By mid-April 1865, the eastern and western theaters of the American Civil War were now within 150 miles of each other. To the north in Virginia, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia had abandoned Richmond, Virginia and their defensive works and was moving westward toward Lynchburg, Va. General Lee was seeking to reach the supplies positioned along the Danville Rail Road to re-energize his weaken army and to seek the security of open countryside to maneuver against Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant’s Union armies. Grant understood what General Lee was trying to accomplish, and attempted to move his Union forces in position to block the Confederate retreat route and to prevent their attainment of supplies from the rail lines coming out of North Carolina.
Near Smithfield, North Carolina, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston was also preparing to move westward as well. Confederate cavalry scouts were reporting that Major General William T. Sherman’s combined Union armies were preparing to leave their camps in Goldsboro, NC to advance westward to engage General Johnston’s Army of Tennessee. Upon his arrival in Goldsboro, General Sherman discovered that his Union armies were not needed by General Grant in Virginia, and he was quickly directed to turn his focus toward the “new” Confederate Army of Tennessee and defeat it militarily in the Tar Heel state. General Johnston knew that he did not have numbers to face General Sherman’s Union forces head on, but needed to retreat westward to favorable ground to mount a limited strike similar to his actions at Bentonville, NC.
On 8 April 1865, Confederate Lieutenant Colonel John J. Garnett issued orders to begin the retreat from Johnston, County, North Carolina. These orders directed Confederate Lt. Colonel Joseph B. Starr to move his artillery batteries westward from Clayton Station “…to the valley of the Haw River” in Alamance County. The north-south flowing Haw River was seen as possible defensive barrier between the Confederate forces and the General Sherman’s combined Union armies’ potential westward advance. In addition, the Confederate government was currently in Danville, Va. and any retreat toward Greensboro, NC to bring the Confederate Army of Tennessee in closer communications with its civilian government. General Johnston knew that it was important to keep organized armies in the field as a manifestation of that civil authority in order for the Confederate States of America to continue to survive