Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman and Lieut. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had met after the fall of Atlanta to develop a strategy for the remainder of the war in the east. Sherman had successfully accomplished the first part of the plan when he reached Savannah at the end of his March to the Sea in December of 1864. Next, Sherman won Grant’s approval for a similar, overland march through the Carolinas with his 60,000-man army, destroying the South’s ability and will to continue fighting. Opposing Sherman was Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee with less than one third of Sherman’s strength. Maj. Gen. Braxton Bragg led a smaller force in North Carolina.
Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign began at the end of January. Maj. Gen Oliver O. Howard commanded the Army of Tennessee with the XV and XVII Corps comprising Sherman’s Right Wing, while Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum led the Army of Georgia with the XIV and XX corps making up the Left Wing. In the center, Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield commanded the Army of the Ohio with the XXIII and X Corps. Slocum and Howard would move north from Savannah toward Columbia, South Carolina while Schofield would press inland from the North Carolina coast against Bragg.
Sherman’s men marched through South Carolina destroying the state’s infrastructure as they converged on the state capital at Columbia, capturing that city on February 17. Columbia’s surrender led to the abandonment of Charleston on the coast, the birthplace of secession. After fighting a fire that destroyed the city, Sherman marched his army out of Columbia and continued north towards Goldsboro, North Carolina, his men destroying railroads as they marched. The fall of the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina on February 22 meant that Sherman would have a base of supplies waiting for him as he advanced north.
On March 3, Sherman entered North Carolina. Days later, Confederate forces under Bragg and Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton conducted small offensives at Wyse Fork and Monroe’s Crossroads but with little effect on Sherman’s campaign. On March 15-16, Federal cavalry and infantry engaged Confederates under Maj. Gen. William Hardee near Averasboro. Though a Confederate defeat, the action delayed Sherman long enough for Johnston to bring his army to Bentonville where, after fighting from March 19-21 in North Carolina’s largest battle, the Confederates were defeated in the last major battle of the war. On April 18, Johnston and Sherman signed an armistice to end the fighting, and on April 26 Johnston formally surrendered his army to Sherman at Bennett Place just outside of Raleigh.