Reviewed by David Lady, Tennessee Valley Civil War Round Table
When first published in 2006, this book was almost the sole recent battlefield study of the Carolinas Campaign and has long been out-of-print. However, it remains the only tactical-level account of the Battle of Averasboro. This reprint contains excellent new maps, newer photos, a battlefield driving tour guide, and additional appendixes concerning including one concerning “The Lost Gunner’s Quadrant.” Savas Beatie publishers have created a more useful and attractive volume, aimed at the general as well as the specialist reader.
Both Mark Smith and Wade Sokolosky were career Army officers, now retired and continuing their research into the events of the Carolinas Campaign. Well regarded as writers and battlefield tour guides, another of their collaborations is “To Prepare for Sherman’s Coming, The Battle of Wise’s Forks, March 1865,” which is also a Savas Beatie publication.
The title of this reprint quotes Joseph Johnston, who marveled at the agility and endurance of Sherman’s men as they rapidly marched from Savannah through South Carolina in February and March, 1865. The Federal Army successfully negotiated the twenty-two miles of thick swamp and rainfall-flooded streams of the Salkehatchie River basin, advancing between two Confederate armies to race through central South Carolina. Corduroying roads to permit their wagons to keep pace, Sherman’s men continued to forage liberally and destroy public property; as in the March to the Sea, they left ruined cities and a devastated civilian population in their wake.
Solokosky and Smith begin their narrative as Sherman’s men entered North Carolina and approach the city and arsenal of Fayetteville on the Cape Fear River. Opposing the Federals was an outnumbered force of veteran infantry and recently evacuated coastal garrison artillerists under General William Hardee. He was operating under General Johnston’s orders to delay the Federal march and allow the Confederates time to gather their scattered forces for a counterattack against Sherman. Hardee realized that he’d not enough men or cannon to hold all bridges or crossing sites along the Cape Fear. He also suspected that Sherman’s men were marching on the fortified Federal-held river port of Goldsboro. Abandoning the river line but risking a battle, Hardee chose as his position a “choke point,” along the one route that Sherman’s men would be restricted to by adverse terrain once across the Cape Fear River. To block the narrowest point along this route the Confederates fortified three lines of defense, one behind the other, from which to oppose the Federals.
The Confederate general succeeded in delaying the Federals for an entire day and then retreated after dark from the final of the three positions. While Sherman’s men successfully seized the first two positions without heavy casualties, they were stymied by the swampy terrain fronting the third Confederate position, and unable to outflank it because of a deep ravine on one flank and deep woods on the other.
The authors point out that Hardee correctly divined Federal intentions and carefully adjusted his defense to best employ his largely untried and ill-equipped army. While I think that the author’s speculation that Hardee designed his battle plan with the Revolutionary Battle of Cowpens in mind is overemphasized, they clearly show that Averasboro was one of William Hardee’s better-fought battles. While Sherman’s armies were not seriously hurt, they were delayed long enough for Joe Johnston to organize enough of an army to attack the Federals at Bentonville as they continued to march toward Goldsboro.
In addition to their well-reasoned narrative, the authors also include a number of interesting appendixes devoted to Sherman’s logistic concept for the march through the Carolinas, the Averasboro Field Hospitals, and the experience of doctors and civilians providing medical treatment for wounded soldiers following the battle. Finally, the driving tour guide is clear and well-illustrated, permitting a complete review of the modern battlefield by both readers and the battlefield tour participants. This book is recommended to all readers interested in “Uncle Billy” Sherman, “Old Reliable” Hardee, and the Civil War in North Carolina.