COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Lowcountry swamps, muddy roads, and cold February temperatures did not stop General William T. Sherman's Union Army from marching across South Carolina in 1865.
A Union officer's diary describing the campaign is now on exhibit at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.
"It's wonderful," said Relic Room Director Allen Roberson. "We saw it and realized this was unknown at the time and it's a major addition to our collection."
The museum has given WIS exclusive access to the diary of Carroll M. Bills, an officer with the 39th Iowa Infantry.
WIS revealed the daily diary entry on its corresponding day, 150 years later. Daily entries from the transcript verbatim are below:
March 24: (final entry) Moved from camp at 7Am, crossed the Neuse River on Pontoon Bridges, just below the crossing of the Wilmington and Weldon Rail Road. Entered and marched through Goldsboro at 1PM passing in ____ before Maj. Genl. Wm T. Sherman and went into camp two miles from the city on the Newbern Rail Road.
Whole distance marched 500 miles.
March 23: Moved forward & struck the road leading to Goldsboro, over which the command marched on the 19th. Marched twelve miles & encamped.
March 21: During the night, ___ a spirited skirmish fire was kept up along the line. The command laid on their arms during the night behind their works & the works were somewhat strengthened by details. The company in the skirmish line from the 57th Ill was relieved by one from the 50th Ill. At 10AM received orders to erect new works two hundred yards in front of those first erected & have the same completed by 3PM & then moved forward & occupied the new line. The firing on the Skirmish Line had been kept up at slight intervals through the day, but on moving forward, the firing at once became much more severe. It being reported that the Co. from the 50th Ill were out of ammunition. Two more companies from that Regiment were ordered out & went forward. But before they reached the line, the former company (Company "C") had charged across a narrow Swamp & drove the enemy from his rifle pits, but being supported either on their right or left, were ordered back by Capt. Barber, Chief of our Posts. Leaving that Co. "C" held the enemies Rifle pits ordered forward another Company from the 50th Ill & Company "A" was sent with orders to hold the Rifle pits at all hazards, but as before stated, the enemies rifle pits had been abandoned by Company "C" before support reached them, and afterwards though repeated efforts were made, it was impossible to retake them, the enemy having concentrated his fire at that point. At about 12N, the 39th Iowa, rejoined the Command [they having been left at Cape Fear River to guard the Div. Train]. At dark, Maj. Johnston was ordered to relieve the skirmishers of the 50" Ill with his Comd'g numbering seventy men, mainly armed with Henry Rifles (16 shooters) and if possible retake the enemies rifle-pits, and as a support to him, ordered forward two companies from the 57th Ill with instructions to shortly intrench themselves & hold the Line. At this time the whole line on our left & right were engaged firing as rapidly as possible. The 39th Iowa were at this time occupying the ground formally occupied by Maj. Johnston's Command, the 2" Brigade having moved more to the right, so as to enable the 39th Iowa to get in full line of Battle. Maj. Johnston, soon after dark, succeeded in crossing the swamp, with the left of his line, but was obliged to withdraw the same to allow the artillery of the 1" Div. to play upon the enemy. The skirmish line was strongly intrenched under Maj. Johnston's efforts and though the enemy during the forepart of the night attempted severil[sic] times to advance his line, he was promptly driven back.
An exceedingly sharp fire was maintained all night on both sides until 3 ½ AM the 22" the fire of the enemy began to cease. At day-light Maj. Johnston advanced a small party to reconnoiter the rifle pits in his front, found them deserted, and immediately advanced his entire line, occupying a Second & Third line of works & finding the enemy had disappeared. On receiving notice from Maj. Johnston that the enemy & fire had ceased, we received orders from the Gen'l Commanding, to move forward and occupy the enemies works, then a skirmish line was sent forward as far as Bentonville, under charge of Lieut. Col. Wm. Hanna, who finding no enemy & other forces coming up returned to the command.
The casualties in the 3rd Brig. during the two days were two men killed and twenty wounded. Four prisoners were taken as our skirmishers entered the enemies works. In compliance with orders, at 5PM moved back on to the ground occupied in the morning and encamped.
March 20: Broke camp at 7AM having received orders that the Command would move on Bentonville, prepared for Battle & that no train would accompany the Command except the Ammunitions wagons & the Ambulances.
Took the advance of the Div. marching in rear of the 1" Div. and soon skirmishing commenced, after striking the Bentonville Road turned square to the left. Soon after the 1" Div. began skirmishing with the enemy which continued for severil[sic] ,miles, the columns occasionally halting to give time for the skirmishers to drive the enemy from a swamp or a dense thicket. At 12N the advance Division seemed to encounter a large force & meet with a more stubborn resistance. The 1" Division formed in line of Battle & we were ordered forward as a support in column by Regiment with the exception of the 7"Ill which moved on the left flank of the other Regts. As the enemies position was developed, the command deployed& went into Line ___ the right of the 1" Div. in an open field; soon after moved forward into the timber & then halted and stacked arms. At 3PM received orders to throw up earthworks in our front, previously a company had been sent forward in the Front from the 57" Ill to form a skirmish Line connecting with that of the 1st Div. on our left & with that of the 2nd Brigade on our right, during all this time heavy skirmishing, accompanied by heavy commanding was kept up.
March 19: Moved forward at 7.30AM in center of the Division, marched but five miles in the f_____, being delayed by bad roads over swamps. At 3PM, the road being better, the command moved forward rapidly. During the middle of the day heavy cannonading was heard on our left & in the latter part of the day, ____ move to our rear and right at dark reached Falling Creek & found some difficulty in crossing. Went into camp at 11PM having marched twelve miles. No train came up, being unable to affect a crossing over Falling Creek. The camp fires of the enemy were visable[sic] and a large force was reported in the vicinity. During the night the enemy kept firing shots at intervals with Artillery at our camps.
March 18: Left camp at 9AM in rear of the Division taking the Goldsboro. Crossed a bad swamp corduroyed by the preceding troops. Found the road better than usual; marched eleven miles & encamped at dark.
March 17: Broke camp at 7AM and immediately crossed the River, the command being obliged to wade through water knee deep. Six miles out the advance struck the enemy, and the command formed in line of battle, but a few shots from the 1" Mo. Light Artillery induced them to retreat, the 2nd Brig. however was left to cover the main Road, while the other Brigades moved forward in another Road to the left. Three miles further on, struck the 20th SC & went into camp having marched nine miles.
March 16: Broke camp at 7AM and immediately crossed the River, the command being obliged to wade through water knee deep. Six miles out the advance struck the enemy, and the command formed in line of battle, but a few shots from the 1" Mo. Light Artillery induced them to retreat, the 2nd Brig. however was left to cover the main Road, while the other Brigades moved forward in another Road to the left. Three miles further on, struck the 20th SC & went into camp having marched nine miles.
March 15: Received orders from the Gen'l Commanding to have the 59th Iowa report to Brig. Gen'l Wards for duty, to guard the Division Train, that was to be left in the rear. From here on, only Brigade trains and small trains of ammunition were to attend the Column. All unemployed negroes were also sent to the rear. Moved forward at 9AM in rear of the Division, on what was termed Burian's Cross Roads; halted frequently to repair the road. In the afternoon it rained considerable and at 3PM cannonading was heard in our front, which was occasioned by a small force of the enemy, disputing the passage of the South River. At 4PM encamped near the River in the midst of a severe rain, skirmishing going on very heavy by the 1" Brigade, while the enemy were throwing shell into our camps. Distance marched ten miles.
March 14: Resumed the march at 6AM, moved to Cape Fear River, two miles & then halted until 3d Div. 17" SC had passed over. Then crossed the River on Pontoon Bridge and encamped two miles out, at 3PM, leaving two Regiments a mile in the rear to corduroy the Road.