Review of The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads by Eric Wittenberg

The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads
By Eric J. Wittenberg
Savas Beatie
Reviewed by J. Keith Jones

This book provides a great rendering of an often overlooked piece of history. As Gen. Robert E. Lee was winding down his defense of Richmond and Petersburg before attempting to retreat into the Virginia countryside, there was still a lot of fighting going on in the Carolinas. By March 10, 1865, Sherman’s army had torn through South Carolina and was breathing down the neck of Fayetteville, North Carolina. It was there at Monroe’s Crossroads near the farm of Charles Monroe that the last major cavalry battle occurred. Only the most knowledgeable student of the American Civil War is familiar with this action, but more trivia buffs will have heard of it as “Kilpatrick’s Shirttail Skedaddle.”

At dawn on March 10, Confederate cavalry under Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton and Major Generals Joseph Wheeler and Matthew C. Butler struck the Yankee cavalry of Maj. Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, who had neglected to properly guard and picket the woods and swamps surrounding his camp. The surprise was so complete that Kilpatrick literally ran from the house – where he had been keeping company with a young woman simply remembered by history as “Alice” – in his bed clothes where he hopped a borrowed horse and fled into the swamp. The Confederates enjoyed a rare numerical advantage and would likely have achieved a complete victory had it not been for a topographical blunder that resulted in Wheeler’s men becoming bogged down in the swamp.

As it was, the barely clad Kilpatrick was able to regain his camp and claim victory – and attempt to regain some small amount of dignity – despite having fled in his underclothes and having left “Alice” to her own devices during the raid. The most important factor of this battle, however; was not the technical nor tactical nature of victory based on who held the ground at the end of the day. Although, Hampton had a strong desire to capture and embarrass his old enemy, Kilpatrick, the larger goal was to cover the movements of the Confederate infantry as they navigated the crossing of the Cape Fear River. This allowed them to find favorable ground for what was to be their grand last stand at the Battle of Bentonville.

Contributing to the obscurity of this little known battle is the fact that the battlefield lies in the middle of what is now Fort Bragg, one of the largest U.S. Army bases in the world. So, while there are monuments, markers and graves marking this ground, you are unlikely to ever see them outside the photographs the author provides inside this book. Eric Wittenberg’s smooth narrative and thorough analysis of the battle as well as the factors leading up to it and the aftermath make this as enlightening as it is entertaining.

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