North Carolina was not mentioned in his marching orders from Gen. George Thomas, but he could justify it as a prudent route back to Tennessee.
If Stoneman had known that Robert E. Lee had surrendered that same day, or that Confederate president Jefferson Davis was headed for Greensboro, or that the Confederate prison in Salisbury had been evacuated, he might have gone a different direction. He knew that if he could free the prisoners or capture Davis, he would become a national hero.
The Confederates at Greensboro knew that Davis was coming from Danville and feared that Stoneman would strike simultaneously from Virginia. Gen. Pierre Beauregard made the fateful decision to withdraw troops from Salisbury to defend Greensboro, which at the time was the smaller of the two towns.
People in Salisbury were perplexed. "I don't know what they mean leaving Salisbury so unprotected, but I suppose Generals know best,'' a young lady named Mollie Cochran wrote to her cousin in the Confederate army. "General Beauregard was here yesterday, so I guess it was his orders."
In the meantime, Stoneman destroyed one more piece of the Confederate war machine, the Moratock iron foundary near Danbury that had forged sabres and munitions. By this time, he had reunited over 90 percent of his forces, lacking only Major Wagner's battalion, who hadn't been heard from since they were dispatched April 4 toward Lynchburg.
The next day at Germantown, Stoneman ordered his 1st Brigade to make tactical strikes against railroad trestles and factories around Greensboro to keep the rebels there on the defensive. Meanwhile, the 2nd and 3rd Brigades would head toward Salisbury via Mocksville.
|Ruins of the Moratock Iron Foundary in Danbury|