This Astounding Close: The Road to Bennett Place

This Astounding Close: The Road to Bennett Place

This Astounding Close: The Road to Bennett Place

This Astounding Close: The Road to Bennett Place

Excerpt

When I began this project ten years ago, I knew the road would lead to Bennett Place, but I assumed little else. I intended to tell the story of Sherman’s campaigns in North Carolina, bearing in mind that as the year 1865 opened, Northern victory and Southern defeat appeared imminent, but none of the participants could predict when and how the end would come, or how much death and destruction would occur in the meantime. My first objective was to convey that sense of foreboding and uncertainty in describing the final month of the war in North Carolina.

During my research, I discovered that only part of the Bennett Place story has been told. Most previous studies have treated the end of the Civil War in North Carolina as a brief episode within a larger narrative framework, thereby omitting many important details of the military operations in central North Carolina, the effect of those operations on the Bennett Place conferences, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s role in those negotiations, and the final days of Johnston’s Army of Tennessee. A few unpublished studies investigate the morale of the Confederate forces facing Sherman’s army during the last year of the war, but they do not provide a detailed profile of Johnston’s army during its final weeks. The closing chapter in the tragic saga of the Army of Tennessee deserves to be told.

I have discovered that in April 1865 the Army of Tennessee was larger, better equipped, and better supplied than has generally been thought and that morale remained surprisingly good. Confederate muster rolls indicate that the fall of Richmond and Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House caused some desertions but did not break the army’s spirit. Only when rumors of its own surrender began to spread on the afternoon of April 16 did the Army of Tennessee collapse.

Johnston also deserves more credit for his accomplishments in April 1865. By keeping his army intact and as much as eighty miles from Sherman’s, the Confederate commander was able to negotiate from a position of strength. Sherman knew that Johnston could have led his army . . .

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