The following article looks at the significance and events of the Battle of Averasboro. The events account of this article was extracted in part from the U.S. Congressional Record of the U.S. Senate dated September 5, 1868, Vol. 114, No. 143.
Historically underestimated and underrecognized, the Confederate military action on the Smith plantation four miles south of the village of Averasboro was and is of considerable significance.
The battle resulted from a deliberate, well-planned, and well-executed Confederate tactical military maneuver in force--the first since the beginning of Sherman's march north. The action was designed to delay and to damage General Sherman's progress, and it did both under the able and experienced leadership of General William J. Hardee.
Of equal and ongoing significance, the Battle of Averasboro and its aftermath highlight the resolve, the compassion, and the resilience of the Southerners involved--both military and civilian. This spirit survives as a major aspect of the heritage of our ever-developing country.
During the last part of his march from Savannah to Fayetteville, Sherman was preceded by a force of retreating Confederates, whom he outnumbered ten to one and whose mission it was to watch and report his movements. These Confederates were commanded by an intrepid Georgian, General William J. Hardee, one-time commandant at West Point and author of "Hardee's Tactics."
Hardee crossed the Cape Fear River shortly before Sherman entered Fayetteville and took position near Averasboro in Harnett County on the road leading from Fayetteville to Raleigh between the Cape Fear on the west and the Black River on the east.
At this juncture Sherman's Fourteenth and Twentieth Corps under General Slocum were to proceed by way of Averasboro and Bentonville, while his Fifteenth and Seventeenth Corps marched on a parallel route.
General Joseph E. Johnston ordered Hardee to delay Slocum at Averasboro, so that he could complete the concentration of his forces and be ready to strike the Fourteenth and Twentieth Corps on their arrival at Bentonville.
These events precipitated the Battle of Averasboro, which is well described in Captain Samuel A. Ashe's "History of North Carolina." His words quoted are:
"Hardee, on crossing the Cape Fear, took the road leading to Smithfield and Raleigh. On the fifteenth of March he occupied a position four miles from Averasboro, and that evening a Federal column, being the Fourteenth and Twentieth Corps, approached and there was some skirmishing. Hardee's position was well chosen, the Black River nearly approaching the Cape Fear at that point, and he made excellent dispositions, but had only six thousand men. Early the next morning the Federals, General Sherman being on the field in person, attacked with vigor, using their artillery to advantage; but their infantry was always repulsed. In the early afternoon they moved a heavy force farther to the east, completely flanking the left of Hardee's position, which necessitated a retirement of that wing about four hundred yards to the main line. Here again and again, every assault was repulsed. During the night the Federals proceeded to fortify their position and threw heavy columns across Black River; and Hardee, being thus flanked, fell back towards Smithfield, leaving Wheeler's men in position." (NOTE: Later research indicates that although the Confederate right (west) was flanked on the 1st battle line, it is not established that the Federals flanked the Confederate left. The Confederate final withdrawal was planned, deliberate and orderly.)
Thus ended the Battle of Averasboro, a fight in which Union casualties totaled 682 and Confederate losses approximated five hundred.
By his gallant delaying action at Averasboro, Hardee enabled Johnston to concentrate his total available forces of 25,000 men and boys at Bentonville. Here, on March 19, 1865, Johnston surprised Sherman's Fourteenth Corps.