Hardee’s Gallant Stand at Averasborough
Marching into North Carolina with six thousand garrison troops from Savannah and Charleston under his command, Lieutenant-General William J. Hardee halted at the Smith Plantation near Averasborough. In a well-chosen defensive position with the Cape Fear River on the west flank and Black River on the east, Hardee placed three lines with his veteran troops in the last. His 16 March 1865 battle against over thirty-thousand veteran enemy troops was the first serious impediment Sherman experienced since departing Atlanta.
Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
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Hardee’s Gallant Stand at Averasborough
“The Confederates had suffered terrible losses. The First South Carolina Heavy Artillery had borne the brunt of [enemy] assaults and suffered heavily, losing 215 killed, wounded or captured out of 458 officers and men engaged. [Major James J.] Lucas’s battalion had also suffered severely. “Captain Richardson’s company went into the fight that morning ninety strong,” reported Samuel Ravenel. “At roll call the next morning only nineteen answered,” a staggering loss of 80% in just a few hours’ fighting.
Later that morning [Col. William] Butler’s (Rhett’s) brigade reported to [Major-General Lafayette] McLaws with only 400 combat-ready men in the ranks. Butler had gone into battle with 1,051 men that morning and therefore lost an astounding 62% of those engaged. His brigade’s officer corps suffered especially heavy losses. The First South Carolina Regulars lost 3 officers killed, 6 wounded and 2 missing, while the First South Carolina Artillery lost 4 killed, 6 wounded and 2 missing.
The remnant of Butler’s shattered brigade withdrew to [Brigadier-General Stephen] Elliott’s second line of defense. Capt. Armand L. DeRosset’s Fayetteville Arsenal Battalion, about 170 strong, held that portion of the second line to the left of the Fayetteville-Raleigh Road. When the Federals attacked . . . and drove the Arsenal Battalion from its initial position, the situation grew desperate. DeRosset then turned to the commander of the . . . Twenty-second Georgia Battalion, and recommended that both commands counterattack and drive the Yankees back.
While he was barking out orders for the counterattack, DeRosset took a bullet that passed through both lungs. He was too severely wounded to be moved, and was left on the battlefield to die.
About 1:00PM, an all-out Union assault on the second line began. As soon as the [enemy] cavalry gained the road, a heavy volley tore through its ranks, delivered by the Thirty-second Georgia and the First Georgia Regulars . . . [who] managed to get off three volleys before the Union cavalry took refuge in the safety of the swamp.
Concerned about the mounting numbers of casualties, Sherman [would not] press the retreating Confederates. After nearly a full day of hard fighting, [the enemy] had driven the Confederates from two defensive lines. However, the victorious Federals still had to contend with Hardee’s main line, which would prove far more challenging than the first two.
Fortune had smiled on Hardee’s outnumbered troops that afternoon [of the second day of fighting], permitting them to hang on in the face of repeated Union assaults. All of Sherman’s attempts to turn the third line had failed, and the Union commander was in no hurry to try his luck again. The Southerners’ well-prepared breastworks, good selection and use of terrain . . . contributed greatly to the success of Hardee’s well-planned and well-executed defense in depth.
Hardee’s demoralized and largely untested command had performed beyond his wildest expectations . . . [stopping] Sherman’s advance in its tracks for an entire day and had bloodied the Northern veterans in the process. More importantly, Hardee’s troops bought precious time for [Lieutenant-General Joseph E.] Johnston, allowing him to concentrate his forces around Smithfield.”
(No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar, Sherman’s Carolina Campaign, Smith and Sokolosky, Ironclad Publishing, 2005, pp. 109; 115-116; 123-124)