Sunday, March 10, 2013

Battle of Monroe's Crossroads, March 10,  1865
Monument honoring both Confederate and Union forces; erected on the site of the battle by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1996 just south of burial area C

The Battle of Monroe's Crossroads (also known as the Battle of Fayetteville Road, and colloquially in the North as Kilpatrick's Shirttail Skedaddle) was a battle during the Carolinas Campaign of the American Civil War in Cumberland County, North Carolina (now in Hoke County), on the grounds of the present day Fort Bragg Military Reservation

Involving about 4,500 men, it pitted mounted Confederate cavalry against dismounted Union cavalry. It was one of the last all-cavalry battles of the Civil War. The inconclusive fighting lasted for several hours early on the morning of March 10, 1865. The Confederate attack delayed the Federal cavalry's movement toward Fayetteville, denying Brevet Maj. Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick the honor of entering the town first.

The main Confederate assault was at dawn and against a poorly guarded and sleeping Union camp. In command of the Confederate forces were Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton and Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler, who were operating together for the first time. 

One of the goals (not fulfilled) was the capture of Kilpatrick himself, using a small elite squadron of hand-picked troopers. Kilpatrick, ensconced with his mistress in a small log cabin near the farmhouse of Charles Monroe, managed to flee the chaotic scene in his nightshirt, hiding for a period in a nearby swamp before regaining his composure and reorganizing his troops. 

While initially routed, the Federal cavalry soon recovered and counterattacked, eventually pressuring the Confederates to relinquish the camp. Anticipating the approach of Union infantry, the Confederate commanders ordered their troops to disengage from the action in the mid-morning. Hampton's cavalry finally withdrew in good order toward Fayetteville.

The Battle of Monroe's Crossroads gained the additional time needed for the Confederate infantry to conduct an organized crossing of the Cape Fear River at Fayetteville unmolested by the advancing Federals. With their troops and equipment east of the Cape Fear, the Confederates burned the bridges as Union forces entered the city.

The actual loss to the Confederate forces during the Battle of Monroe's Cross Roads is unknown, but it was said that every house along the road was full of killed and wounded soldiers. Out of Hampton's two brigades, 86 troops were reported left dead on the field. Major Christopher T. Cheek of the 5th Kentucky reported counting 33 dead Confederates within the limits of his camp, including many officers. Ten days after the battle, a commissioned officer, William F. Sewell of the 5th Georgia Cavalry, was found lying about a half mile from the battlefield within arm's reach of a small stream called Persimmon Branch. His body was lying on a pallet made from a small part of a tent with a collapsible rubber cup lying by his side. His black horse, his only companion, had remained near him, cropping the wire grass for a considerable space around.

There is no accurate number of Union casualties, and the existing accounts are confusing and contradictory. In his report to Sherman, Kilpatrick reported that he lost '4 officers killed and 7 wounded, 15-[19] men killed and 61-[75] severely and several slightly wounded, and 103 officers and men taken prisoner. The enemy left in our camp upward of 80 killed, including many officers and a large number of men wounded [about 30]…150 horses with their equipment.' Kilpatrick also lost around 30 valuable horses from his headquarters, including four of his own personal mounts: 'two fine stallions–one a little spotted horse, and a large gallant black–and a pie bald and a bay.'

In a report to U.S. Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant stated: 'Sherman from Fayetteville on the 12th. He says nothing about Kilpatrick's defeat by Hampton. Hampton captured all the staff but two officers.' This limited statement of fact was publicly released on March 17 to The New York Times, doubtless to Kilpatrick's great chagrin.

Months after the battle, the remains of cavalrymen who had been buried hurriedly were partially exposed by the rain and wind. Fleshless faces peered up from one grave and bony hands stretched forth from others. Soon after the war ended, the Confederate dead were reburied by local citizens. Under the leadership of Captain John McKeller, John H. Currie and others, the bodies were given a proper burial. About 30 to 35 unknown Confederate dead who fell during the Battle of Monroe's Cross Roads are buried in a mass grave at Longstreet Church Cemetery, marked with a simple marble shaft bearing the inscription 'Confederate Soldiers.' The remainder were removed and buried in the Fayetteville Cemetery.

The Federals killed during the battle were interred on the battlefield. In 1921, the Quartermaster Corps at Fort Bragg identified 33 Federal unknown graves with markers throughout the reservation. Today, the battlefield site is an artillery impact area at Fort Bragg. The farmhouse has since burned, and the gravestones are hidden throughout the woods. About 200 yards west of where the house and old road once were, 27 Union soldiers are buried in three graves.

CNN newsman Anderson Cooper is Hugh Judson Kilpatrick's great-great-grandson.
Kilpatrick's great-great-grandson, Anderson Cooper

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