Francis Redding (L) and Peter M. Redding (R) Company A, McLaughlin's Ohio Squadron.

The Battle of Morrisville

Written by Ernest Dollar

GENERAL: The results of the recent campaign in Virginia have changed the relative military condition of the belligerents. I am therefore induced to address you in this form the inquiry, whether, in order to stop the further effusion of blood and devastation of property, and to communicate to Lieutenant-General Grant, commanding the Armies of the United States, the request that he will take like action in regard to other armies: the object being to permit the civil authorities to enter into the needful arrangements to terminate the existing war.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J.E. Johnston, General

This note, received at during a rainy night in Morrisville, would be the brightest ray of light for peace in four years for many men and set the stage for the LARGEST surrender of the Civil War twelve days later at Durham Station, North Carolina. The state capitol of North Carolina, Raleigh, was captured by Federal cavalry under Gen. Judson Kilpatrick early in the morning on April 13, 1865. During the previous days fighting east of town Federal troops learned of General Robert E. Lees surrender at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. Kilpatrick was eager to fulfill his commanders orders to destroy the Confederate horsemen under Gen. Wade Hampton and Gen. Joseph Wheeler . General William T. Sherman knew the end of the Confederacy was near and devised a plan to capture the Confederate army under General Joseph E. Johnston before it could move west across North Carolina and escape back into the deep south. He instructed Kilpatrick to press the retreating rebel army while he shifted his infantry south on a parallel coarse to Johnston and catch him around Charlotte.

Kilpatricks men moved through the streets of Raleigh and moved out after the rebel horsemen. The Confederate cavalry had retreated to the outskirts of Raleigh and set up camp, unaware the Union cavalry was on the move. At 8:30 a.m. Federal troopers dash into the Confederate camp. Private O.P. Hargis of the 1st Georgia Cavalry remembered the morning.

"[We] went out a piece from Raleigh, took off their bridles and fed our horses and while we were sitting around waiting for our horses to eat, our bugle sounded to mount quick and we sprang to our horses, and by the time we got into our saddles the Federal Cavalry was right on to us and every man had to take care of himself. It was the worse stampde I ever saw".

Kilpatrick filed a dispatch during the skirmish stating he was, "engaged heavily 2 miles from Raleigh." The Rebel cavalry organized an counter attack under Colonel George Watts while halted the Federal attack buying precious time for the rest the remainder of the command to organize and move west along the North Carolina Railroad. Undaunted, Kilpatricks men regrouped and again pressed vigorously out after the Confederates.

Another engagement erupted six miles further in the area of Ashbury Station. Wheeler found himself pressed very closely by the advancing Yankees and felt compelled to give battle again. His dispatch relays his urgency

"The enemy is pressing me heavily and I am compelled to halt my whole command to fight them."

At 10 a.m., he placed Allen's Alabama brigade, under Col. M.L. Kirkpatrick, in position and attacked Kilpatrick's blue horsemen pushing them back several miles killing several and capturing at least one major from the 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry.

Fighting continued through the rest of the morning and on into the afternoon. At 1:00 p.m., Kilpatricks 1st Brigade relieved the 3rd Brigade which had been engaged all morning. Captain Samuel Kittinger and his command, the 23rd New York Independent Battery, were assigned to the 1st Brigade. His little brother Joseph was lieutenant in the unit and recorded the events of the fighting that had taken place earlier in the day,

"[Q]uite a number of our cavalry have been killed and a good many wounded".

The 23rd deployed and supported the cavalry that pressed the retreating Confederates. Another Confederate charge crashed into the chasing Federals at Page's Station, roughly in the current area of the 900 block of downtown Cary.

The engagement lasted a short time and the chase was resumed. The Federals finally pressed the Confederates to the small village of Morrisville Station. At the station a Confederate engine was trying to flee with dozens of cars filled with supplies and Confederate wounded taken from Pettigrew Hospital in Raleigh. Wheeler surveyed the situation and decided to make another attempt to stop the advancing enemy and buy time for the train to escape. The rebel troopers quickly dismounted and began building earthworks. Lt. Kittinger describes the scene,

"When we reached the brow of the hill overlooking this place, we saw a long heavy rebel column of cavalry passing through the town and up the opposite heights. My pieces were brought forward on a run and we sent the shell in quick sucession right in the midst of the retreating Johnnies, scattering them in every direction."

The Confederates fired on the Federal gunners from behind corn cribs, homes, and smoke houses. Kilpatrick ordered his cavalry to form a line and charge the station and capture the train. The 9th Pennsylvania, 8th Indiana, and the 9th Ohio Cavalry charged fiercely, supported by the 3rd Kentucky, which was held in reserve. With the bugle sounding "charge" these three unit bolted toward the small station. The blue horsemen were stopped 150 yards from their goal by the heavy Confederate fire. Wheeler made a quick decision to uncouple the cars containing the supplies. The train slowly pulled up the heights to the north of town and escaped. Cornelius Baker of the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry related the effect of the attack.

"In less time than it takes to write the enemy was routed in the wildest confusion." Along with the 23rd New York battery, the fire from the 10th Wisconsin Battery, manned with members of the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry, poured a devastating fire on the Confederate lines and within half and hour the Confederate retreat was complete, leaving the town to the Federal army."

To attest to the fierceness of the fighting for the day, Kittinger recorded in his diary that his two gun section of the battery had expended at least 88 rounds of fuse shell, percussion, and case shot. Richard Moring, a slave on a near by plantation west of the town, recalled the sounds of he assault, "we could hyar de guns go boomin'" Residents of Morrisville had concealed themselves in cellars to avoid harm of the battle and hid all of the valuables in trees or in the ground. By 3 p.m. Kilpatrick sent another dispatch off the Sherman. From Morrisville he writes that he had "fought over nearly every foot of ground from Raleigh to this point" through "barriacades of the strongest character." Continuing, Kilpatrick's inflated ego causes him to boast that the Confederates were "totally demoralized" and he had been "scattering Wheelers Cavalry all day, driving them off side roads."

Assessing the situation Kilpatrick, advises Sherman that Confederate commander Gen. Joseph E. Johnston has split his infantry columns in Morrisville sending one column north along the railroad on the road to Hillsboro while the other half had gone west carrying them through to town of Chapel Hill. He estimated that at least three hundred wagons had passed along the roads that day. Still the aggressive Kilpatrick pushed out after Wheeler stating that "Col. Jordan [of the 1st brigade] is engaged some two miles out."

That night the Federals set up camp and out scouting parties to discover where the Confederates are located. William Collin Stevens of the 92nd Illinois Mounted Infantry remembered crossing over to direct Hillsboro Road and finding "not more than twenty[rebels] and capturing two of those". But he recorded that the Confederates had attacked one of the picket posts during the night but were disengaged before his return. Constant firing kept weary Union soldiers awake throughout the night.

The next morning, Federal forces split in Morrisville to follow the divided Confederate columns. General Kilpatrick with the 1st Division headed north following Hampton and General Smith D. Atkins took his 2nd Division west via Chapel Hill following General Wheeler. The troops under Hampton had quite an easy day with plenty of forage available. But Wheeler would have a totally different morning. About a mile past the Federal pickets the Confederate force was found stubbornly defending the road. Atkins ordered the 10th Ohio to charge and drove the Rebel cavalry back nearly four miles, "kiled Several rebls lose 1 man."

Soon afterward Atkins received the command of "halt" from Kilpatrick. The second division pulls back a mile, sets up barricades, and goes into camp after moving only several miles from Morrisville. Wheeler had placed his "pickets extending to cover all roads south for thirty miles" in order to prevent Sherman from moving undetected toward Charlotte and Johnston's line of retreat. The next day April 15th, Atkins would move on to fight his last skirmish with the Confederate cavalry over New Hope Creek and eleven days later the war would be over for them with Johnston's surrender to Sherman at the Bennett house outside of Durham's Station.

That night on the western flank of the Confederate lines, came the beginning of the end. From Johnston comes a dispatch to Wade Hampton who is on the Hillsboro Road. Hampton called on Captain Rawlins Lowndes and gave him the note and ordered him to take a white flag and deliver it across the lines to Kilpatrick's headquarters in Morrisville. He arrived there at midnight running first into pickets from the 9th Pennsylvania. He carried Johnston's letter to Sherman that suggested for a truce to negotiate terms of surrender. Kilpatrick asked Lowndes to stay the evening and return to his command tomorrow which the Confederate officer accepted.

The course of conversation was pleasant and continued throughout the evening until it turned to past battles. Lowndes rubbed in the disgrace which Kilpatrick faced in early March, at Monroe's Crossroads, where the Union commander was surprised in bed (not alone) while his command was surprised on the battlefield. The Blue troopers in turn reminded the arrogant Confederate of the running of the Rebels at the engagement at Aiken,South Carolina. The exchange went on until Lowndes had enough and issued a challenge to the blasted Yankees,

"Well, General, I will make you the following proposition, and I will pledge myself that General Hampton will carry it out in every respect. You, with your staff, take fifteen hundred men, and General Hampton, with his staff, will meet you with a thousand men, all to be armed with the saber alone. The two parties will be drawn up mounted in regimental formations, opposite to each other, and at a signal to be agreed upon will charge. That will settle the question which are the best men."

Kilpatrick thanked the captain for his offer but declined. Once the response came from Sherman, Lowndes returned to Confederate lines and delivered the agreement for an armistice to Hampton, who in turn sent it to Johnston's headquarters at the Alexander Dickson house in Hillsboro.

The next day April 15th, Atkins would move on to fight his last skirmish with the Confederate cavalry over New Hope Creek and eleven days later the war would be over for them with Johnston's surrender to Sherman at the Bennett house outside of Durham.

Where is Morrisville?

Units involved in the Battle of Morrisville

The area which is still in good condition is a section of the Confederate works on the first day. It consists of several rifle pits on the side facing the Federals on April 13. This same area contains rifle pits dug by occupying Union forces which are facing the opposite direction.
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