The year 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War in 1861. As part of our recognition of this sesquicentennial event the Iredell County Public Library will be hosting author Chris Hartley at the Iredell County Public Library on Thursday, May 5, at 7 p.m. for a free program on his new book, “Stoneman’s Raid, 1865.” Copies of the book will be available for purchase and the author will autograph copies after his presentation. Mr. Hartley grew up in Wilkesboro, N.C. and received his degree in journalism with a secondary concentration in history from UNC-Chapel Hill. He is now Vice-president of Marketing at Blue Rhino and is also the author of, “Stuart’s Tarheels: James B. Gordon and His North Carolina Cavalry.” His publisher, John F. Blair, describes his new book on Stoneman’s Raid as “the most complete account of the event to date, from its beginning stages to its day-to-day activities to its far-reaching aftereffects.”
Gen. George Stoneman was a graduate of West Point Military Academy where he roomed with future Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. Early in the war he fought under the command of General Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville where Hooker was defeated by Lee. Hooker partially blamed Stoneman for his defeat after Stoneman’s cavalry failed to destroy vital railroad lines and supplies in the rear of Lee’s army. Stoneman was given a desk job until the Atlanta Campaign where he was captured outside Macon, Georgia, by Confederate forces. Stoneman would have the inglorious honor of being the whighest-ranking Union prisoner of war. After three months he was exchanged and returned to duty under General Sherman who gave him one last opportunity to salvage his military reputation by assigning him what we now know as Stoneman’s Raid.
He set out in March, 1865 with 6,000 cavalrymen with orders to move through western N.C. and southwestern Virginia. His mission was to destroy railroads and Confederate supplies and cut off Lee’s retreat. Stoneman’s cavalry mission was the longest by either side during the war covering over 2,000 miles and one of the longest in United States history. The raid was a success in that it restored Stoneman’s reputation and carried out Sherman’s military strategy of destroying the enemy’s ability to wage war through the destruction of military supplies, railroads, food, and industry.
In fact, had Stoneman’s troops managed to capture Confederate President Jefferson Davis (they just missed him by a couple of hours) then Stoneman’s military career might have ended with glory. General Luther S. Trowbridge of the 10th Michigan cavalry summed up Stoneman’s Raid from a military and Union point of view saying, “From the beginning to the end, the expedition was managed with rare judgment and skill” and “its quick and heavy blows were delivered in unexpected quarters, working immense damage to t he waning hopes of the Confederacy.” Stoneman would go on to be elected Governor of California after the war.
In the South Stoneman’s Raid remains somewhat controversial to this day with differing opinions of the raids purpose and success. Some people see the raid as an act of terrorism against the South pointing out that Stoneman’s Calvary was not attacking legitimate Confederate military forces. They see his taking and burning of supplies, railroad lines, and buildings as attacks on a largely defenseless civilian population. Others point out that the damage he inflicted on the South was unnecessary as the war was essentially over. Stoneman began his mission leaving Knoxville, Tenn. in March of 1865 and Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865. Stoneman’s troops failed in their attempt to release the Union prisoners in Salisbury (they were no longer there.), failed to capture Jefferson Davis, and probably had little effect on Lee’s retreat south. To hear what Chris J. Hartley’s research has uncovered in his new book on Stoneman’s Raid please visit the library in Statesville on Thursday evening at 7 p.m. For more information contact Joel Reese at 704-878-3093.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article was published in the Statesville Record and Landmark in May 2011