Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review of Smith & Sokolosky - "'NO SUCH ARMY SINCE THE DAYS OF JULIUS CAESAR': Sherman's Carolinas Campaign from Fayetteville to Averasboro, March 1865"

["No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar": Sherman's Carolinas Campaign from Fayetteville to Averasboro, March 1865 *revised and updated edition* by Mark A. Smith & Wade Sokolosky (Savas Beatie, 2017). Hardcover, 19 maps, photos, illustrations, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:165/247. ISBN:978-1-61121-286-0. $29.95]

It wasn't that long ago that the cupboard was nearly bare when it came to the 1865 Carolinas Campaign. For decades, the main resource remained John Barrett's classic The Civil War in North Carolina from 1963. Mark Bradley deserves a great deal of credit for bringing the 1865 campaign in the state back out of the shadows. His 1996 book The Battle Of Bentonville: Last Stand In The Carolinas is an excellent campaign and battle study by any measure, and it undoubtedly sparked a wider interest in the final months of the Civil War in North Carolina1.

Since that time, a number of fine studies have been published, and two of the best were authored by retired military officers Mark Smith and Wade Sokolosky2. Back in 2005, the now defunct Ironclad Publishing released their first book “No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar” Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign: from Fayetteville to Averasboro, which was highly praised at the time. A revised and updated edition of this truly original work has just been published by Savas Beatie under the slightly different title "No Such Army Since the Days of Julius Caesar": Sherman's Carolinas Campaign from Fayetteville to Averasboro, March 1865.

As Bradley himself notes in the foreword, the new edition is far more than a straight reprint. Immediately recognized are the content and aesthetic improvements in the cartography. The 19 maps provide detailed views of events from all three levels of war—strategic, operational, and tactical. A new letter transcription and more photographs have also been added. Holdovers in the appendix section include a driving tour (same number of stops, but content presumably updated), orders of battle, discussions of campaign logistics and military hospitals, the Janie Smith letter, and a campaign-related human interest/heirloom story.

The new No Such Army remains a compact narrative. The first two chapters quickly set the stage for the main event, a March 11-16, 1865 running battle of sorts in North Carolina between Fayetteville and Averasboro. During this time, William T. Sherman's army, four corps operating in two wings under Henry Slocum (Left Wing) and O.O. Howard (Right Wing), would feint toward the state capital of Raleigh and move on the Goldsboro rail junction. At Goldsboro, it was hoped that the increasingly ragged federals would meet up with fresh supplies and reinforcements from the coast. On the other side, the hastily assembled Confederate "army" under William J. Hardee, its numbers rapidly dwindling through desertion and march attrition, desperately sought to delay this seemingly unstoppable Union advance. Not knowing Sherman's next target, Hardee was tasked with covering the direct roads to Raleigh and Goldsboro while also buying precious time for Joe Johnston to gather enough men and resources together to strike one of the enemy's isolated wings.

Not wanting to fight Sherman with his back to the Cape Fear River, Hardee only briefly held Fayetteville before again moving north and setting up a triple line of defense in a narrow, swampy strip of land between the Cape Fear and Black rivers. Readers on top of their Revolutionary War reading will immediately see the similarities between Hardee's dispositions and those of Daniel Morgan at Cowpens, though the authors found no evidence that the Confederate battleplan represented a conscious effort at emulating Morgan. The book praises Hardee's skill in selecting the ground and arranging a fortified defense-in-depth as the best means to delay Sherman's Left Wing. The plan's flaws are also noted. Unlike Morgan, Hardee did not inform the leaders commanding the first two lines about when he expected them to withdraw, a serious omission. The Confederates also had too few troops to adequately man even the shortened lines they occupied. Another potentially disastrous drawback, left unmentioned in this case, was the very real possibility of a panicked rout by the less seasoned garrison troops of the first line blocking the field of fire of friendly troops to the rear (like Wagner's Division did at Franklin) and causing a complete, accordion-like collapse of the whole position. Thankfully for the Confederates, the brigades of Rhett and Elliot (especially the former) fought better than expected given their limited experience in the field.

As Slocum's Wing approached Hardee's defenses, its leading divisions dutifully deployed and gradually outflanked the first two lines. However, with the timely afternoon arrival of Joe Wheeler's cavalry on the Confederate right blocking the last Union flanking move, the same indirect approach to success failed to carry the third and final line of defense. The battle concluded when Sherman, feeling his army had already suffered too many casualties, declined to renew the attack. Whether Sherman could have finished off Hardee entirely on the 16th, an action that likely would have fatally compromised Johnston's already miniscule chances of crushing the Union Left Wing, is impossible to know.

According to Smith and Sokolosky, both sides could claim a measure of victory at Averasboro. Hardee's determined stand granted Johnston the time needed to assemble the strike force he would wield to great effect (at least initially) at Bentonville, and the morale boosting performance of the Confederates at Averasboro temporarily stemmed the tide of desertion. On the Union side, Sherman's army inflicted more casualties than it suffered, occupied the battlefield after the Confederates retreated, and had a free path to Goldsboro. 

All of the fighting described above, particularly the events of March 15-16 comprising the Battle of Averasboro, is minutely detailed in the book. In terms of organization, content, clarity, and style, the battle narrative grades high. The study's perceptive analysis of leadership, command, tactics, and terrain is undoubtedly informed by the professional military background of both authors. Maps are attractive, full featured, and plentiful.

The book does suffer from some editorial breakdowns. Numerous typos are scattered about3. In the section describing the mid-morning Union infantry deployments and reinforcements on March 16 at Averasboro, it seems the maps are referred to out of sequence. In addition to misspellings, a few units are incorrectly labeled by the cartographer (examples: on page 99, Ward arriving at the bottom should be Jackson, and on page 117 the text indicates that the 32nd Georgia reinforced the left flank but the map mistakenly labels that unit the 32nd SC).

Those issues aside, the new edition of No Such Army adds to and improves upon the old in more than enough ways to make it well worthy of renewed recommendation. Owners of the previous version will surely want to upgrade. With definitive-level treatments of Averasboro and Wise's Forks under their belts, Smith and Sokolsky have firmly established themselves within the highest echelon of 1865 Carolinas Campaign historians.

1 - Historian Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes also published a Bentonville study of his own that very same year. While this book was also well received, it's my opinion that Bradley's is the far superior work of the two.
2 - This one and "To Prepare for Sherman's Coming": The Battle of Wise's Forks, March 1865 (2016).
3 - Personally mortifying is the publisher's dreadfully mangled misquoting of my 2005 magazine review for the Advance Praise blurbs on the rear jacket. The word substitution of "intended" for "interested" renders the comment nonsensical.


  1. Thank you for the review Drew. We are very happy to have published both books by these authors.

  2. Drew, thank you for taking the time to review our updated version of No Such Army... Regarding the "dreadfully mangled misquoting," it's my fault, not the publisher. Please excuse my error. In my haste I failed to catch the error.


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