— Carolinas Campaign —
The Carolinas Campaign began on February 1, 1865, when Union Gen. William T. Sherman led his army north from Savannah, Georgia, after the "March to the Sea." Sherman's objective was to join Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia to crush Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Scattered Confederate forces consolidated in North Carolina, the Confederacy's logistical lifeline, where Sherman defeated Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's last-ditch attack at Bentonville. After Sherman was reinforced at Goldsboro late in March, Johnston saw the futility of further resistance and surrendered on April 26, essentially ending the Civil War.* * *
Hoping to deflect Union Gen. William T. Sherman's army from Goldsboro, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston attacked Sherman's Left Wing here on March 19, 1865, after finding it separated from the Right Wing, located several miles southeast. As the fighting intensified, Sherman led the Right Wing here in support. Johnston's forces, vastly outnumbered, withdrew to Smithfield on Marcy 21, and Sherman's army marched to Goldsboro.
You are standing at the William Hastings house (ca. 1854), which served as headquarters for Gen. Joseph E. Johnston and Gen. Braxton Bragg in mid-March 1865. Johnston chose to concentrate his army at Smithfield because it is located midway between Goldsboro and Raleigh, and because the North Carolina Railroad still served it. Here Johnston organized his forces for a desperate strike against Gen. William T. Sherman's vastly larger army. Johnston formed the Army of the South from the four distinct elements under his immediate command: Hardee's Corps, Hoke's Division, the Army of Tennessee contingent, and Hampton's cavalry. The army numbered 20,000 by March 17 against Sherman's 60,000, and Hardee's delaying action at Averasboro (March 15-16) bought Johnston precious time. On March 18, he sent a dispatch to Gen. Robert E. Lee in Virginia informing him of his plans against Sherman, then departed for Bentonville.
After the Battle of Bentonville, Johnston reestablished his headquarters in Smithfield on March 25. Between then and April 10, while Johnston's army regrouped and rested here, he continued to send dispatches to Lee in Virginia. On April 9, as Lee surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Johnston issued orders for his men to march to Raleigh. The next day, the beleaguered and tattered Confederate army left Smithfield.
The Hastings house originally stood behind the Johnston County Courthouse at 2nd and Johnston Streets facing 2nd Street. It has been moved twice, once in 1941 and then to its present location in 1965.
"Horse racing now was the order of the day ? Out in a large old field every day thousands of soldiers and civilians, with a sprinkling of the fair ladies of the surrounding country, would congregate to witness the excitement of the race course."
- Unidentified soldier in Johnston's army during the occupation of Smithfield, March-April 1865
"Scarcely a bird is to be seen or heard - not a flower, not even a wildflower unlocks its fragrant store - no beautiful lawns through which to walk - no broad meadows - nothing to elicit admiration."
- Unidentified Tennessee soldier describing Smithfield after the Battle of Bentonville