On orders from General Ulysses S. Grant, Commander in Chief of all Union forces, in April 1864, Major William T. Sherman was to move against the Confederate forces in the South. He was to neutralize the South’s war-making capability by defeating its army, demoralizing its people, and destroying key resupply sources. This was to happen in combination with General Grant’s efforts in Northern Virginia. After ravaging South Carolina and burning its capital, Columbia, by March 1, 1865, the first of Sherman’s troops were entering North Carolina.
Following Sherman’s capture of Fayetteville, Union soldiers demolished the arsenal there, crossed the Cape Fear River, and continued northward to rendezvous with other Federal commands.
On orders from General Joseph E. Johnston, General of the Army of the South, to delay the progress of a major portion of Sherman’s army after it moved north from Fayetteville, North Carolina, General William J. Hardee and his determined corps of Confederates successfully surprised, shocked and disrupted the formidable Federals. This success occurred against overwhelming odds. In February, General Robert E Lee had ordered General Johnston to assume the command of the Army of Tennessee and all troops in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida to “concentrate all available forces and drive Sherman back.”
In March 1865, as Lieutenant General Braxton Bragg attempted to thwart an overwhelming Union offensive to the east, General Johnston assembled forces in the vicinity of Smithfield, North Carolina.
Meanwhile, under General Johnston’s directions, General Hardee employed the veteran cavalry of Lieutenant General Wade Hampton and Major General Joseph Wheeler to closely monitor and raid General Sherman’s advancing army. General Hardee’s infantry and artillery consisted of the divisions of two seasoned veterans of the major Virginia Campaigns, Major General Lafayette McLaws and Brigadier General William B. Taliaferro. General McLaws had commanded a division at Gettysburg, and General Taliaferro had commanded a division under General T.J. (Stonewall) Jackson. Both Generals McLaws and Taliaferro had assembled remnants of Confederate commands in Georgia and South Carolina, and with General Hardee and the cavalry, they were enroute to join General Johnston.
Realizing that General Sherman’s left wing was isolated as it advanced between the Cape Fear and Black Rivers toward Averasboro, General Hardee initiated the classic and effective delaying action required by General Johnston in prelude to the Battle of Bentonville.
The Battle of Averasboro (also called Averysborough, Smith’s Mill and Black River) was the first deliberate, tactical resistance to the infamous march on federal forces through Georgia and the Carolinas. The battle was fought on the plantation lands of the John Smith family four miles south of the Cape Fear River village of Averasboro.