Major General George Stoneman led one of the conclusive operations of the Civil War from during the March and April months of 1865. Classified by some historians as one of the longest cavalry raids in history, Stoneman’s Raid coincided with Sherman’s March through the eastern section of North Carolina, and the general, along with his 6,000 soldier, was ordered “to destroy and not to fight battles.” The idea behind the raid was to shorten the length of the already bloody Civil War.
Beginning in at the town of Mossy Creek, Tennessee, Stoneman led his men into the mountains of North Carolina on March 23, 1865. In just a few short days the troupe had pillaged Boone and captured the town of Wilkesboro. Eventually Stoneman moved northward and started attacking towns in Virginia, and he split his company on April 9th, also the same day as General Lee’s surrender. Brigadier General William Palmer made his way to Greensboro while General Stoneman moved onward to Salisbury.
General Palmer’s brigade destroyed roadways and rail lines in the Greensboro and High Point area. His group of men managed to sever railroads outside the town of Greensboro, and they barely missed capturing Jefferson Davis when Palmer and his men set fire to the Reedy Fork Bridge. Davis and his cabinet were scurrying away from Virginia, and they managed to cross the bridge only moments before it was set on fire. Palmer continued his march through Greensboro and High Point as his company laid waste to bridges, factories, and trains. Palmer would eventually meet back up with General Stoneman on April 12th as Stoneman raided Salisbury.
Stoneman and his men moved toward Salisbury while Palmer had began his trek to Greensboro. The town of Salisbury not only held a significant Confederate prison but it was also a large supply town for the Confederate forces. Stoneman showed no mercy, as he razed the town; Union troops tore up rail lines, and burned mills and destroyed the town’s infrastructure. The destruction lasted for several days and some witnesses claimed to have noticed the fierce fire for over 15 miles during the night.
After destroying most of Salisbury, General Stoneman and his troupe headed back to Tennessee. In all, the Union army had traveled over 1,000 miles in both North Carolina, Virginia, and parts of South Carolina. Causing widespread destruction and vandalism, historians believe that Stoneman’s raid was the coup de grâce that prevented Lee from a full retreat. In addition, Stoneman’s raid left most of western North Carolina in shambles, and the leaders of North Carolina during Reconstruction had to deal with rebuilding the structures and transportation routes the North destroyed during the raid.
“Stoneman’s Raid.” William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006).
“Stoneman’s Raid.” North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program website. A Division of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. (accessed January 17, 2011).
“Stoneman’s Raid – March 23 to April 26, 1865.” The U.S. – Civil War Website. http://www.us-civilwar.com/stoneman.htm, (accessed January 17, 2011).