First Wednesdays – “…we took it a foot for fayetteville NC…”

By March 1865, the Southern experiment as a separate nation on the North America continent was quickly coming to a close. In Virginia, Union Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant was preparing his two field armies for a spring offensive to strike Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia one final time to wrench the Capitol from Richmond, Virginia, from Confederate control. Some 270 miles south in Cheraw, South Carolina, Union Major General William T. Sherman was pushing this force of two field armies northward through the Palmetto State with his focus on its border with North Carolina. Despite these ominous events, Confederate President Jefferson Davis wrote “In spite of the timidity and faithlessness of many who should give tone to the popular feeling and hope to the popular heart, I am satisfied that it is in the power of the good man and true patriots of the country to reanimate the wearied spirit of our people…”

The Confederate government was soon forced to abandon cities, towns, and military facilities due to General Sherman’s movements through South Carolina. Charleston, the site of the initial Confederate victory in 1861, was soon abandoned due to the threat of these federal forces. The Confederate military had realized that their invasion of Tennessee in November 1864 had not stopped General Sherman’s march through Georgia and South Carolina, but served only to leave these Confederate states undefended in the presence of “Sherman’s bummers.” To stop the Union forces, the Confederate military realized that they needed to create an army to take to the field and resist the invasion of the Carolinas. The abandonment of military posts brought about a large surplus of Confederate military personnel, who now found themselves as infantrymen marching northward to rendezvous in North Carolina. In many cases, it was a hard march due to some personnel being physically unsuited for active field service and the onset of rain storms throughout the Carolinas that winter.

One of those men marching northward was Henry Hunter Bowen, who was from Washington County, North Carolina. Bowen had enlisted in the Confederate States Marine Corps, and was stationed with the Confederate Naval squadron in Charleston, South Carolina. With the abandonment of Charleston, Bowen found himself with fellow blue jackets and marines moving by rail to Wilmington, North Carolina in early February 1865. The capture of Wilmington on February 22 forced the sailors and marines to leave the railroad to start an arduous overland march to Fayetteville, North Carolina to unite with other Confederate forces under the command of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston. In his letter dated 26 February 1865, Bowen writes to his wife of his arrival in Fayetteville, NC and the effect of the march on him. He writes that “I want to try to get a furlow to come home as soon as I can but cant tel you when …”

Unfortunately, there are no more letters describing what happened to Bowen after February 22. His unit was later incorporated into “Tucker’s Naval Brigade,” which was later dispatched from Fayetteville to Richmond, Va. The brigade was assigned to the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, and took severe losses during the Appomattox Campaign. It is not known whether if Bowen was presented in the heavy combat at the end of the war. We do know that he did survive the war, since he signed his oath of allegiance in September 1865.

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