(Editor’s note: The Historical Society column this week was written by Claude Moore on April 10, 1979.)
The Carolinas Campaign was the final campaign of the American Civil War. In January 1865, after Union Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman captured Savannah, he was ordered by Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to load his army onto ships and head north. Grant was bogged down in the Siege of Petersburg against Confederate General Robert E. Lee and was sorely in need of reinforcements. But Sherman had different ideas. He persuaded Grant that he should march north through the Carolinas instead, destroying everything of military value along the way, similar to his march to the sea through Georgia when he and his troops did the same. Sherman was particularly interested in targeting South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union, for the effect it would have on Southern morale.
In late January 1865, Sherman and his army commenced toward Columbia, SC. He divided his 60,079 men into three wings, each marching north on parallel paths, roughly ten miles apart. Reinforcements arrived regularly, and by April 1 he commanded 88,948 men. His plan was to bypass the minor Confederate troop concentrations and reach Goldsboro, NC by March 15.
Sherman captured the state capital of Columbia on February 17, 1865. Many soldiers took advantage of ample supplies of liquor there and began to drink. Fires began that night in the city, and high winds spread the flames across a wide area. By next morning most of the central city was destroyed. The burning of Columbia has triggered controversy ever since, with some claiming the fires were accidental, others a deliberate act of vengeance, and still others that the retreating Confederates burned bales of cotton on their way out of town. Sherman made a statement afterwards saying “I did not order the burning of the city, but I am not sorry that it happened.”
On March 4, 1865, Sherman’s army began crossing the border into North Carolina. Local Native American Lumbee guides helped his army cross the Lumber River, which was flooded by torrential rains. According to Sherman, the trek across the Lumber River and through the swamps and creeks of Robeson County was “the damnedest marching I ever saw.” Thereafter, his troops did little damage to the civilian infrastructure, as North Carolina, unlike its southern neighbor, was regarded by his men as a reluctant Confederate state, having been the last to secede from the Union.
Sherman’s final significant military engagement was a victory over Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s troops at the Battle of Bentonville, March 19–21. His plan was to soon rendezvous on Goldsboro, with Union troops awaiting him there after the capture of Fort Fisher and Wilmington.
Injury and insult were added to misery in the little village of Mount Olive when Sherman’s cavalry commander, Lt. General Judson Kilpatrick and his cavalry arrived at the Union encampment on March 24th, 1865 and remained there until April 10th.
Known for using tactics in battle that were considered as a reckless disregard for lives of soldiers under his command, Kilpatrick was both praised for the victories he achieved, and despised by Southerners whose homes and towns he devastated. Sherman once said “I know that Kilpatrick is a hell of a damned fool, but I want just that sort of man to command my cavalry on this expedition.”
Even though the telegraph line had been cut, news had already reached Mount Olive that General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate lines were weakening at Petersburg. The Yankee army under General Alfred H. Terry had passed to the west of Mount Olive enroute to Bentonville and had burned Thunder Swamp Baptist Church; Confederate money had become almost without value and food was scarce.
An enemy army of 4,200 uninvited guests was too much for a small community which had already seen four years of war. The country from Savannah, GA to Wayne County had been devastated by Sherman’s Army, and General Kilpatrick seemed to delight at destroying Southern property. He reported to the United States War Department on March 24, 1865 from his headquarters in Mount Olive that his cavalry alone had destroyed the following from the time they departed for Savannah on January 28th: captured 330 prisoners; burned two railroad bridges; destroyed 10 flat cars, 5 box cars, 20,000 bales of cotton, 500 bushels of meal, 77 barrels of molasses, 90 barrels of salt, 170 saw mills, and 7 wagon shops. This does not include the individual foraging through the countryside done by his cavalry as they confiscated anything from the locals that they could eat.
Mount Olive was just a small village in 1865, but it did have a railroad depot, several turpentine distilleries, a Confederate commissary, a few stores, saloons, and a blacksmith shop operated by Mr. Oliver Summerlin.
Mr. L. W. Kornegay was the station master and he owned a tract of land which lay between what’s now the Mount Olive College campus and downtown. The Robert Williams house was standing at that time (now the home of Mr. & Mrs. Clyde Williams) and several Yankee officers made their headquarters there. The old part of the Robert Holmes home on Center Street and the old part of the Wooten Oliver house (built by Willis Cherry) were both built prior to the war.
The Yankees camped on land mostly owned by L. W. Kornegay and included an area from Church Street westward to the present Mount Olive Junior High School, the farm now owned by Miss Marie Lewis and the southeast corner of the Mount Olive College Campus, back to the railroad. The hospital tent was located on the lot owned by Mrs. Rodney Southerland at the intersection of West John Street and North Martin Street. Several Yankee soldiers died there and are buried in the Maple Grove Cemetery.
Miss Marie Lewis, whom I consider the real authority on Mount Olive local history, says that the Yankee commissary was located near her present home and that a lot of her information about the Yankee occupation came from two old former slaves, Aunt Flora who belonged to the Slocumb family, and Uncle Counce, who belonged to the Oliver family.
The Union Army in Wayne was supplied with food and new uniforms while stationed there. These supplies came from Wilmington and Beaufort by train. The old uniforms were discarded near the camp and this accounts for the large number of uniform buttons found during the years. Miss Lewis tells the story of Uncle Counce Wooten hearing about the Yankees having a commissary near town. Counce visited the location on the day after the Yankees had left. Finding a pile of discarded uniforms, he picked out an officer’s coat with gold braids and epaulets and wore it home. He met a mounted Confederate soldier who halted him, thinking that Counce had enlisted in the Yankee army.
Uncle Counce explained to him how he had gotten the coat, but the Confederate cut the gold braids off the sleeves with his sword and let him go. Many of the old residents of Mount Olive often mentioned how they remembered the piles of uniforms in the woods where the Yankees had camped.
General Kilpatrick, a native of New Jersey and a graduate of West Point in 1861, was just 29 years old when he came to Mount Olive. After the war, he was Minister to Chile and died there in 1881.
Kilpatrick’s Cavalry was made up of four brigades. The First Brigade was composed of the 3rd Indiana Battalion, the 8th Indiana, the 2nd Kentucky and the 9th Pennsylvania. The Second Brigade (commanded by Brig. Gen. Smith Atkins) was made up of the 92th Illinois, the 9th Michigan, the 9th Ohio, 10th Ohio, and 21st McLaughlin’s Ohio Squadron. The Third Brigade which camped at Faison, NC, was composed of the First Alabama (probably Confederate renegades of freed men), the 5th Kentucky, the 5th Ohio & the 13th Pennsylvania. The Fourth Brigade was an artillery outfit attached to the Calvary & was made up of the 10th Wisconsin & the 23rd Battery of New York Light Artillery.
While the Yankees were in Mount Olive, they complained about the rain and the mud. Reports tell about the almost impossible roads between Fayetteville, Mount Olive, and Goldsboro. The Army of Infantry literally had thousands of supply wagons carrying food and ammunitions that made up the wagon trains. In fact, it took 85 wagons alone to carry Sherman’s pontoon bridges.
General Kilpatrick and his men broke camp on April 10, 1865 and moved with Sherman’s reorganized army on to Smithfield where they received word on April 12 the news of Gen. Lee’s surrender in Virginia.
*Written by permission of the Mount Olive Tribune