To say April 1865 wasn’t a great month for the Confederate States of America would be putting it mildly. Over just four short weeks, the Confederacy lost its capital, its two largest armies, its last hopes for legitimacy and President Abraham Lincoln, who was arguably the only Republican in Washington who didn’t want to wreak complete hellfire upon them. As a member of this morally bankrupt and dying confederacy, North Carolina saw its fair share of action during those 30 days.
After presenting the city of Savannah, Georgia to President Lincoln as a Christmas present in 1864, Union general William Tecumseh Sherman moved northward through the Carolinas. South Carolina — the first state to secede from the Union and host of the war's first battle at Fort Sumter — bore the wrath of a betrayed nation. Sherman’s troops burned many plantations and villages that stood in their way, including the state capital of Columbia.
By mid-March, Sherman had occupied Fayetteville and was making plans to move further north. The Confederate Army of Tennessee, led by general Joseph E. Johnston, moved from Smithfield northward toward a rural village called Bentonville, where they fought what would become one of the last major battles of the war from March 19 to 21.
For the next month, the two armies chased one another around North Carolina. On April 9, Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to general Ulysses S. Grant, and with that, many felt the Confederacy had been defeated. Confederate President Jefferson Davis, however, was optimistic. In meeting with Army of the Tennessee commander Joseph E. Johnston in Greensboro — after having fled Richmond due to its capture by Union troops on April — Davis convinced Johnston to keep fighting, despite Johnston’s conviction that the war had been lost.
Around this time, Sherman’s army began its occupation of Raleigh. Fortunately for Raleigh, Governor Zebulon Vance and mayor William Harrison were able to surrender the city without it being burned down like Atlanta and Columbia.