Willie Hardee

13 03 2007

A couple of years ago, I took a tour of Civil War battlefields in North Carolina put together by my friend Teej Smith.  We visited Monroe’s Crossroads with Eric Wittenberg, Averasboro with Mark Smith and Wade Sokolosky, and Forts Fisher (Bull Run thread #1) and Anderson with Chris Fonvielle.  We also spent a long, hot day at Bentonville with Mark Bradely, author of the definitive study of the battle, Last Stand in the Carolinas.  It was there I was able to put a “face” to one of the most poignant stories of the war, that of General William J. Hardee and his young son, Willie.

Born in Georgia in 1815, “Old Reliable” William Hardee was an 1838 graduate of West Point, winner of two brevets in Mexico, one time commandant of cadets at his alma mater, and the author of the standard U. S. Army manual Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics for the Exercise and Manoeuvres of Troops When Acting as Light Infantry or Riflemen (Bull Run thread #2).  A Lieutenant Colonel before the war, he resigned his commission when Georgia seceded.  He served at high levels in the Confederate armies in Kentucky and Tennessee, but when offered command of the Army of Tennessee after Chattanooga, Hardee demurred.  He served under Joe Johnston (Bull Run thread #3) and John Hood through the Atlanta Campaign; after the battle of Jonesboro he requested a transfer out from under Hood’s command.  He was in command of the forces that surrendered Savannah and Charleston to William T. Sherman (Bull Run thread #4).  As the war wound to a close, Hardee found himself once again under Johnston’s command, in an army group that boasted an officer corps reminiscent of a Confederate Old Home week.  General officers present at the climactic Battle of Bentonville included blasts from the past Braxton Bragg, D. H. Hill, LaFayette McLaws, William Loring, and William Taliaferro. 

 I won’t get into the details of the Battle of Bentonville.  It was a hard fought affair that lasted three days, March 19, 20, & 21, 1865, and is perhaps most famous for what didn’t happen at its close.  On the 22nd Sherman, in command of two armies, turned away from Johnston knowing his old foe was significantly outnumbered and backed up to a stream (Mill Creek) with only one crossing, to march east toward his original objective, Goldsboro.  There Sherman intended to add the forces of generals John Schofield and Alfred Terry (Bull Run thread #5) and commence the final march to join Grant at Petersburg.  But earlier, on the 21st, Maj. Gen. Joseph Mower led his division of Frank Blair’s 17th Corps of Oliver Howard’s (Bull Run thread #6) Army of the Tennessee against the Confederate left in an effort to cut the rebels off from their escape route over the Mill Creek Bridge.

Mower’s advance slammed into the Confederate left, overrunning Johnston’s headquarters, forcing the General to flee on foot.  Johnston had charged Hardee, in command on the right, with gathering troops to mount a defense of the bridge.  “Old Reliable” scraped together a force consisting of infantry and cavalry.  One of these units was the 8th Texas Cavalry, aka Terry’s Texas Rangers (Bull Run thread #7).

In the ranks of the 8th Texas that day was the General’s 16 year old son, Willie.  Young Hardee had first joined the Rangers in the first half of 1864, but the regiment sent the boy, who had run away from a Georgia school to sign up, to his father.  In order to keep better watch over him, the General  gave his son a position on his staff.  Except for a brief stint with a battery, Willie served on his father’s staff up until the march toward Bentonville.  Reunited with the Rangers on the march, the boy pleaded with his father for permission to serve with them.  After an enticement of an officer’s rank and a position on Johnston’s staff was resisted by the son, the father relented.  He told Capt. Kyle of the regiment, “Swear him into service in your company, as nothing else will satisfy.”

As Mower’s attack reached a climax, Hardee assembled the Rangers and the 4th TN cavalry of Col. Baxter Smith’s command.  One eyewitness reported that the General and his son tipped hats in salute to each other as the line formed.  “Old Reliable” personally led the assault with drawn sword.  The cavalry attack pushed the Union skirmishers back on their main line, and the rebel infantry followed.  Mower’s assault came to a halt.  Sherman, who was not happy that Mower’s action was started in the first place, ordered Blair’s corps to disengage, much to the chagrin of army commander Howard (who as a professor of mathematics at West Point before the war had been entrusted with tutoring the son of the commandant of cadets, William J. Hardee).

Hardee was pleased with the performance of the troops in dealing with the threat to the Mill Creek bridge.  As he headed to the rear he joked with Wade Hampton (Bull Run Thread #8), but his high spirits were dashed by the sight of of young Willie’s limp body being supported in his saddle by another Ranger riding behind.  He had received a mortal chest wound in the field (pictured below) in front of the Federal line. 






The General directed his son be taken to Hillsboro to the home of his niece, Susannah Hardee Kirkland, wife of Brig. Gen. William W. Kirkland, one of Bragg’s brigade commanders (Bull Run thread #9).  It was there that Willie Hardee died three days later on March 24.  In a small military ceremony which his father attended, he was buried in St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church cemetery.

As my friend Mike and I travelled back to Pittsburgh from Wilmington after the last of our tours, we decided to make a little detour to Bennett Place (the site of Johnston’s surrender to Sherman is one stop all enthusiasts should make).  Checking with the staff at the site we learned that Hillsboro is not far away and decided to go a little out of our way to find Willie’s grave.  It took quite a bit of searching.  Once we found the cemetery we still had no idea what the marker looked like.  But we found it; actually, I think Mike found it, and it required the brushing away of quite a few leaves.  My camera batteries were out of juice, and Mike’s were dying, but with the last photo on his camera we recorded the image below (I’m not sure why the marker says he was 17 – everything I’ve read says he was 16). 




I can’t imagine what the General must have felt while standing on that same spot so long ago.  Surely he second guessed his decision to allow Willie to join the Rangers.  But did he question the cause that had led him, his family, and his countrymen to this state of affairs? Hardee survived the war to become president of the Selma and Meridian Railroad and coauthor of The Irish in America.  He passed away on Nov. 6, 1873 in Wytheville, VA and is buried in Live Oak Cemetery in Selma, AL.  But I have to believe a big part of him died that day in that churchyard outside Raleigh.

Bull Run Threads

1 – This fort was named for the commander of the 6th NC, Col. C. F. Fisher, killed at First Bull Run.

2 – This manual describes tactics that would have been employed during First Bull Run.

3 – Johnston commanded the Confederate forces at First Bull Run.

4 – Sherman commanded a brigade in Daniel Tyler’s federal division at First Bull Run.

5 – Terry commanded the 2nd CT Infantry in Keyes’s brigade of Tyler’s division at First Bull Run.

6 – Howard commanded a brigade in Heintzelman’s Federal division at First Bull Run.

7 – The 8th TX Cavalry was recruited by Benjamin Franklin Terry and Thomas Lubbock, who both served on the staff of James Longstreet, a brigade commander in Beauregard’s Army of the Potomac at First Bull Run.

8 – Hampton commanded the Hampton Legion at First Bull Run, and was wounded in the battle.

9 – Kirkland commanded the 11th NC Volunteers (later the 21st NC Infantry) of Milledge L. Bonham’s brigade of the Army of the Potomac at First Bull Run.


Bradley, M. L., Last Stand in the Carolinas: The Battle of Bentonville

Eicher & Eicher, Civil War High Commands

Hughes, Jr., N. C., Bentonville: The Final Battle of Sherman & Johnston

Hughes, Jr., N. C., General William J. Hardee, Old Reliable

Moore, M. A., Moore’s Historical Guide to the Battle of Bentonville

Warner, E. J., Generals in Gray



19 responses

13 03 2007
Eric Wittenberg

Terrific post, Harry.

I didn’t know that you and Mike went and found Willie’s grave. I commend you for that–I bet it gets little visitation. It’s quite a story, and thank you for telling it so well.



13 03 2007
Harry Smeltzer


Thanks. The trip was well worth it – I don’t think the Hardee story would have impacted me as strongly had we not taken the time.



13 03 2007

That’s where it’s at, Harry. Finding and remembering those guys.


13 03 2007
Steve Basic


Great post. It has been a while since I read Mark Bradley’s book on Bentonville, but that tale of the Hardee’s always has stayed with me.

Glad you both went to find the grave. Thanks for sharing.

Hope all is well.



14 03 2007
Teej Smith

Thanks Harry for posting young Willie Hardee’s story which is one of my favorites. I’m a bit puzzled by the age thing on his tombstone too as everything that I’ve read has said Willie was barely 16. In fact one story has it that it was Willie’s birthday and that’s why his father gave into his request to rejoin the Rangers. Willie “won his spurs at Resaca where he had a horse killed under him and did a soldier’s duty throughout the campaign.” Best regards, Teej


18 03 2007
Mike Peters


That was quite a tour.



24 04 2007
…but I know what I like « Bull Runnings

[…] I know what I like I know this isn’t Bull Run related (other than in ways itemized here), but the other day I picked up a used copy of Daniel Barefoot’s General Robert F. Hoke, Lee’s […]


25 03 2008
Hillsborough, NC « Bull Runnings

[…] until 1971.  In 1833, William W. Kirkland was born there (I’ve written about Kirkland here and here, and you can read a bio of him here).  Ayr Mount is now a historic site open to the public – but […]


6 03 2010
Bull Runnings Elsewhere « Bull Runnings

[…] me to this site for the Averasboro (NC) Battlefield and Museum, which features a snippet from this article I wrote on the death of Willie Hardee at the Battle of Bentonville.  I’m flattered they […]


26 11 2011
David Terrenoire

I lived at Ayr Mount, where Willie died. Today, as we visited my mother-in-law’s grave, I found Willie’s stone. It’s a heartbreaking story and one I’m glad you told. As for his age, I think Willie had just turned 17. But I could be wrong.

My great great grandfather was the color bearer for the 42nd Georgia and was part of the Army of Tennessee. Johnston surrendered to Sherman about a mile from where I lived and my wife spent part if her childhood in Johnston’s last HQ.


26 11 2011
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks David. You may appreciate this post: https://bullrunnings.wordpress.com/2008/03/25/hillsborough-nc/



7 03 2012
Lee Titus Elliott


I know this comment/question is five years late, but since I am writing a novel in which the story of Wilie Hardee’s wounding and death play a major role, I would like to find out if you know the more or less exact location where Willie was fatally wounded. On this blog entry, you have a photo of the field where Willie was wounded. But do you know where the field lies on the battlefield? After looking over Mark Moore’s maps of Mower’s charge, Hardee’s counterattack, and Hardee’s charge, as well as the map and various battlefield markers in the brochure I downloaded from the Bentonville Historic Site’s Web site, I’m still not certain exactly where Willie was wounded. In your post, you mentioned that Willie was wounded in front of the Federal line as it existed on March 21. So would that field be on the the left or the right of the present-day Scout Road not far from its intersection with Westbridge Lowground Road? Mark Moore’s maps can be accessed at http://www.markandersonmoore.com/maps. If you scroll down to the section on the Battle of Bentonville, you’ll PDF versions of Mower’s Charge and Hardee’s counterattack. You’ll also see a link to the Bentonville Battlefield Historic Site, where you can retrieve its Driving Tour Markers in PDF–which file contains a map as well as a page describing what happened at each marker. The Battle of Bentonville site can be accessed at the URLhttp://www.nchistoricsites.org/bentonvi/bentonvi.htm. Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated! All the best, Lee


7 03 2012
Harry Smeltzer

It’s been a while, Lee. Let me take a look at my notes from that tour and get back to you.


14 03 2012
Lee Titus Elliott


I just wanted to follow up on my request of you on March 7–about the more-or-less exact spot where Willie Hardee was fatally wounded.

In my novel, the 80-year-old grandfather, Dr. Claude Woodall, of the narrator-protagonist, Lockhart Elledge, drives Lockhart to the Bentonville Battlefield on May 9, 1970, when there were virtually no markers other than the main marker near the old Confederate Cemetery.

The two of them drive from the Visitor Center via Harper House Road to what is now known as Bentonville Road. They turn left onto that road, pass the site of the Union Headquarters and the Union line on March 20, 1865.

They come to a marker (not existing in 1970) indicating Hardee’s charge against Mower, who had broken the Confederate line at that point.

They then arrive, still on Scout Road, at a marker (not existing in 1970) indicating Mower’s break of the Confederate line. It lies a few yards down Scout Road. (The actual Hardee counterattack began not far south of General Johnston’s headquarters–and is now indicated by a marker.)

Apparently, after Hardee assumed command of Terry’s Texas Rangers, Hardee seems to have gathered Confederate forces then immediately available and marched from their original point near Johnston’s HQ a few hundred yards down Bentonville Road and charged Mower’s forces. Willie was given permission by Old Reliable to join the Texas Rangers only two hours before Mower’s attack.

The protagonist and his grandfather, continuing down Scout Road, cross its intersection with Westbrook Lowgrounds Road, which used to be the stream (or ‘branch”) which Wade Hampton refers to in his account of the battle on March 21 (from BATTLES AND LEADERS OF THE CIVIL WAR, volume 4.)

A few yards further down Scout Road is a marker (not yet constructed in 1970) indicating the Union line as it existed on March 21.

Your blog entry indicates:

So was the Union skirmishers’ main line the Union Line as it existed on March 21? Or was it the line that existed on March 20? Or was it the Union HQ?

Later, your blog entry continues: (Caps mine.)

So is the picture of the field you referred to along one or the other side of Scout Road, about halfway between Westbrook Lowgrounds Road and the Union Line as it existed on March 21? Or is the field located elsewhere? (In other words was Willie fatally wounded in the field BEFORE the March 21 Union line? Or was he wounded in a field before the Union line as it existed on March 20? Or was he wounded in a field somewhere else?)

Here is part of my previous comment:

<Mark Moore’s maps can be accessed at http://www.markandersonmoore.com/maps.

<If you scroll down to the section on the Battle of Bentonville, you’ll PDF versions of Mower’s Charge and Hardee’s counterattack. You’ll also see a link to the Bentonville Battlefield Historic Site, where you can retrieve its Driving Tour Markers in PDF–which file contains a map as well as a page describing what happened at each marker. The Battle of Bentonville site can be accessed at the URLhttp://www.nchistoricsites.org/bentonvi/bentonvi.htm.

Once again, any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated!

All the best,



14 03 2012
Harry Smeltzer

Lee, I gotta tell ya, I’m no expert on Bentonville and have only been there once a few years ago. If I were you I’d contact Mark Bradley, who led the tour way back when. He’s the man for Bentonville, and an all around good guy.


8 07 2012

I have just found your site and I have enjoyed reading the information. I found it by researching my ancestors which were Lt. Gen. William Joseph Hardee and his son Willie. Lt. Gen. Hardee is my 1st cousin 5 generations prior, and I have tried to read everything I can find about him. Thank you for your writeup on he and his son Willie as well as the photos. Any further information you might have would be greatly appreciated.
Michael L. Cannon, MD


9 07 2012
Harry Smeltzer

Glad you enjoyed it. I don’t have much on Hardee other than the usual sources, most cited in the article on Willie. Check out other posts here on Hillsboro and Genl. Kirkland.


23 04 2015
Preview: Davis & Greenwalt, “Calamity in Carolina” | Bull Runnings

[…] and Forts Anderson and Fisher. (You can read a bit about the Bull Run connections to Bentonville here.) It would have been nice to have had Daniel Davis’s and Philip Greenwalt’s Calamity in […]


26 03 2018

Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.


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