The first real fighting during General Sherman’s march through the heart of the Confederacy (American Civil War). Sherman had marched from Atlanta to the coast at Savannah, and north through South Carolina without facing any significant opposition, but in North Carolina the Confederacy managed to scrape together an army that could at least threaten Sherman.
The odds were still heavily against the Confederate forces, now commanded by General Joseph Johnston. Sherman had 60,000 men of his own, while another 30,000 were marching inland from the coast. To oppose him, the Confederates had 21,000 men under Johnston, and another 5,000 nearby under Braxton Bragg. Johnston’s only hope of success was to attack an isolated part of Sherman’s army and defeat it before the rest of the army could arrive on the scene.
This was only possible because Sherman was in the habit of advancing on a wide front. This had worked superbly in South Carolina, where he had appeared to threaten both Augusta and Charleston, before eventually pushing between them to capture the state capitol at Columbia. In attempting to defend both places, the Confederates had ended up fighting for neither of them.
Sherman repeated this approach in North Carolina. He advanced on a wide front that threatened both the key railroad junction at Raleigh, key to supplying Lee’s army at Richmond and also Goldsboro, where he could unite with the 30,000 men from the coast. However, this time he faced an opponent determined to attack.
The attack fell on the Federal left wing. At Averasborough the advancing Federal Twentieth Corps encountered Hardee’s Corps. The Confederates were badly outnumbered here, and could fight no more than a delaying action. While Sherman watched, the Confederates were pushed back after the first severe fighting of the campaign.
Averasborough did little to slow Sherman down, but it did tell Johnston that the Federal left was a little isolated. Over the next couple of days, Johnston concentrated as much of his army as he could, before launching his main attack at Bentonville (19-21 March).