action.  Then Hampton’s Cavalry Command withdrew in good order toward Fayetteville, North Carolina.  The Confederate attack delayed the Federal Cavalry’s movement toward Fayetteville, denying Brevet Major General Kilpatrick the honor of entering the town first.
 
The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads gained the additional time needed for the Confederate infantry to conduct an organized crossing of the Cape Fear River at Fayetteville unmolested by the advancing Federals.  With their troops and equipment east of the Cape Fear, the Confederate Army burned the bridges as the Union forces entered the city.

PRELUDE
After making a destructive sweep through South Carolina and Georgia in late February 1865, Gen. William T. Sherman’s army headed north.  The force supposedly was headed towards Charlotte; that is what Sherman wanted the Confederate leadership to think.  Sherman, however, was using Charlotte as a decoy to draw away rebel troops from his actual destination, Goldsboro.  Protecting Sherman’s left flank was the 3rd Cavalry Division led by Union Gen. Hugh J. Kilpatrick.  When the Confederates discovered Sherman and Kilpatrick’s actual path, they ordered their troops on the road to Charlotte to turn around and pursue the Federal troops en route to Goldsboro.

Monroe's Crossroads is located within Fort Bragg
Battle of Monroe's Crossroads Map.jpg
Fort Bragg Army Base Location Map

Fort Bragg: Location of Monroe's Crossroads
Fort Bragg.jpg
Fort Bragg North Carolina

On the night of March 9, Kilpatrick’s division camped at Monroe’s Crossroads, at the intersection of Morganton and Yadkin roads near Green Springs in present-day Hoke County.  Kilpatrick and his staff officers made their headquarters at the Charles Monroe house.  That same night Confederate cavalrymen led by Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton approached the camp from behind and found that Kilpatrick had left the rear of his encampment defenseless.  The cavalrymen retreated to the woods and planned a surprise attack for the following morning.
 
The next morning, Kilpatrick woke up early and stepped outside of the house in his nightshirt just as the buglers were preparing to play reveille.  At that point Confederate cavalrymen began charging through the camp yelling and shooting their pistols.  Groggy Federal soldiers rose from their bedrolls, clumsily took their weapons, and headed for shelter.  However, many were cut down by Confederate sabers before they could find cover.  Still only in his nightshirt, Kilpatrick ran across the yard in his bare feet, mounted a horse, and escaped to the woods.  In just a few minutes the Confederates had taken the entire camp as well as Kilpatrick’s officers, who were in the Monroe house.
 
Union troops began to regain ground when a lieutenant reached the unguarded Confederate artillery pieces and fired them into a mass of Confederates.  Eventually Federal troops were able to form a line and return fire. By 9:00 a.m. Confederates retreated from the field.  Looking at his tired, half-dressed, and poorly supplied troops, Kilpatrick, who had since rejoined his forces, could not command his troops to pursue the southern forces.  The only Civil War battle to take place in Hoke County had come to an end.  Today, the battlefield site is an artillery impact area at Fort Bragg.  The farmhouse since has burned and the gravestones of Union and Confederate soldiers who lost their lives that day are hidden throughout the woods.

Location of Monroe's Crossroads
Battle of Monroe's Crossroads Map.jpg
Hoke County, NC

SETTING THE STAGE

In February of 1865, Union General Sherman and his Federal force of 60,000 men were moving from Columbia, South Carolina, north towards Charlotte, North Carolina, where Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston had assumed command of the Army of Tennessee.  The only organized Confederate forces in the area were Lieutenant General William J. Hardee’s Infantry Corps of 8,000 and Lieutenant General Joseph Wheeler and Major General Matthew C. Butler’s Cavalry that were combined on March 8th under Lieutenant General Wade Hampton and totaled approximately 5,800.

 

Gen. Sherman chose to swing east towards Fayetteville to allow resupply from Wilmington, destroy the arsenal (now the site of the Museum of the Cape Fear), threaten Raleigh and eventually link up with other Federal forces from the coast in Goldsboro.  Gen. Sherman delayed indicating his intentions in the hope of trapping the Confederate forces on the west side of the Cape Fear River by beating them into Fayetteville and seizing the bridge.  Major General Kilpatrick operated well forward and to the left of the main Federal force as if scouting the route to Charlotte, with the intention of turning east at the last possible moment.

 

Gen. Johnston hoped to use his cavalry to isolate a wing of Sherman’s army and destroy it causing a delay in Sherman’s movement, and allowing him to consolidate the Confederate forces.  Thus, Lt. Gen. Wheeler and Maj. Gen.Butler were under order to attack the wing of Sherman’s army should the opportunity present itself.

 

APPROACHING THE CAMP: MARCH 9, 1865

Hampered by rain and harassed by Confederate Patrols, Kilpatrick’s Division was strung out and scattered, but moving east along Morganton Road.  The 1st Brigade, furthest back, had been instructed to proceed down Chicken Road in the hopes of blocking the Confederate Cavalry.  Kilpatrick’s scouts entered the camp at Monroe’s Crossroads in the morning and camped south of Nicholson Creek to await the rest of the Division.  The 3rd and 4th Brigades as well as a section of artillery from the 10th Wisconsin Light Battery arrived next around 2100.  Kilpatrick, his staff and a detail from the 3rd Brigade had stayed behind to direct the 2nd Brigade to follow along Morganton Road after it had closed up.  Kilpatrick and his escort were also approaching the camp.

 

Butler’s advance guard arrived at the intersection of Yadkin and Morganton Roads.  They noted that at least a mounted brigade had passed the spot very recently.  As they discussed the situation, Kilpatrick’s advance guard also arrived at the intersection and was promptly captured.  Kilpatrick and his escorts, following a short distance behind, narrowly made their escape through the woods to the south, skirting the Confederate units and reentering Morganton Road to the east where they proceeded on to the camp.  The Union scouts had not detected the Confederate Cavalry thus leading Kilpatrick to believe that the incident at the intersection and the sporadic gunfire to the west was the result of a chance encounter with a Confederate patrol.  Brevet Brigadier General Atkins and the 2nd Brigade, also moving east toward camp behind Kilpatrick came upon the rear of Butler’s Division.  They were undetected by the Confederates.  Realizing the road ahead was blocked, they countermarched in order to find a way around.  Soon the brigade was mired down in the swamp of Piney Bottom Creek.   To the south, three divisions of Sherman’s infantry entered Plank Road, and were also moving east.

 

PROPOSED ATTACK POSITION

Throughout the rainy night the Confederates scouted the Federal camp determining the exact location of each unit and their commands.  Kilpatrick and his female companion, along with her mother and several other officers were quartered in the Monroe house (currently unoccupied).  The Union officers were tired, wet, and confident that the war would soon end in their favor.  They were not as diligent in their defense of the camp as they should have been.  Guards had been set out in the direction of Fayetteville, but few to the west and none to the north where the Confederates were now approaching.  Confederate Captain Shannon and his scouts succeeded in capturing the only guards to the west without a shot, leaving the entire north and west sides of the camp open to Confederate reconnaissance.  The Confederate scouts were able to go right into the Union camp and lead horses away without being detected. 

 

Hampton proposed a dawn attack led by Butler’s Division from the north, Wheeler’s Corps from the northwest and Hume’s Division from the west across a small tributary of Nicholson Creek.  Hampton further gave control of the battle to Wheeler to carry out as planned leaving himself and Brig. Gen. Dibrell in reserve. 

 

To the east the Union 2nd Brigade had extracted themselves from the swamp and were moving again down Morganton Road.  The Union 1st Brigade, farthest back, was just departing Bethesda Church moving toward Chicken Road.

North Carolina Civil War Battlefields
North Carolina Civil War Battlefields.gif
(Civil War North Carolina Map)

“CAVALRY IN THE CAMP!”

Wheeler gave the command:  “The Walk!” and the command moved out spurred on by the bugler.  Wheeler shouted  “The Trot!” and after a few short minutes “The Gallop!”.  The full momentum of hundreds of gray horsemen in columns of regiments was now bearing down on the awakening Federals.  They swept past the house and into the camp, firing pistols and slashing with sabers.  The Confederate POWs were the first to realize an attack was underway and began to make their escape towards the attacking Confederates.  Before they could be identified some were shot by their comrades.  Many attacking Confederates were confused thinking the first line had been repulsed.  The attack so surprised the Federals that they could do little more than flee south where the swamps of Nicholson Creek stopped their retreat.  The Confederates completely overran the camp stopping only when the Federals seemed to be completely run off.  The prospect of much loot in the camp became their primary concern.  Turning back into the camp they encountered still more fleeing Federals.  Confusion reigned and hand to hand combat was common.

 

“WHERE IS GENERAL KILPATRICK?”

During the night planning of the battle at least three Confederate officers developed plans for the capture of Kilpatrick.  During the melee of the battle however, only Confederate Captain Bostick had the chance to carry out his orders.  Kilpatrick had come out to the porch just before the attack, but was not yet in uniform.  Captain Bostick rode up with the first wave of the attack and, not recognizing Kilpatrick, demanded “Where is General Kilpatrick?”.  Kilpatrick, realizing his luck replied “There he goes on that horse!” and Bostick and his escort quickly rode off after an unfortunate officer who was making his escape down Blue’s Road.  Kilpatrick ran for the cover of the woods and swamp to the south of camp, joining up with most of his units there.

 

CONFEDERATE RIGHT BOGS DOWN

Confederate Brig. Gen. Humes to the west had also attacked at the sound of the bugle, but was immediately repulsed by dense thicket and heavy fire from the Federal 1st Alabama Cavalry.  This unit was in the southern portion of the camp, and had not received the brunt of the initial attack.  Hume’s division, in their night maneuver to attack position had positioned themselves west of not one, but two of the tributaries to Nicholson Creek.  He was now aware that they were attempting to attack across an impenetrable swamp.  Humes ordered his attack to pull back and move north to find an easier crossing.

 

FEDERAL COUNTERATTACK

The Federal soldiers now floundering neck deep in the swamps south of camp broke off their flight and, encouraged by the arrival of Kilpatrick and other soldiers made their way back to the edge of the camp.  As the Federal veterans began to organize their line and prepare the weapons they had instinctively grabbed in flight they were joined by Kilpatrick’s Scouts, who had camped south of Nicholson Creek and were now just arriving after hearing the gunfire.

 

CONFEDERATES SCRAMBLE FOR SUPPLIES

In camp, order was impossible to maintain as hundreds of hungry and ill-clothed Confederates intermingled in the confined area of the camp in a desperate attempt to collect food and supplies.  Wheeler ordered some of his men to begin pulling away the guns, but this endeavor was stopped short as the rapid firing Spencer carbines of the reorganized Federal lines to the south began to take their toll on the Confederates in the camp.  Unable to reorganize the scattered Confederate units in the camp, Wheeler sent for Dibrell to bring the reserve forward.  As the Federals continued their advancing fire into the camp couriers soon returned to Wheeler with the news that Hampton had already brought the reserves onto the field, and they too were now scattered and useless to the Confederate commanders.

Battle of Monroe's Crossroads.jpg
NPS

STETSON REACHES THE GUNS

In the confusion, First Lieutenant Ebenezer Stetson, commanding the Federal artillery section, managed to reach his 3 inch Hotchiss gun and fire.  Inspired, the Federals surged forward and other gunners joined him.  The Confederates reacted quickly, cutting down the exposed gunners and gathering together for a counterattack.  Led by Wheeler, elements of Allen’s Division again charged into the camp only to meet a withering fire from the Federal carbines.  The charge was broken off, reformed and another attempt was made only to be repulsed even more decisively than the first.  Upon seeing Wheeler’s charges repulsed, Butler attempted his own with elements of Young’s Brigade but was met by a barrage of canister fire.  Wheeler and Hampton quickly conferred and decided that in view of the probability that Federal Infantry would soon be on the scene withdrawal would be prudent.  Exhaustion, lack of ammunition and no encouragement from their commanders prevented a Union pursuit.

 

AFTERMATH

Kilpatrick and his men hurriedly buried the dead and moved out traveling south on Blues Rosin Road to Plank Road and then east toward Fayetteville.

 

The Confederate Cavalry moved slowly into Fayetteville and established camp at the arsenal, allowing the wounded to be treated at local hospitals and homes.  On the morning of March 11, with Sherman’s army closing in, the Confederates evacuated Fayetteville and crossed the Cape Fear leaving a few Cavalry to burn the bridge as the Federals approached.

 

The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads was over by 0900 on the morning of March 10, leaving perhaps 200 dead and a larger number of wounded and prisoners.  Official reports and accounts written long after the war vary greatly in the numbers of casualties and captures.

(References listed at bottom of page.)

Recommended Reading: Battle of Monroe's Crossroads and the Civil War's Final Campaign (Hardcover). Description: The Battle of Monroe's Crossroads, fought March 10, 1865, was one of most important but least known engagements of William T. Sherman's Carolinas Campaign. Confederate cavalry, led by Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton and Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler, launched a savage surprise attack on the sleeping camp of Maj. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick, Sherman's cavalry chief. After three hours of some of the toughest cavalry fighting of the entire Civil War, Hampton broke off and withdrew. His attack, however, had stopped Kilpatrick's advance and bought another precious day for Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee to evacuate his command from Fayetteville. This, in turn, permitted Hardee to join the command of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston and set the stage for the climactic Battle of Bentonville nine days later. Continued below…

Noted Civil War author Eric Wittenberg has written the first detailed tactical narrative of this important but long-forgotten battle, and places it in its proper context within the entire campaign. His study features 28 original maps and 50 illustrations. Finally, an author of renown has brought to vivid life this overlooked portion of the Carolinas Campaign. About the Author: Ohio Attorney Eric J. Wittenberg is a noted Civil War cavalry historian and the author of some dozen books and two dozens articles on the Civil War. His first book, "Gettysburg's Forgotten Cavalry Actions," won the 1998 Bachelder-Coddington Literary Award.

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Recommended Reading: Sherman's March: The First Full-Length Narrative of General William T. Sherman's Devastating March through Georgia and the Carolinas. Description: Sherman's March is the vivid narrative of General William T. Sherman's devastating sweep through Georgia and the Carolinas in the closing days of the Civil War. Continued below...

Weaving together hundreds of eyewitness stories, Burke Davis graphically brings to life the dramatic experiences of the 65,000 Federal troops who plundered their way through the South and those of the anguished -- and often defiant -- Confederate women and men who sought to protect themselves and their family treasures, usually in vain. Dominating these events is the general himself -- "Uncle Billy" to his troops, the devil incarnate to the Southerners he encountered.
 

Recommended Viewing: The History Channel Presents Sherman's March (2007). Description: “The story of General William Tecumseh Sherman who helped devastate the South's army at the end of the Civil War is told here via vivid reconstructions of his actions.” This is a great reenactment, presentation. It's not dull like some documentaries that just continually talk with the same guy for an hour. This includes several individuals that are extremely knowledgeable in their respective fields--be it civilian or military historian. Also, it includes many re-enactors that portray “Sherman as well as his entire command.” It literally takes the viewer back to 1864 to experience it firsthand.

 

Recommended Reading: On Sherman's Trail: The Civil War's North Carolina Climax. Description: Join journalist and historian Jim Wise as he follows Sherman's last march through the Tar Heel State from Wilson's Store to the surrender at Bennett Place. Retrace the steps of the soldiers at Averasboro and Bentonville. Learn about what the civilians faced as the Northern army approached and view the modern landscape through their eyes. Whether you are on the road or in a comfortable armchair, you will enjoy this memorable, well-researched account of General Sherman's North Carolina campaign and the brave men and women who stood in his path.

 

Recommended Reading: Sherman's March Through the Carolinas. Description: In retrospect, General William Tecumseh Sherman considered his march through the Carolinas the greatest of his military feats, greater even than the Georgia campaign. When he set out northward from Savannah with 60,000 veteran soldiers in January 1865, he was more convinced than ever that the bold application of his ideas of total war could speedily end the conflict. Continued below…

John Barrett's story of what happened in the three months that followed is based on printed memoirs and documentary records of those who fought and of the civilians who lived in the path of Sherman's onslaught. The burning of Columbia, the battle of Bentonville, and Joseph E. Johnston's surrender nine days after Appomattox are at the center of the story, but Barrett also focuses on other aspects of the campaign, such as the undisciplined pillaging of the 'bummers,' and on its effects on local populations. About the Author: John G. Barrett is professor emeritus of history at the Virginia Military Institute. He is author of several books, including The Civil War in North Carolina, and coeditor of North Carolina Civil War Documentary.

 

Recommended Reading: Bentonville: The Final Battle of Sherman and Johnston (Civil War America). From Booklist: In March 1865, the Confederacy was dying, and Sherman's army was marching into North Carolina. Joseph Johnston made one last, desperate effort to halt the advance of an army three times the size of his, and on March 19 surprised one wing of Sherman's forces. Continued below...

A single Union corps very nearly won the battle all by itself, however, and when reinforced, drove off the attackers, inflicting heavy casualties. Hughes' excellent battle monograph is oriented toward the scholarly reader but accessible to the general one. Its particular strengths include verbal portraits of many leaders on both sides and eloquently understated descriptions of whole Confederate brigades going into battle with barely the rifle strength of a healthy company. A desirable addition to Civil War literature. Includes 9 maps.

References: National Park Service; North Carolina Office of Archives and History; Eric J. Wittenburg, Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads and the Civil War’s Final Campaign (2006); William Preston Mangum II, “Kill Cavalry’s Nasty Surprise,” America’s Civil War (November 1996); John G. Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina (1963).

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