18 December 2005 by Published in: Battlefield preservation 10 comments

David Terrenoire posted a comment in response to my entry “Of Books and Dilemmas”, and mentioned that he lives about a mile from Bennett Place, the site of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s surrender to William T. Sherman on April 26, 1865. His post reminded me of the absolutely stunning difference between the Bennett Place site and Appomattox Court House, the site of Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia.

The entire village of Appomattox Court House was purchased by the War Department and was turned into a shrine. It’s now part of the National Park Service, with many of the buildings–including Wilmer McLean’s handsome home–having been reconstructed as replicas of the original structures. The Appomattox Court House National Park consists of 1800 acres and includes 27 original structures. It is amply monumented, and the small battlefield area–the fight was brief and aborted when Lee realized that Union infantry had arrived and that his plight was hopeless–is well interpreted. There’s even a small military cemetery on site, a large Eastern National Park & Monument Association book store with an excellent selection, and a visitor center with a nice museum. It’s a place well worth visiting. I’ve only been there once, but I spent the better part of a day there, exploring the place and seeing what there was to see.

There have been lots of books written about these events. Jay Winik’s April 1865: The Month that Saved America comes to mind immediately, as does William Marvel’s A Place Called Appomattox. There are also the many fine works by Chris Calkins on the Appomattox Campaign, and any number of other similar works.

It’s important to remember that after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, there were still three major Confederate armies in the field: Joseph E. Johnston’s army in North Carolina, Richard H. Taylor’s army in Alabama, and Edmund Kirby-Smith’s army in the Trans-Mississippi. Contrary to popular belief, Lee’s surrender did NOT end the Civil War. Johnston had a nearly insurmountable lead over Sherman’s army, and Sherman would have been hard-pressed to bring Johnston to bay had Johnston not decided that further bloodshed would have been completely useless.

Johnston asked for a truce, and arrangements were made for Johnston to meet Sherman at David Bennett’s farm, about four miles from Durham, NC. There, on April 17, the two commanders met and negotiated not just the surrender of Johnston’s army, but peace. They negotiated an end to hostilities as well as the surrender of Johnston’s army. Sherman gave Johnston extremely generous terms, and they signed an agreement on April 18, subject to government approval. Although Jefferson Davis readily approved these liberal terms, an angry Federal government, still stinging from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, rejected them. Grant then ordered Sherman to re-negotiate the terms with Johnston to match those given to Lee at Appomattox.

Davis, opposed the surrender of Johnston’s command under the terms given to Lee, ordered Johnston to disband the infantry and escape with the large force of cavalry attached to Johnston’s army. To his undying credit, Johnston disobeyed those orders, met Sherman again on April 26, and surrendered nearly 90,000 Confederate troops on the same terms given to Lee’s army at Appomattox. The troops included men in the Carolinas, Georga, and Florida. Only after Johnston surrendered did Taylor and Kirby-Smith finally surrender, too.

In many ways, what happened at Bennett Place is more remarkable, and more important, than what happened at Appomattox. However, the Bennett place episode has long been ignored in light of the more dramatic events at Appomattox. The Bennett Place surrender site is a North Carolina state park that occupies about four acres. It has a couple of monuments, a replica of the Bennett house, a small visitor center with a couple of museum exhibits, a movie, and about a dozen books for sale. The contrast is absolutely shocking when compared with the plush and huge national park at Appomattox. The Bennett Place park sits a couple of hundred yards from an Interstate freeway, nestled among houses, so there is no way that it could be expanded. There are a couple of monuments and gazebo. And that’s all there is to commemorate one of the most important events of the American Civil War.

Fortunately, in recent years, thanks to the brilliant work of Mark L. Bradley, Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign and the events at Bennett Place have finally begun to receive some recognition for their importance. Mark has written an excellent book titled This Astounding Close: The Road to Bennett Place, published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2000. This outstanding book finally puts the last days of the Carolinas Campaign–the five weeks after the Battle of Bentonville–and the events at Bennett Place in their proper context. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the surrender of Johnston’s army. This book deserves its place next to Winik’s book (which I have always thought was badly overrated and overstated) on the shelf of anyone who claims to be truly interested in the healing of the war’s wounds.

I can only hope that some day, the events at Bennett Place will receive the level of attention and the volume of scholarship devoted to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. Sadly, though, I doubt that will happen.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Sun 18th Dec 2005 at 7:44 pm

    I would also add to the reading list, Jacqueline G. Campbell’s brief but well argued _When Sherman Marched North From the Sea: Resistance on the Confederate Home Front (Univeristy of North Carolina Press, 2003).

  2. Sun 18th Dec 2005 at 8:23 pm

    Kevin,

    I agree, although I’m not particularly a fan of social history disguising itself as military history. I thought Prof. Campbell did a good job.

    Eric

  3. Mon 19th Dec 2005 at 4:26 pm

    I’m humbly grateful that my prompting spurred you to write such a thoughtful post about Bennett Place and Johnston.

    When my wife was growing up, she lived for a time in the house Johnston used as headquarters during negotiations, making it known to this day as The Johnston House.

    This house was bought recently, moved into downtown Hillsborough and renovated. My mother-in-law toured the house and came out as indignant as only an affronted Southern woman could be, her fists clenched, her hair on fire, muttering, “That family lost seven sons in the war and they must be spinning in their graves to have that man glaring down on their parlor.”

    The family who had renovated the house, Yankees no doubt, had placed a portrait of Sherman over the mantle.

  4. Mon 19th Dec 2005 at 4:33 pm

    LOL. I feel your wife’s pain, David. Thanks for sharing that with me.

    Eric

  5. John Guss
    Fri 23rd Nov 2007 at 11:32 am

    I can appreciate what has been written regarding the levels of importance between Appomattox and Bennett Place. I do however, wish to make a few corrections in the text.

    Mr. Bennett’s first name was James, not David. His wife’s name was Nancy, unlike some misnamings I have read by reknown authors.

    There are also 37 acres of preserved property by the state of North Carolina rather than just four. It would have been grand if our forefathers had preserved much more property considering Mr. Bennett’s farm ranged close to 200 acres.

    The site itself contains much more than what was written above. The Visitor Center has a full gift shop with more than 50 book titles to choose from, signature merchandise of Bennett Place, Civil War and 19th century era toys, and much more.

    The museum contains numerous artifacts and exhibits telling the story of the Bennett family and the Civil War. Dawn of Peace is a 17 minute film presentation telling the story of the events which occurred at Bennett Place.

    A reference library contains more than 2,500 volumes of books and reference materials. The library is open for those interested in doing research.

    The monument which stands most significant on the site is the Unity Monument. It is one of the most poignant memorials of all Civil War sites.

    Bennett Place State Historic Site also includes picnic areas and nature trails for visitors to enjoy the natural beauty of the site and reflect.

    So there is much more to see than was previously written.

    Indeed, General Robert E. Lee was a great commander of the Confederacy. However, when compared to General Joseph E. Johnston, it was Johnston who volunteered to come back to help the cause after being dismissed and he had to reassemble a dimoralized and disjointed army that had been decimated in Tennessee. He was also tactically smart enough not to allow his army to be surrounded unlike Lee at Appomattox. Johnston was of strong enough character and military experience to make the decision to meet Sherman in spite of President Jefferson Davis’ orders.

    Both generals were great. Both Appomattox and Bennett Place are equally significant. They should both continue to be preserved as part of America’s national historic treasures.

    By the way, there is no portrait of Sherman over the mantle of hte original Bennett home fireplace.

  6. Phil Boring
    Sat 01st Dec 2007 at 10:42 pm

    Just some FYI. The family of Edwin McCurdy Boring is in the process of locating a museum to donate hiw uniform and diary. Edwin M. Boring joined the Union Army in 1861 at Lancaster, Pa., His home town and was with Sherman in April of 65 when Johnston surrendered. It is ironic that three of his great grandsons resided in Durham.

  7. Sun 30th Dec 2007 at 9:57 am

    Greetings Mr. Boring and Fellow Civil War Preservationists and Supporters,

    Bennett Place is in the process of revising its museum gallery in preparation for the 150th Anniversary Commemoration of the American Civil War. We invite any interested donors who would like to contribute personal items of Civil War soldiers and civilians who relate to the Surrender, General Johnston’s Army and General Sherman’s Army. If interested please contact the Bennett Place Site Manager. Thank you.

    John Guss, Site Manager

  8. Tue 05th Jan 2010 at 11:12 am

    Hello, I am the secretary for “Friends of the Bennett Place” State Historic Site.. For years I have wanted to have the descendants of those men present at the surrender to come to the yearly April re-enactment event and tell their side of the story. This is done in Plymouth, NC and the people are called the “Plymouth Pilgrims”. The names of teh fallen on both sides are read, then both sides throw a wreath in the river. While we can’t do the exact same thing here, it would be poignant to have the northern side represented.
    I would like to invite the descendants to the 145th anniversary event April 17th-18th, 2010

  9. Wed 10th Feb 2010 at 12:05 am

    145th Anniversary Commemoration of the Surrender at Bennett Place, Durham, NC, April 16-18, 2010.
    April 16th, 7pm-9pm, “The Road to Bennett Place”, lectures and talks on the final weeks of the Confederacy in North Carolina.
    April 17-18, “Meet” Major General William T. Sherman and General Joseph Eggelston Johnston as they negotiate the terms of surrender in the Bennett Home. Union and Confederate living history encampments, musicians, historians and authors. Mark Bradley, author of This Astounding Close, the Road To Bennett Place. The Stacking of Arms and Furling of Colors Ceremony, and Wreath laying ceremony at the Unity Monument on Sunday.

  10. sandra g. carnes
    Sat 26th Jun 2010 at 2:21 am

    I live in Robeson Co.now but am originally from Virginia. My dad’s family is from Blacksburg.His grandpa was in the civil war and had a brother named Joseph Graves,who was younger. I have been looking for the connection back to their grandfather in Rockingham Co. Va. to other Graveses for at least forty years. Involved in the Graves Family Association, but find nothing.I decided to research those closest to my dad. Found information on one great uncle and aunt, but not the youngest.In time I found information on the 54th Va.Reg. Infantry formed in Christiansburg, with a Joseph listed there.There was no other Joseph listed in Census at the time, and feel it might be the great, great uncle I am looking for. Unfortunately there is a Joseph listed on footenote.com as having gone awol 9 6 63 from the 54th Va,in Tennessee.In time I will know one way or another…nothing I can do if he never went back.A Joseph Graves name is listed with the 54th Va. Reg. Infantry in several other articles I have as having been at Bennett Place when Johnson surrendered. Is there something all the men had to sign at this event and where could I see it at?

    I have wanted to come to the reenactment for years, gone numerous times to Duke but never ventured to find Bennett Place.I hope I can next year and bring all of my children and grandchildren. I believe they would enjoy it.

    Thank you,

    Sandra G.Carnes

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