Despite the success during the afternoon of March 19, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston realized that it was imperative for him to withdraw his forces back over Mill Creek before Major General William T. Sherman can bring his combined Union armies to bear against him. Unfortunately, General Johnston only had one road leading back to the small community of Bentonville (or Bentonsville as some may call it) to the bridge over the Mill Creek to use as his escape route back to central Johnston County. During the night of March 19, Johnston began to gather his wounded and wagon trains together to start the arduous trek northwest to Bentonville and the crossing at Mill Creek. The severe rains and the use of the road by moving columns of infantry served to damage the road to the point where any rapid movement was nearly impossible. The elderly Confederate general also knew that the Federal columns would start to recoil back and come to the support of the Left Wing as soon as possible. Johnston knew that he needed to ask his men to buy him time to get his trains across the creek, and to prevent the uniting of General Sherman’s columns as long as possible.
The unexpected Confederate attacks threw General Sherman’s carefully calculated plans into a quandary. He now faced the prospect of dealing with a Confederate force of unknown size, while being unsupported by other Federal columns moving up from New Bern and Wilmington and nearly out of supplies. General Sherman was convinced that the need for support and supplies was more important than closing in and destroying this Confederate army. However, he knew that he could not leave his Left Wing unsupported in the face of an unknown Confederate force. As General Johnston prepared to retreat, General Sherman ordered his Union Army of the Tennessee to reverse course and come to the aid of his Left Wing.
To stop this Union threat, General Johnston formed his new army into a “U” shaped position to protect the road to Bentonville, and to block the road intersection between the Left Wing and the Union Army of the Tennessee moving down the Goldsboro Road. During the day on March 20th, both sides settled into heavy skirmishing in an attempt to gain control of the Goldsboro Road. Not until nightfall, did the Federal forces were able to bull nosed their way past the Confederate forces guarding the road intersection near Ebenezer Church.
While General Johnston trying to save his newly formed army from General Sherman’s Union brigades, the strategic situation for the Confederacy began to deteriorate. Both Federal columns moving up from both New Bern and Wilmington were moving closer to Goldsboro, North Carolina. In Richmond, Virginia, rumors were circulating concerning the new spring offensive being planned by Union Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. The weather was warming and soon the roads would be dry enough to move troops into position for a final strike against the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Confederate central government. In a telegram dated March 20, 1865, Confederate Brigadier General Laurence S. Baker, commander of the garrison protecting the railroad at Weldon, NC, contacted Governor Zebulon Vance to see if any home guard units can be spared to protect the railroad. General Baker was acting on a telegraph sent by Confederate General Robert E. Lee reporting the movement of Union troops from Hatchers Run, Va toward Weldon, NC. By this point of the war, the eastern and western theaters of combat were slowly merging into one arena of operations.