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Bennett Place State Historic Site
|Location:||Jct. of SR 1313 and 1314, Durham, North Carolina|
|Area:||30.5 acres (12.3 ha)|
|Added to NRHP:||February 26, 1970|
After Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea, he turned north through the Carolinas for the Carolinas Campaign. Confederate President Jefferson Davis met General Joseph E. Johnston in Greensboro, North Carolina, while Sherman had stopped in Raleigh.
Though Davis wished to continue the war, Johnston sent a courier to the Union troops encamped at Morrisville, with a message to General Sherman, offering a meeting between the lines to discuss a truce. Johnston, whose army was still an active fighting force encamped in Greensboro, realized it could not continue the war now that Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House on April 9. Johnston, escorted by a detachment of about 60 troopers of the 5th South Carolina Cavalry Regiment, traveled east along the Hillsborough Road toward Durham Station. Sherman was riding west to meet him, with an escort of 200 men from the 9th and 13th Pennsylvania, 8th Indiana and 2nd Kentucky Cavalry. The farm of James and Nancy Bennett was the closest and most convenient place for privacy. The first day's discussion (April 17) was intensified by the telegram Sherman handed to Johnston, informing of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. They met the following day, April 18, and signed terms of surrender. Unfortunately, they were rejected by government officials in Washington as they were more generous than those Grant had given Lee. The opposing generals met again on April 26, 1865, and signed the final papers of surrender, which disbanded all active Confederate forces in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, totaling 89,270 soldiers, the largest group to surrender during the war.
James and Nancy Bennett were like many families who suffered tremendously during the four years of war. They lost three sons: Lorenzo, who served in the 27th North Carolina, buried in Winchester, Virginia; Alphonzo, who is currently unaccounted for in the family history; and their daughter Eliza's husband, Robert Duke, who died in a Confederate Army hospital and is buried in Lynchburg, Virginia.
The Bennetts never fully recovered from the war, and by 1880, James Bennett died and the family moved to the new community of Durham to begin a life without him. The Bennett Farm was abandoned and fell into ruin, a fire finally destroying the farmhouse in 1921. In 1923 the Unity monument was dedicated on the site. In 1960 the Bennett Farm site was fully reclaimed and restored by local preservationists. It was then turned over to the State of North Carolina and made a state historic site.
Largest surrender of the Civil War
The difficulty in reaching a surrender agreement lay in part in Johnston's desire, influenced by President Davis, for more than the purely military surrender that Sherman offered. Sherman's original terms matched those offered by Ulysses S. Grant to Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, but Johnston insisted on resolutions of political issues, including the reestablishment of state governments after the war. Sherman, in accordance with Lincoln's stated wishes for a compassionate and forgiving end to the war, agreed on terms that included the political issues. However, Union officials in Washington, angry over the recent assassination of Lincoln on April 14, turned them down. In response, Jefferson Davis ordered Johnston to disband his infantry and escape with his mounted troops. However, Johnston disobeyed his orders and agreed to meet again with General Sherman at the Bennett Farm on April 26, 1865. The rival generals signed new surrender terms, which ended the war for the 89,270 soldiers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
Bennett Place State Historic Site
The home of James and Nancy Bennett, simple yeoman farmers, served as the site of the surrender negotiations between Major General William T. Sherman and General Joseph E. Johnston April 17, 18, and 26, 1865. It was the largest surrender of the American Civil War, officially ending the fighting in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.
In 1923, the Unity Monument was placed on the site to commemorate this historic event. Among the many contributors to the preservation of this historic landmark were the Duke, Everett, and Morgan families.
Today, Bennett Place State Historic Site is located in the west end of Durham, near Duke University. The site is open to the public, Tuesday-Saturday, 9am-5pm, with a visitor center, museum, theater presentation, "Dawn of Peace", research library, gift shop, and the reconstruction of the Bennett Farm. Living history programs and the commemoration of the surrender take place throughout the year.
On April 15, 2010, the Bennett Place Historic Site unveiled a new painting by renowned Civil War artist Dan Nance, entitled "The First Meeting". On the same day, the site gave its first William Vatavuk Scholarship, a yearly scholarship for students who wish to major in history in college. The scholarship honors the late William Vatavuk, who wrote Dawn of Peace, the first guidebook for the historic site.
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