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The Battle of Bentonville

On March 19, 1865, Confederate forces led by General Joseph Johnston met William Tecumseh Sherman's Federal troops at Bentonville, North Carolina, for the last major battle of the Civil War. Though the Confederacy had been severely crippled by the fall of Fort Fisher in January, Johnston's men engaged the Federals in a series of attacks over three days. Johnston and his troops were eventually forced to retreat but did not officially surrender until April 26 at Bennett Place near Durham, North Carolina.

Approximately 20,000 CSA soldiers fought in the Battle of Bentonville. One of these men was Wiley C. Howard, a lieutenant in Company C of Georgia's Cobb Legion Cavalry. In his brief narrative pamphlet, Sketch of Cobb Legion Cavalry and Some Incidents and Scenes Remembered (1901), Howard writes of the friends he lost at the Battle of Bentonville and pays special attention to the details of his experiences during the last day of fighting, a day when they were "constantly under fire." Howard and his men retreated to Raleigh to escape the "baptism of blood" (p. 18). In the account of this battle specifically as well as throughout his narrative, Wiley emphasizes his fellow soldiers' bravery.

Another soldier who recounted his experiences on the Bentonville Battlefield was South Carolina native Arthur Peronneau Ford. Ford co-authored a memoir, Life in the Confederate Army: Being Personal Experiences of a Private Soldier in the Confederate Army; and Some Experiences and Sketches of Southern Life (1905), with his wife Marion. In this memoir, Ford remembers the days of the Bentonville action. He remembers the march into battle past the wounded and thirsty. Then, he writes candidly, personally, and with much detail about his charge into Federal lines. In the confusion, Ford is wounded and left for dead, but he regains consciousness and catches up with his unit. Ford writes that even at this late stage in the war, few saw "that the end was so near. We were blinded by our patriotism" (p. 56).

Howard's and Ford's memoirs are both part of DocSouth's "First Person Narratives of the American South" collection, which in addition to Civil War accounts includes diaries, travel writings, and ex-slave narratives written by southerners. The majority of materials in this collection was written by those southerners whose voices were less prominent in their time, including African Americans, women, enlisted men, laborers, and Native Americans.

Jennifer L. Larson