19 December 2005 by Published in: Battlefield preservation 11 comments

Yesterday’s post on the contrast between Appomattox Court House and Bennett Place got me thinking about this issue further. The following is a National Park Service list of the battles that occurred in North Carolina or significant Civil War sites located in North Carolina:

Albemarle Sound
Averasborough
Bentonville
Fort Anderson
Fort Fisher
Fort Fisher
Fort Macon
Goldsborough Bridge
Hatteras Inlet Batteries
Kinston
Monroe’s Cross Roads
New Berne
Plymouth
Roanoke Island
South Mills
Tranter’s Creek
Washington
White Hall
Wilmington
Wyse Fork

Distinctly missing from this list are Fayetteville, site of street fighting on March 11, 1865, and Bennett Place.

Roughly half of these sites pertain to Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign or to the Wilmington Campaign that preceeded it. Some of these sites have well-done North Carolina state parks: Bentonville, Fort Fisher, and Fort Anderson, although it’s interesting to note that the primary marketing of the site at Fort Anderson is the colonial Brunswick Town site, and not the awesome earthworks of Fort Anderson, which are really downplayed. Fort Macon is part of a state park in Atlantic Beach that has historic significance to more than just the Civil War–it was part of the network of World War II coastal defenses that also included Fort Sumter–and which also provides nice recreational facilities.

By contrast, the Kinston and Wyse Fork sites are run by a local preservation group, and Averasboro is operated by local not-for-profit organization. Monroe’s Crossroads sits in the middle of the drop zones at Fort Bragg and is almost completely inaccessible to the public. Maybe 100 people per year get to see it.

My point in all of this is that of these twenty battle sites–twenty-two, if you add in Bennett Place and Fayetteville–not a single one is a National Park Service property, and, other than Fort Anderson and Monroe’s Crossroads, which is sheltered by its location within the boundaries of Fort Bragg, none are fully preserved as a consequence. All that remains of Fort Fisher, by example, is a miniscule portion of the fort’s ramparts while the rest is either under water or under multi-million dollar beach front houses. Much of Bentonville remains in private hands. Large portions of the Averasboro battlefield are also still in private hands.

By contrast, there is a Revolutionary War site–Moore’s Creek–about twenty miles northwest of Wilmington that was a small skirmish between Tories and patriots that involved no more than a few hundred men that is fully preserved as a National Park Service site. Guilford Court House–a large scale engagement that directly led to Cornwallis moving his army to Yorktown–is also a National Park Service site. That’s not to downplay Guilford Court House–it was, in fact, one of the most pivotal battles of the Revolution. However, it is no more–or less–important than say Bentonville, and, in my humble opinion, is less important than Bennett Place in the big scheme of things.

What is it about these North Carolina Civil War battlefields that has caused them to be treated like the proverbial red-headed stepchild? Is it that these battles involved neither Lee nor Grant? Is it that there was no massive bloodletting such as that at Antietam, Gettysburg or Spotsylvania Court House? Is it that we’ve grown so parochial in our view of the war that only sites in Virginia are viewed as worthy? Is it that Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign came so late in the war that nobody cares? I genuinely don’t know.

I do know this: these battles are as full of human drama and human suffering as any other, and they deserve our respect just as much.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Mon 19th Dec 2005 at 6:06 pm

    I think you hit the nail on the head as to why these sites are not more prominent. Perhaps it reflects the success on the part of Virginians after the war in focusing the attention on the Commonwealth. The other problem is that when it comes to Sherman’s campaign most people are content with spewing nonsense about the ruthlesness of his movements. Of course most of this is postwar lost cause banter that went far in drawing the distinction between the industrial north and the civilized agrarian south. Well, in the end, perhaps these sites do fall behind in terms of importance. I don’t know.

  2. Mon 19th Dec 2005 at 6:20 pm

    Sadly, I think you’re right, Kevin. And it’s a shame, because these are some great sites.

    Eric

  3. Mon 19th Dec 2005 at 7:40 pm

    How does that saying go? NC is a valley of modesty between two mountains of conceit…or something like that. I am sure I got the exact wording wrong, but I got a big kick out of it the first time I heard it.

  4. Mon 19th Dec 2005 at 7:46 pm

    Drew,

    So I’ve heard it described. :-)

    From what I can tell, it’s a pretty accurate description.

    Eric

  5. Terry Walbert
    Mon 19th Dec 2005 at 8:03 pm

    The comments are quite true about the bias toward Virginia battles. The antidote is a study of the North Carolina battles that tells the stories of those who fought as well as the strategies and tactics. For me the place to start is in soldiers’ letters and memoirs. My interest in Sherman’s campaigns in Georgia was sparked by reading James A. Connolly’s Three Years in the Army of the Cumberland. Can anyone recommend good accounts for any of the NC battles?

  6. Mon 19th Dec 2005 at 10:35 pm

    Terry,

    There are two books that I can recommend without any hesitation. First is the classic by John G. Barrett, Sherman’s March Through the Carolinas, which is considered a classic, and Mark Bradley’s excellent Last Stand in the Carolinas: The Battle of Bentonville, which is the best study of this campaign yet published.

    You can’t possibly go wrong with either of these books.

    Eric

  7. Willard C Burner III
    Thu 09th Mar 2006 at 10:38 am

    Great-grandfather, Adam Burner, Co D 5th Regiment Ohio Cavalary volunteers. I’m quite sure his unit was in the Battle of Averasboro & probably Bentonville. Would like more info and follow up about all. Visited Averasboro Monday (Museum closed) but did read all signs etc. Will go again in a few days when I return to FL.

  8. Randy Sauls
    Tue 25th Apr 2006 at 2:51 pm

    Eric, I just found this thread, so my comment is a little late. One of the battlefields on the list is Goldsborough Bridge. We control 32 acres of the battlefield, and just this morning we were out-bid on an additional 32 acre tract which was the subject of an IRS tax lien auction. Maybe we (Goldsborough Bridge Battlefield Association) will get our hands on the extra land yet; ENOUGH with the strip shopping centers already!

  9. Jordan Jones
    Mon 16th Nov 2009 at 10:39 am

    It’s been quite a while since this was posted, but of course it’s still timely.

    I was just at the Averasboro Battlefield Museum, and was quite impressed by what that small non-profit has been able to do. They have an original uniform from a local soldier with buttons that came through the blockade. It’s been very well preserved.

    It’s distressing that there are no federally-protected lands among the Civil War sites in North Carolina. For me, the most likely reason is that the history of the war has been simplified into a series of struggles: Lincoln vs. Jeff Davis, Lincoln vs. McClellan, Grant vs. Lee. Sherman is remembered for the incredible impact of the march to the sea, but not the more magnanimous surrender terms he came to with Johnston at Bennett Place. There’s a kind of cult of celebrity involved, and Johnston is not in the right crowd, with Lee, Grant, Stonewall Jackson, and Sherman.

    There are also issues, I’m sure, in terms of proximity to DC. And some of this no doubt has to do with North Carolina pride, where they have taken pride in preserving these sites, but they just don’t have the resources of the federal government.

  10. Billy S.
    Thu 24th Oct 2013 at 4:19 pm

    How active is the Civil War reenactor community in North Carolina? I ask because an idea just hit me: if there are reenactors there perhaps at their reenacted battle events they could have a short segment where they describe this problem of the paucity of NPS Civil War sites in North Carolina and ask for donations, or at the end of the event say “If you like what you saw here today feel free to donate to this fund for buying tracts of historically-important Civil War land so it can be preserved.” Just an idea.

    Or maybe have a website dedicated to each of these unattended battlefield sites and on each website solicit donations that would go to buying and preserving it.

  11. Billy S.
    Thu 24th Oct 2013 at 4:20 pm

    You could call it “Adopt a Battlefield” or something.

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