The Battle of Salisbury is often dismissed as little more than skirmish. Less than a year after the battle a local citizen wrote, “As to the fight two miles and a half from Salisbury – ‘tis all a myth. … But little resistance was made – for it was so clearly of no avail …. Every one here falls into a giggle over the battle with the three thousand and the hosts of prisoners.”
The soldiers who fought that morning would have disagreed with the citizen’s disparaging statement. At dawn on Wednesday, April 12, 1865, the men of the District of East Tennessee’s Cavalry Division approached the valley of Grant’s Creek. They advanced in two columns – one on the new Mocksville Road, the other on the old road – toward their long-sought objective.
On the new road, Alvan Gillem sized up the situation while enemy shells crashed about him. From his vantage point, the new road sloped gently down to a bridge across Grant’s Creek. “A close reconnaissance discovered the fact that the flooring had been removed from two spans of the bridge and piled on the enemy’s side,” Gillem reported. Southern artillery and infantry covered the bridge, and the creek defied crossing. Grant’s Creek had “had very high and precipitous banks and could not be forded,” wrote a witness. “The only way to cross it was by a bridge, which was effectually commanded by the enemy’s artillery.” Another wrote, “The creek had steep banks, and was passable in only two or three places.” From the bridge the road continued through the Confederate barbican and up a slope toward the town, just two miles away. Above the racket, Gillem could hear trains leaving Salisbury. An evacuation was obviously underway.
George Stoneman knew the importance of speed and made his plans accordingly. “He may be considered as a safe rather than a brilliant man[,] practical rather than theoretical,” an admirer once wrote. Stoneman’s next moves displayed his pragmatism. Rightly judging Gardner’s defenses to be undermanned with its flanks in the air, Stoneman decided on a flanking maneuver. Couriers sped off with his orders. Miller’s and Brown’s brigades were brought up and closed up. Another messenger sent one hundred men to ford Grant’s Creek two miles and a half above and west of the main bridge. Their objective was to cut the railroad – perhaps capture a train – and “get in rear of Salisbury and annoy the enemy as much as possible,” Gillem explained. They were to advance until they reached the Statesville Road, which joined the new Mocksville Road behind the main bridge. Gillem chose Slater’s 11th Kentucky for the job ....
So ends this series of blog posts marking those momentous days of 155 years ago in Stoneman's Raid, 1865. I wish you a Happy Easter, and invite you to read what happened next in Chris J. Hartley, Stoneman's Raid, 1865.
Excerpt from Stoneman's Raid, 1865, (c) Chris J. Hartley