The Civil War 145 Years Ago: March 1865

145 Years Ago March 1865

by James W. Durney

  • The Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac continue the siege at Petersburg.  Sherman’s army is advancing in South Carolina.
  • On March 2, at Waynesboro, George Custer takes 1,600 prisoners, 17 flags, 11 cannon and 200 wagons in a short battle.  This victory ends Confederate resistance in the Shenandoah Valley.
  • On March 3: In response to a request from R.E. Lee, Grant is instructed to not meet and talk about peace until Lee surrenders.  Congress authorizes the Bureau for Relief of Freedmen and Refugees, better known as The Freedmen’s Bureau.
  • Union forces start an expedition against St. Marks Fort near Tallahassee, Florida.
  • Lincoln is inaugurated for a second term on March 4.  His address becomes one of America’s most cherished speeches.  Vice President Andrew Johnson makes a fool of himself during his address.  Many observers think the Vice President is drunk.
  • On March 5, the Union expedition finds Confederate forces strongly posted on the St. Marks River near Newport FL.  Detaching a small holding force, the command marches toward the “Natural Bridge”, where the river runs underground.
  • On March 6, Confederate General William Miller defeats General John Newton at the Battle of Natural Bridge.  After several attacks, Newton withdraws to the coast having lost 148 men.  This victory prevents the Union from capturing state capital at Tallahassee.  Newton maintains that Tallahassee was never the expedition’s objective but almost no one believes him.
  • The same day, General Joseph E. Johnston formally takes charge of all CSA forces in North Carolina.
  • On March 8, the CSA Senate authorizes slaves to enter the army as armed soldiers.
  • Sherman’s army crosses into North Carolina.  Judson Kilpatrick, commanding Sherman’s cavalry, sets a trap for Wade Hampton in the area of Monroe’s Cross Roads.
  • On March 10, Wade Hampton attack Kilpatrick at Monroe’s Cross Roads.  Kilpatrick manages to rally his command and counter attack.  Hampton withdraws in good order having inflicted substantial causalities on Kilpatrick’s command.
  • Jefferson Davis signs the “Negro Soldier Law” on March 13.  This allows slaves to serve in Confederate armies.  The law implies that these slaves will be freed later with the permission of their owner and the state legislatures.
  • On March 14, Lord Palmerston tells Confederate envoy James M. Mason that England expects the war to end in a matter of weeks.
  • On March 15, after resting his army and destroying anything of use, Sherman leaves Fayetteville.
  • P.G.T. Beauregard becomes J.E. Johnston’s second in command.  Alexander P. Stewart takes command of the Army of Tennessee on the 16th.
  • The Battle of Averasboro between forces under Lafayette McLaws and the XX Corps under Henry W. Slocum results in a separation of right & left wing Sherman’s army.
  • On the 18th, Johnston starts to concentrate his forces at Bentonville against Sherman’s left wing.  He deploys 21,000 men in an arc with Bragg on the left, Hardee in the center and Stewart on the right.
  • March 19, the Battle of Bentonville.  Sherman’s left wing under Slocum runs into Johnston’s army.  Neither side is able to gain a real advantage in a day of hard fighting.
  • March 20 is a day of hard marching or digging as both sides prepare to continue the battle.  Sherman reunites the wings of his army as Johnston plans a defensive battle, trying to inflict crippling losses on Sherman.
  • On the 21st, Sherman’s numbers cannot be fully brought to bear.  Johnston manages to maintain his position in hard fighting but cannot continue.  That night the Confederates withdraw toward Smithville.
  • The largest cavalry force ever fielded in American history under the command of General James H. Wilson advances on Selma Alabama on the 22nd.  13,500 men, armed with the latest repeating rifles, organized into three divisions under the command of Edward M. McCook. Eli Long and Emory Upton advance in close support.
  • On the 23rd, Johnston facing Sherman’s combine army of 100,000 tells Robert E. Lee “I can do no more than annoy him.”  Sherman has advanced 425 miles in 50 days and is reaching a point where he can support Grant in Virginia.
  • On the 25th, John B. Gordon captures Fort Stedman, Batteries X, XI and XII.  Nearby Fort Haskell and Battery IX hold the break until General Hartman and 4,000 fresh troops retake the fort.  This is the last Confederate hope to hold Petersburg, forcing Lee to prepare to evacuation plans.  The battle occurs while Lincoln, Grant and Sherman are meeting at City Point.
  • The next day, Sheridan reaches Grant’s army bringing his strength to 122,000.  This is about twice the size of Lee’s army.  Lee informs Davis that he cannot sit still and wait for Sherman to pin him against Grant.
  • Starting on March 29, Sheridan’s cavalry, Humphrey’s II Corps and Warren’s V Corps start operations against Fitzhugh Lee and George Picket on the extreme right, starting the Appomattox campaign.

150 Years Ago March 1860

The political parties are working toward their conventions.  Candidates are maneuvering to capture their parties’ nomination.  The Democrats, facing a sectional breakup, schedule their convention in Charleston for late April.  The Republican Party plans their convention in Chicago for mid-May.  Remnants of the American and Whig parties find common cause in the Constitutional Union Party.  They schedule a convention for Baltimore in early May.  Stephen Douglas, John Breckinridge, William H. Seward and Montgomery Blair are leading contenders for the nomination.


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