Raid Prior to Surry
The idea for a raid into Western North Carolina was originally developed by General William Sherman to strike the South from multiple directions and serve as a fatal blow to the Confederacy. Sherman originally wanted to use Stoneman’s Calvary as a distraction to allow his and General George Thomas’ troops to move into South Carolina and Alabama respectively. This plan was then changed by General Grant to keep Thomas in Tennessee and use Stoneman to attack Columbia, South Carolina, and the Confederate Prison at Salisbury, North Carolina. Due to delays in finding adequate horses for the raid, the plan had to be changed again to allow Stoneman to raid in the area of Lynchburg, Virginia, in case the retreating Confederate Army should attempt to fall back there from Richmond. After over a month of delays, Stoneman left Knoxville, Tennessee, on March 21, 1865, with the final directive of striking towards Lynchburg and then turning south into the North Carolina Piedmont.
As Stoneman’s Raid crossed the Appalachians from East Tennessee into North Carolina, their non-direct path through the region let their influence be known. Stoneman's men also developed a reputation for ruthlessness. In Boone alone, nine Confederate Home Guardsmen were killed, some while trying to surrender, and 62 were captured. From Boone, the troops split as one third continued toward Wilkesboro and the other two thirds traveled south to Patterson’s Cotton Mill. A source of cotton yarn for the Confederacy, it was captured and burnt. The Union troops then sought to reunite around Wilkesboro. As they approached the Yadkin River, however, they realized that the river had flooded and that crossing would be impossible until the water levels subsided. As the two separate parts of Stoneman’s troops approached Surry, only the portion on the north side entered the town of Elkin, while the remainder stayed on the southern bank waiting to cross.