In late March 1865, Union cavalry under Major General George Stoneman, commander of the Union army “District of East Tennessee,” marched throughout western North Carolina during one of the longest cavalry raids in history. About 5,000 men under Stoneman’s command entered North Carolina with a mission “to destroy and not to fight battles” in order to expedite the close of the Civil War. Stoneman’s raid coincided with the raids of General William T. Sherman in the eastern sections of the state, stretching local home guard and militia units thinly across the state and forcing Confederate commanders to make hard choices on where their men were needed most.
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Stoneman divided his men and sent detachments throughout the region, securing the destruction of the region’s factories, bridges and railroad lines. The army relied heavily on local citizens for food and supplies, often emptying storehouses. Stoneman’s raids in North Carolina lasted from late March until May when they assisted in the search for Confederate President Jefferson Davis as he fled the collapsed Confederacy. The men had marched more than 1,000 miles during the raid and historians credit their march with assuring the death of the Confederacy as they captured artillery pieces and took thousands of prisoners while destroying Confederate army supplies and blocking a line of possible retreat for both Lee and Johnston’s armies.
After the successful skirmish in Boone, Stoneman planned to obtain fresh horses and supplies in Wilkesboro. He divided his army and sent a contingent southward through Blowing Rock under the command of Brigadier General Alvan C. Gillem while Stoneman’s men marched northward through Deep Gap. Both units reunited the next day, March 29, in the outskirts of Wilkesboro. Heavy rains complicated Stoneman’s movements around the town, forcing the bulk of his men to remain in the area for three days because of the difficulties in fording the flooded Yadkin River. During the extended stay, Union troops on raids in the countryside discovered several moonshine stills and the drunken soldiers rode roughshod over the town of Wilkesboro. Angered by his men’s actions, Stoneman tried unsuccessfully to stop their recklessness. Stoneman and his men left the area and headed north toward the Virginia line.
Mark A. Snell, ed., North Carolina: The Final Battles (1998)
John G. Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina (1963)
Cornelia Phillips Spencer, The Last Ninety Days of the War in North Carolina (1866)
Ina Van Noppen, Stoneman’s Last Raid (1961)
Vernon H. Crow, Storm in the Mountains (1982)
Maj. Gen. George Stoneman