By March 1865 the situation for the South was hopeless. Despite this obvious military point, Sherman continued with his policy of destroying anything that might assist the South if he had to make a withdrawal even if the probability of this was negligible.
To hinder Sherman’s advance, Confederate troops destroyed bridges over the Middle Shenandoah. It was a sign of the state the Confederate Army was in as in previous campaigns these bridges would have been the ones used by them. Their assumption, presumably, was that they would be unlikely to use these same bridges again.
In a sign that many believed the war was coming to an end, Congress created a Bureau for the Relief of Freedmen and Refugees. Once in being, its task was to supervise ownership of abandoned land and providing work for the displaced African American population.
Grant received a message from Lincoln forbidding any meeting with Lee in case discussions drifted into political issues.
Lincoln was inaugurated for his second term in office. Still failing to face reality, the Confederate Congress met to discuss and approve a new design for the Confederacy’s flag.
Sherman marched his army into North Carolina with his main target being Fayetteville. Union forces controlled the port of Wilmington. Therefore supplying Sherman’s large army was relatively easy. The food issue that had a devastating impact on Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was much less of a problem for Sherman.
The Confederate Senate voted in favour (by 9 to 8) of using slaves as troops.
Sherman’s troops entered Fayetteville.
Sherman continued with his policy of destroying any building that might have a future military use if he had to pull back. This time it was Fayetteville’s turn to suffer as shops, machine tool shops, arsenals, foundries etc were all burned down. Sherman’s rule was that no inhabited civilian homes should be touched but no one then could effectively control a fire once it had started and much of Fayetteville, as with many other towns and cities, had wooden based buildings.
Jefferson Davis signed into law the act allowing African Americans to become soldiers in the Confederate Army. It was assumed that any slave who volunteered to fight would be given his freedom once the war was at its end.
Sherman’s men clashed with a Confederate force near Averasborough, North Carolina. The South lost 800 men while Sherman lost 650. However, the Unionists forced back the Confederates who had to retreat.
The North started a major campaign to capture Mobile in Alabama. Major-General E Canby commanded a force of 32,000 men. Against him were 10,000 Confederate troops commanded by General Maury.
The Confederate Congress met for the very last time.
Confederate forces concentrated at Bentonville, North Carolina in an attempt to stop the advance of Sherman. 17,000 men were led by General Joe Johnston. In the immediate vicinity Johnston faced 17,000 Union soldiers but not far away were the remainder of Sherman’s army and other Union units in North Carolina – an extra 90,000 men. Johnston’s task looked hopeless.
Johnston commenced his attack against Union troops. His had initial success but news of the fighting compelled Sherman to move nearly 45,000 Union troops to Bentonville.
March 20th: Sherman’s army easily outflanked Johnston’s army. Sherman decided to concentrate his attack on Johnston’s centre while the flanks were ordered to engage the enemy to ‘keep them busy’ so that they could not reinforce Johnston’s centre. Johnston had to withdraw his army two miles and lost over 2,600 men. Sherman lost 1,500 killed and wounded.
A Union force commanded by Major-General James Wilson started its march to Selma, the last manufacturing city in the Confederacy.
The combined might of the Union Army in North Carolina joined at Goldsborough – 90,000 troops in total. Sherman’s advance north had served another very important purpose – supplies collected in the Carolinas and due for Lee’s army around Richmond never got there as either they were taken by the speedily advancing Union army or the means of transport – mainly rail – had been destroyed. Sherman described his advance as “like the thrust of a sword through the heart of the human body".
Lee could only muster 35,000 fit men at Petersburg. He decided that they had to break out if they were to live to fight another day. He ordered General John Gordon to lead the breakthrough.
Gordon started his attempt to break out of Petersburg. It was a failure. The Unionist defenders near Fort Stedman, the scene of the attempted breakout, lost 1,500 men killed and wounded. However, the Confederates lost a disastrous 4,000 men – many of whom surrendered.
Grant planned to place his men around Petersburg so that Lee could not initiate any other attempted breakout. His plan was to trap Lee’s army once and for all.
Lincoln met with Grant and Sherman at City Point, Virginia. It was at this meeting that, according to Sherman, Lincoln agreed that any Confederate soldier would become a US citizen immediately he laid down his weapons.
Mobile was besieged by Union forces.
Grant prepared the Army of the Potomac for what he assumed would be the last offensive against Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Grant had an army of 125,000 men while Lee could muster a total of 50,000 men. But many of those in Lee’s army were far from fit enough to fight in battle. Lee still harboured a desire to break out of Petersburg and march to join up with Johnston’s men in North Carolina. It was a plan that he was not able to carry out.
Grant started his attack against the Army of Northern Virginia.
Lee’s army, aided by torrential rain, coped with the attacks. However, Lee had over-extended his army along their defensive front so while he could defend more ground, his line was very thin almost everywhere and very open to a successful assault. For example, near the Dinwiddie Court House, Lee’s men who numbered 10,000 faced 50,000 Union troops.
Confederate forces faced with overwhelming odds started to withdraw from some of their entrenched positions outside of Petersburg.