When the first Confederate cannon were fired on South Carolina’s Fort Sumpter in 1861, the American Civil War had begun. The war would rage until 1865, claiming 620,000 lives and seeing President Abraham Lincoln assassinated by a Confederate sympathiser.
While the history books tell one story of the end of the Civil War””that Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865″”history buffs around Durham, North Carolina, know the true story: that it was in their town, in a farmhouse called Bennett Place, that the Civil War met its final end.
The story begins after the surrender of Virginia’s Confederate Armies in Virginia. Confederate States of America (CSA) President Jefferson Davis had fled south to Greensboro, North Carolina, where he was headquartered with a sizeable army under the leadership of General Joseph E. Johnston. Johnston’s rival and foe, Union General William T. Sherman, was encamped in Raleigh, 77 miles to the west, and though the two had been bitter combatants throughout the War, both men saw the wisdom in negotiating a surrender similar to Appomattox, one that would end for good the combat that ravaged the southern landscape.
On April 17, 1865, under flags of truce, the two generals rode to meet to discuss surrender terms. Their meeting place: the farmhouse of James and Nancy Bennett located seven miles west of Durham Station, the railroad crossing and small community that would grow into Durham.
Once inside the Bennett house, Sherman informed Johnston of the assassination of President Lincoln two days prior. Both men, not knowing what the fallout of the assassination may be, began negotiations for surrender. The first terms were military, regarding the disbanding and disarming of Confederate armies, but Johnston countered, adding in political provisions that would bring about “a permanent peace.” The next day Sherman presented official documents outlining the terms they’d agreed upon; CSA President Davis approved the document and it was submitted to the U.S. Secretary of War. He rejected it, escalating tensions and frustrations and sending both generals back to the negotiation table.
Finally, on April 26, Sherman and Johnston met at the Bennett house for the last time. Johnston accepted the terms and surrendered the armies under his command. That day, 89,270 Confederate Troops from North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida laid down their arms, the largest troop surrender in the war. With that final fateful meeting at a farmhouse near Durham, the Civil War was over.
Visit Bennett Place on the outskirts of Durham and see for yourself the place where the Civil War met its end. The farm has been fully restored and rebuilt, standing much as it did when Generals Johnston and Sherman met here. A Visitor Centre tells the story in more depth and contains more than 1,000 artefacts telling the story of the Civil War and the Bennett farm.
To celebrate the sesquicentennial, Bennett Place will have a 10-day celebration from 17-26 April, 2015. Activities include tours, re-enactments with costumed interpreters portraying the Bennett family as well as Union and Confederate armies; lectures and special exhibits will also reveal the history of the Bennett farm and the surrender talks here.
If you can’t visit during the sesquicentennial, a set of Civil War Trail Markers will take you on a self-guided tour across Durham and the surrounding area. Stops at six sites, including Bennett Place, reveal the era. At the Duke Homestead, Washington Duke, a tobacco farmer and Confederate soldier, returned home to discover soldiers encamped on his farm during the treaty talks; his tobacco, immensely popular in the region, was almost entirely consumed by the soldiers, but his ingenuity and determination led to the development of W. Duke and Sons Company which later became American Tobacco Company. You’ll also visit the place where the final shots of the war were fired.
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Have you visited Bennett Place? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Jason Frye