Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Averasboro Battlefield

I finished my tour of Bentonville with several hours of daylight remaining and struck out for Averasboro. The latter is about one hour’s drive over rural roads from Bentonville, and is well worth a visit. Though I did not arrive in time to see the visitors center, I saw enough of the field to make the detour worthwhile, and will definitely visit again in the future when opportunity offers.

The battle of Aversaboro was fought prior to the climax of the campaign at Bentonville. Hardee’s delaying action on March 16, 1865, assisted by a steadily worsening rain falling throughout the day, separated Sherman’s wings under Slocum and Howard, giving Johnston a chance to defeat them in detail.

As the visitors center was closed, I missed the map room display and also a diorama of the Federal assault on Hardee’s first defensive line, manned by the troops of Rhett’s brigade. The generally flat, open terrain of the battlefield seems at first glance to offer few opportunities for defense. To compensate for this, Hardee deployed in three lines. To the rear of Rhett’s troops in the first line, Hardee posted Elliot’s Brigade of Taliaferro’s Division behind field works. McLaws Division anchored the third and final defensive line, straddling the Raleigh Plank Road (modern Rt. 82) near the present location of Chicora Cemetery.

With sunset fast approaching as I pulled in to the visitors center parking lot, I toured the battlefield in reverse chronological order. The visitors center appears to be located near the site of a ravine defining the northwestern flank of the last rebel defensive line, an area marked by heavy fighting between Vandever’s Federal brigade and Wheeler’s cavalry. Chicora Cemetery, roughly the center of Hardee’s third line, is a short distance to the south along Route 82. The cemetery contains several Confederate graves and also a reconstructed slave cabin from one of the local plantations present at the time of the battle.

Continuing further south along Route 82, I passed the second confederate defensive line, then pulled off to the right on a small side road marking the position of the first rebel line, manned by the Rhett’s troops. Here, Case’s Federal brigade moved north along a tree-lined ravine to the west of Rhett’s position and stormed out of the woods, rolled up the rebel flank and overran two artillery pieces. A small hillock to the south marks the position of the Federal artillery, and is the only elevation of note in the battlefield.

One of the notable aspects of Averasboro, and of the Bentonville battlefield as well, is the detail of the roadside historical markers. Unlike many historical markers that provide and incomplete picture at best, these provide interesting and relevant detail. Both of these battlefields are success stories of preservation efforts by state and private organizations. And both are well worth a visit.

(Photos to accompany the Bentonville and Averasboro posts coming soon.)

Note: Map from the David Rumsey Collection, courtesy of Cartography Associates (see www.davidrumsey.com for numerous maps of Sherman’s campaigns).

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