Volume XXVI Issue #6 • An Excerpt From:

Stoneman's 1865 Raid
in Central North Carolin
"Driving Dixie Down"

by Chris J. Hartley

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Note: All Blue & Gray feature articles are annotated.

In March 1865, Union General George Stoneman rode out of Knoxville, Tennessee, with a cavalry force of 4,000 men and crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains into North Carolina near Boone, pictured. While the raid eventually tallied up to about 2,000 miles, Chris Hartley’s article features the most significant portions that focus mainly on Stoneman’s ride through Central North Carolina. The subtitle of the article was derived from the sentiments expressed in the song “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” written by Robbie Robertson, a Canadian, and recorded by his group The Band in 1969. Following the route of Stoneman’s raid in North Carolina does, indeed, trace the paths of those hell-bent on “Driving Dixie Down.”

It was March 21, 1865, when the message Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had been waiting for finally arrived. “I have the honor to report,” Maj. Gen. George Stoneman wrote Grant from Knoxville, Tennessee, “that my whole command is on the road.”

Stoneman’s announcement probably did little to lessen Grant’s frustration. After all, Grant had been pushing Stoneman to get started on this raid for two long months. Bad weather and difficulties in gathering men, weapons, and horses had delayed it, forcing Grant and Stoneman’s immediate superior, Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, to change the raid’s mission more than once. Thomas’ latest orders, an evolution of previous ones from both Grant and Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, directed Stoneman’s cavalrymen to march from Tennessee to southwestern Virginia, where they were to destroy railroad tracks and bridges and make noise as far as the outskirts of Lynchburg. From there the raiders would be poised to march into North Carolina to destroy the rail lines around Greensboro and Charlotte. Thomas and Grant guessed that Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia might retreat west from Petersburg to escape the Federal armies it faced, so destroying the railroad and military resources in southwestern Virginia and in North Carolina could prove crucial to ending the war. “Dismantling the country to obstruct Lee’s retreat,” Thomas called it. Now, Grant wondered if Stoneman’s raid would be too late to do any good.

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