Monday, May 31, 2010

Rolling Through History on the NCBC 600K

Riding against the clock, we usually don't think much about the past. Our focus is on the near future, or the now. Rarely do we have the luxury of stopping to investigate something from a different time. Even when we're literally riding on it.

Gary's hilarious post stated that the road running through Averasboro Battlefield features "authentic Civil War-era pavement." The reality is not as funny, but there may be a good reason it's so bumpy. Originally called "The King's Highway," the "Raleigh Road" was a very important plank road by the beginning of the Civil War. There were few plank roads in the state at the time, and this one linked Raleigh with Fayetteville and its Arsenal. It was the equivalent of a modern interstate highway, and for that reason, it would bring the War into the heart of North Carolina.

After Union General William T. Sherman's infamous "March To The Sea," he turned his attention to linking up with his General-in-Chief, Ulysses S. Grant, in Virginia. There, Grant had his counterpart, Confederate General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee, bogged down at Petersburg. Grant and President Lincoln were determined to smash Lee and force an end to the war.

Sherman proposed marching through the Carolinas to splinter the Confederates and humiliate South Carolina, the first state to secede, and Grant and Lincoln agreed. Sherman set out in January 1865 for Petersburg via the state capitals of Columbia and Raleigh.

Lee begged his old friend and fellow Virginian, General Joseph Johnston, to come out of exile and drive Sherman back to Savannah. President Jefferson Davis reluctantly agreed with Lee, and Johnston took charge. Concerned that Sherman was aiming to burn Raleigh as he had Atlanta and Columbia, Johnston immediately began harassing tactics. He also collected and rallied as many men as possible, many of whom "were shoeless and had not been paid in months."

Sherman divided his army into two wings and marched into North Carolina on March 8th. He did not expect much resistance, and Fayetteville and its important Arsenal fell just three days later. Though Sherman did not burn the city, he did order the the Arsenal destroyed, then continued north. One wing feinted toward Raleigh, the other towards Goldsboro, with its strategic network of railroads heading north.

Here, Johnston made his move. He gave his Lt General William Hardee, once a Commandant at West Point, orders to hold up the left column as long as he could. Hardee put his men across the Raleigh Road near Averasboro, what we now ride as Burnett and Battlefield Roads, and waited. The Federal troops, slogging through rain and mud, were stung on the morning of March 16th, 1865 as they marched up the Raleigh Road. The Union soldiers were stopped cold by the first Confederate line, then were assaulted by a Rebel counterattack. Heavy reinforcements turned the tide in the Federals' favor by mid-morning, and they drove the Confederates back to a third defensive line before bogging down. Night fell, and Hardee withdrew his tired Confederate troops, satisfied they had held up Sherman's Army for two days. Johnston had gotten the time he wanted, and two days later, the largest battle in North Carolina commenced at Bentonville, a surprise attack that ultimately mattered little. Just a few weeks later, Sherman and Johnston would meet at Bennett Place in present-day Durham, and the largest surrender of the Civil War- 89000 soldiers- was official. Though Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government had yet to surrender, the War was effectively over now that Lee's and Johnston's armies had surrendered separately.

One of the men under siege with Lee in far-away Petersburg was Major Charles Manly Stedman. Born in Pittsboro, his family had moved to Fayetteville when he was still a boy. He was a commander of the 44th NC Regiment when it surrendered only 8 officers and 74 men at Appamattox. Having graduated from the University of North Carolina just weeks after Fort Sumter fell in 1861, he returned home and began an illustrious career as a lawyer and Congressman. In 1917, a little town near Fayetteville incorporated, naming itself Stedman in his honor.

Down the road and back in time even more, Moore's Creek Battlefield is a memorial to one of our country's first battles in the original civil war, the American Revolution. 1,000 Patriots sprung a trap on 1,600 Loyalists at a bridge over Moore's Creek in February 1776. The rousing Patriot victory ended British rule in the colony and allowed North Carolina to be the first colony to vote for independence.

One of those at the Moore's Creek battle was a Patriot major named Nathaniel Rochester. A Virginian by birth, he had moved to Granville County as a child and quickly made his mark in Hillsborough. After the Revolution ended, he migrated to Hagerstown, Maryland and became a very successful businessman and civic leader. Two decades later, he and two other men bought land up north on the Indian frontier and laid out a town. It's name: Rochester, New York.

Some things to think about the next time we roll through time.


skiffrun said...

Excellent write-up, and informative, Branson.


dean furbish said...

Branson, I really enjoyed reading your informative article! Thanks for taking the time to research, share, and introduce to us some fascinating elements of our state's history.

geof said...

thanks, B!

really interesting, we need to get a crew and shoot you on the bike telling this narrative!

enjoyed it!


Vance Ricks said...

Seconding Geof's proposal --