March 16th, 1865 near the county line between Harnett and Cumberland County, North Carolina, Lt. Gen. William Hardee’s corps of the Confederate army fought a delaying action against the left wing of General William Sherman’s army. Sherman’s army was marching from Georgia into North Carolina as part of his Carolina’s Campaign. To allow for a quicker advance through the area, and also to sustain his army through foraging, Sherman divided his army into two wings.
Confederate commander General Joseph Johnston saw an opportunity to strike a blow against Sherman’s army by isolating one wing. Sherman’s army outnumbered Johnston’s but the odds would be a little better if one wing were to be isolated.
Hardee’s mission was to fight a holding action to allow Johnston’s scattered forces to unite in an effort to deliver such a blow. Hardee formed a defense in depth – layering three lines of troops across the path of the federal army. The Federals were able to push two lines back but the third line held until nightfall. Under cover of the night Hardee ordered his troops to withdraw, leaving the campfires burning to deceive the Federals.
This letter by Janie Smith describes some of the action of the battle and its aftermath. She gives an account that shows exactly what it was like for civilians to be caught in the writ large drama unfolding around them.
In the end the Confederate forces yielded the battlefield having slowed down Federal forces somewhat for a single day but not for as long as they had initially hoped. Even so the precious single day gave Johnston’s forces time to gather and set the stage for the larger Battle of Bentonville a few days later.