After two weeks of repose in camp, the army moved forward upon the fortified position of the enemy at Smithfield, April 10th. General Terry held Goldsboro and its communications with Newbern, while the main body of the army advanced in the following order: General Schofield, with the Tenth and Twenty-third Corps, moved up the south bank of the Neuse, forming the left wing, General Slocum held the center, and General Howard the right.
The Fifteenth Corps occupied the right flank, with Woods' Division on the extreme right. The center moved directly toward Smithfield, along the line of the North Carolina Railroad, while the right wing followed the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad toward the north. In the advance of the First Division the rebel cavalry was in our front and flank, disputing our progress. Some skirmishing occurred during the day. Companies I and K (p303) were detailed as skirmishers, and drove the enemy from his camp, which we occupied during the night. No casualties occurred.
Johnston withdrew from his defenses toward Raleigh, on the morning of our advance from Goldsboro. It soon became evident that he was not disposed to fight, and the prospect seemed to indicate a chase of our old antagonist, who had so often exhibited his skill in retreating before Sherman's forces, in Mississippi, Georgia and the Carolinas. Whether he would pause to defend Raleigh seemed doubtful, and the event confirmed our fears; for the enemy hardly halted at the State Capital, where no defenses had been constructed since the period of our occupation of Newbern.
The receipt of official intelligence that Lee had surrendered to Grant, at Appomattox, reassured all hearts that the end of the great conflict was at hand. The desire to force Johnston to a like course was general in the army, and the hope was confidently entertained that such would be the result, if he should attempt to make a stand.
On the 11th of April, Wheeler's cavalry was actively employed on our flanks and rear, as well as in front, not venturing to offer serious resistance, but impeding our advance by the destruction of bridges, and watching for stragglers in the rear of the column. The bridge over Little River, at Falk's Church, was destroyed, necessitating the (p304) destruction of the church to rebuild it. The enemy followed us to the river, and were only prevented from crossing by the destruction of the bridge a second time.
John Sturman and Aaron Cutshall, of Co. A, were attacked in rear of the column, the same day, by a party of mounted rebels. The latter was captured, but afterward escaped. Sturman was followed by one of the assailants and struck over the head with a pistol, but retained his seat on the horse he was riding. His gun was slung upon his shoulder, and having no time for removing it, he turned the muzzle downward upon the foe, and fired at random, the ball penetrating the rebel's heart. He dropped lifeless from his horse, which kept on its course. Sturman caught the beast and rode in triumph to the Regiment, and Cutshall came in soon after. On returning to the spot where the rebel was killed, and examining his person, several articles were found which were at once recognized as belong to John Clark, of Company G, who was supposed to be killed, but who was afterwards exchanged.
Raleigh was occupied April 13th. On the 14th, General Sherman reviewed the Fifteenth Corps, subsequently reviewing the Seventeenth and Twentieth corps. The Fourteenth Corps advanced to the Cape Fear River, where it remained during the continuance of the army at Raleigh. (p305)
On the 15th, all operations were suspended, and the troops were excited by various rumors of the surrender of Johnston. The day wore wearily away, and no definite information relative to the situation of affairs could be obtained. It was definitely known, on the next day, that a conference was in progress between Generals Sherman and Johnston, but of the probable results all were alike ignorant.
In the midst of this anxiety relative to the result of the negotiations for surrender, and while all stood still, after the rejoicing over our success at Richmond, in expectation of the full cup of joy in the assurance that Johnston, too, had surrendered his entire army to Sherman--at this moment of intense interest, the astounding intelligence of the assassination of President Lincoln fell, like a clap of thunder from the clear sky, upon the hearts of our noble army. The shock was indescribable. Mingled emotions of grief, indignation, and horror thrilled every soul. The ashen lips of brave men almost refused to speak the terrible truth, while the great deep of sorrow was stirred. It could not be true, yet it came so directly that it would be folly to dispute its correctness. The previous subject of our thoughts was banished from the mind, and each man buried himself in secret reflection upon the enormity of the crime that had been committed in the interest of the rebellion, and at (p306) the moment of its last expiring gasp. It really seemed that the climax of wickedness had been reserved for the closing scene in the long and bloody drama that had been enacted upon the stage of our broad national domain.
Alas! the first rumors were confirmed by the official announcement of the sad event in a special order of General Sherman, who had received a telegram from Secretary Stanton on the 17th. Great indignation was aroused by the full assurance of the truth, and it was with difficulty that the city of Raleigh was saved from destruction. The rebel citizens who had long despised their former humble townsman, Andrew Johnson, now elevated to the Executive office by the foul crime committed at Washington, suddenly discovered that the South had lost a friend in our martyred President, and, like Pilate, they at once washed their hands of all guilt.
This excitement was soon succeeded by the suspension of all hostilities between the two armies, on the basis of the celebrated terms of agreement adopted in conference between Generals Sherman and Johnston.
This order assured us of the virtual restoration of peace upon equitable terms, which only needed the approval of the Executive to secure the full object of all our sacrifices. The agreement between the two commanders was already on its way to (p307) Washington when the army received the above order, and its acceptance and approval were confidently anticipated. In the meantime the troops were placed in camps as directed in the order, and the army awaited in quiet the announcement of the final termination of the struggle.
On the 24th of April it became generally known that the terms of agreement forwarded to Washington had been disapproved, and that General Grant had reached Raleigh, ordering the immediate resumption of hostilities, after giving Johnston the two days notice, agreed upon in conference, in case of the disapproval of the basis of agreement. The notice was at once given to Johnston, and orders were issued to the army to be in readiness for an advance upon the enemy on the 26th. The quiet of camp was exchanged for busy preparation for renewing the conflict.
But our further movement was rendered unnecessary by a second conference, in which Johnston accepted the same terms of surrender for the army under his command as were granted to Lee at Appomattox, thus ending all hostilities from the Potomac to the Chattahoochee, and leaving only the armies under Dick Taylor and Kirby Smith to be surrendered. These two soon accepted the same terms accorded to Lee and Johnston, and the war for the Union was ended. (p308)
The comments of the press upon the course of General Sherman were severe, and much ill feeling was engendered in consequence of the "Sherman--Johnston Conference." Much unnecessary anxiety was manifested in reference to the designs of General Sherman, and grave accusations were preferred against him by the press. But his ready compliance with his instructions proved the integrity of purpose by which he was actuated. Though injudicious--in the estimation of the great body of his own army--in the approval of the terms of agreement, the troops retained for him the same respect and confidence he had so long shared, and they would have followed him into battle with the same readiness that they had so often evinced. And to the last hour of their service they were ready to cheer as heartily for Sherman as for Grant himself.
The period of strife had now really ceased in all the insurgent States bordering on the Atlantic. It was difficult to realize that the roar and smoke of battle had passed away, and that our ears would no more be saluted with the terrible sounds that had become so familiar, in the long and bloody strife for the permanency of the institutions established by our fathers. Fondly we looked forward to home and friends. Slowly the days passed by, while awaiting the order for our last march. (p309)
In the interval occurring between the surrender of Johnston, which was arranged in conference, April 25th, and the receipt of marching orders for Washington, very little of special interest transpired. The four Corps composing the Armies of the Tennessee and Georgia were directed to prepare for the return march, without ordnance trains, and all was in readiness for the movement by the last of April. The Twenty-third Corps was ordered to remain in North Carolina.
The following promotions were made during this period:
Sergeant Major Jesse H. Cochran, to Quartermaster,
vice Lee, resigned, March 26th, 1865.
Orderly Sergeant John B. Maguire, Company K, to 2nd Lieutenant, vice O'Shaughnessy, resigned, April 19th, 1865. (p310)