Preview: Dunkerly, “To the Bitter End”

22 04 2015

51iUxctypFL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_If you read yesterday’s post and are looking to learn more about Bennett Place, you can find it in Robert M. Dunkerly’s To the Bitter End: Appomattox, Bennett Place, and the Surrenders of the Confederacy, new from Savas Beatie. This is part of the Emerging Civil War series, and as such follows a familiar format. Softcover, 169 pages of text, including seven maps, numerous illustrations, and five appendices. No index, however.

The bulk of the narrative takes the reader to Appomattox, then to Bennett Place, covering the movements of the armies and the mechanics of negotiation and surrender. It follows Jefferson Davis is his dash to…wherever he was dashing, and his eventual capture. Then the fall of Mobile and the surrender of Taylor to Canby; the end in the Trans-Mississippi at New Orleans (proxy Simon Buckner to proxy Peter Osterhaus); a few other lesser known capitulations; to the coup de grace in Indian Territory.

Appendices include The USCTs in the Appomattox Campaign, The Long Road Home from Appomattox, and The Surrender of the CSS Shenandoah.

Very cool and convenient to have summaries of all the surrenders in one place, with modern photos of the sites discussed. Handy.





On the Anniversary of the Surrender at Bennett Place

21 04 2015

This article ran in my Collateral Damage column in Civil War Times back in December, 2010, as Bennett Place, Where the War Really Ended. Click on the thumbnails for larger images I recorded over the years.

———————————-

Original road trace

Original road trace

The knock came unexpectedly at just about noon that sunny spring day, April 17, 1865. James Bennett and his wife, Nancy, opened the door to their modest three-room, two-story home and were greeted by Union Major General William T. Sherman and Confederate General Joseph Johnston, along with their staffs and escorts, several hundred soldiers in all. Johnston thought the farm which he had passed earlier looked like an appropriate place for them to sit down and talk and Sherman had deferred to his judgment. The Bennetts left their guests and repaired to their detached kitchen, leaving the two men in possession of the main room, which was described as “scrupulously neat, the floors scrubbed to a milky whiteness, the bed in one room very neatly made up, and the few articles of furniture in the room arranged with neatness and taste”. What followed was the first of three meetings between the army group commanders; three meetings that would end – after no little drama – with the surrender on April 26th of nearly 90,000 Confederate soldiers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

353James Bennett (he would change the spelling from “Bennitt” after 1860: to avoid confusion the later spelling will be used here) was born in Chatham County, NC on July 11, 1806. In the 1820s he moved to Orange County, and on May 23, 1834 he married Nancy Leigh Pearson. The union produced three children: son Lorenzo in 1832, daughter Eliza Ann in 1834, and son Alphonzo in 1836. After years of struggling financially, in 1846 James was finally able to borrow $400 and purchase a 325 acre farm with an existing cabin along the Hillsboro Road outside Durham, NC, in eastern Orange County. They added siding to the cabin, and by 1854 James was able to pay off the loan, later selling 133 acres for $250.

Reconstructed Bennett Farm

Reconstructed Bennett Farm

James had several sources of income. He did some contract hauling; sold food, liquor and lodging to travelers on the Hillsboro Road; and made and sold shoes and clothing. But the family’s primary business was agriculture, and they grew corn which they both consumed and sold. The Bennett farm also produced cantaloupe, watermelon, oats, wheat, and sweet potatoes. Bennett owned no slaves, but hired helpers, including slaves, when he was able.

The war was hard on the Bennetts. Lorenzo, who had enlisted in the 27th NC, fell sick and died in a Winchester, VA army hospital in October 1862. Alfonso died that same year, though it isn’t clear if he died in military service. In August 1864 Eliza’s husband Robert Duke – a brother of Washington Duke for whom Duke University is named – of the 46th NC died of illness in a hospital in Lynchburg, VA. Soon after, Eliza returned to live at Bennett Place with her and Robert’s son, James.

Interior of reconstructed farm house

Interior of reconstructed farm house

When the “Terms of a Military Convention” were signed by Sherman and Johnston on April 26th, James Bennett was invited to join the generals and their staffs in a celebratory toast. Afterwards, a Union private offered to purchase the table cover on which the agreement had been signed, but Bennett refused. One reporter wrote that relic hunters were so thorough that there would soon be little left to indicate where the house stood.

Two days later, a detail from Kilpatrick’s cavalry division arrived and made Bennett an offer of $10 and a horse for the signing table and cover, with the caveat that they were under orders to take them if he declined the offer. Not surprisingly, he accepted, but despite turning over the table the payment never materialized. In 1870, after learning that the table had subsequently sold for $3,000, Bennett wrote to the governor of North Carolina seeking compensation for it and other items taken from his home, but to no effect. In 1873 he filed a claim with the Southern Claims Commission, but was denied restitution because he had supported the Confederacy.

While his land was spared the ravages of fighting, after the war the productivity of Bennett’s farm dropped off significantly. By 1875 sales of various parcels of his land left him with 175 acres, all of which he sharecropped out in early 1876. James Bennett died in 1879, followed not long after by his wife. By 1889 Eliza’s daughter Roberta Shields was the sole owner of the farm: she sold 35 acres including the house to Brodie L. Duke, a black-sheep son of Washington Duke, in 1890.

The chimney is all that remains of the original dwelling

The chimney is all that remains of the original dwelling

By the early 1900’s the farm was reported as deserted, the house in a state of severe 359disrepair. A protective structure was erected around the house in the latter half of the first decade of the 20th century. Richmond businessman Samuel T. Morgan purchased 31 acres and the house around 1908, but he died in 1920 before anything was done to preserve the structure. In 1921, the Surrender site burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances. All that remained was the stone chimney.

"Unity"

“Unity”

In 1923 a 3 ½ acre plot including the Surrender site and a new monument (Unity) was donated to a non-profit organization, The Bennett Place Memorial Commission, by the Morgan family in return for its promise to maintain the site in perpetuity. But while small improvements were made in the first decade, the site was relatively unvisited for more than 20 years. In 1961, Bennett Place became an official NC State Historic Site. The reconstructed house, kitchen, smokehouse and split rail fence lining the historic Hillsboro Road trace were dedicated, and Bennett Place’s life as a public historic landmark began. Today the site also includes a visitor center with theater, museum, and gift shop, the Everett-Thissen Research Library, and a bandstand.

358357DCP_0040DCP_0039

——————————————————————————————-

Thanks to Tonia Smith for her assistance in the preparation of this article. See Arthur C. Menius, James Bennitt: Portrait of an Antebellum Yeoman in The North Carolina Historical Review, October 1981 and the same author, The Bennett Place, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, July 1979





Post 4/15 Minus “Martyr Goggles”

19 04 2015

LincolnApotheosisYes, I realize the standard line is that Lincoln’s death doomed the prospects for peaceful reconstruction. However, the transformation of AL’s memory clouds the issue. His universal popularity was post-assassination. Had he lived, real challenges – a less than friendly and vengeful Congress and his conflicting (mutually exclusive?) goals of a soft policy towards former Confederates and enfranchisement of freedmen – lay ahead. And with the profound goal of military victory gone, likely to be replaced with similarly unifying feelings of mourning and blame-laying, a living AL may have had a tough row to hoe.

In other words, I have my doubts.

While a spotty viewing of the talking heads crowding the C-Span airwaves over the past few days indicate some slight revision to the long accepted story of Lincoln’s death robbing the south of its “best friend”, I think some confuse the reality of what happened under the watch of Andrew Johnson (who at the start was viewed by the Radicals as more of an ally than Lincoln) with the likelihood of what may have happened under that of Lincoln.

Larry Tagg, in The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln (see interview here), does a fine job of viewing Lincoln in real-time, and shows that he was far from the most popular man in America as described by Sally Field’s Mary Todd in the film Lincoln, even after Lee’s surrender. To save my weary fingers, Mr. Tagg graciously provided me with a transcript of his Epilogue, The Sudden Saint. Here’s a sample (pp 462-463):

Even men who loathed Lincoln knew they must yield to his sudden sainthood. “This murder, this oozing blood, almost sanctify Lincoln,” wrote Count Gurowski on the day he died. “His end atones for all the short-comings for which he was blamed and condemned by earnest and unyielding patriots. . . . [W]hatever sacrifices his vacillations may have cost the people, those vacillations will now be forgiven. . . The murderer’s bullet opens to him immortality.” Radical Senator James W. Grimes of Iowa, who had regarded Lincoln as “a disgrace,” glumly predicted on the day after the assassination, “Mr. Lincoln is to be hereafter regarded as a saint. All his foibles, and faults, and shortcomings, will be forgotten, and he will be looked upon as the Moses who led the nation through a four years’ bloody war, and died in sight of peace.” A journalist lamented, “It has made it impossible to speak the truth of Abraham Lincoln hereafter.”

Radical Lincoln-haters wasted no time in convening. On the afternoon of April 15, as shock mixed with grief in the North, they gathered in Washington only hours after Lincoln’s death. There, they rejoiced. “While everybody was shocked at his murder, the feeling was universal that [it] would prove a godsend to the country,” wrote George Julian, who was there. “I . . . have not in a long time heard so much profanity,” he wrote. “It became intolerably disgusting. Their hostility towards Lincoln’s policy of conciliation and contempt for his weakness were undisguised.”

Zachary Chandler, who was also there, wrote his wife, “I believe that the Almighty continued Mr. Lincoln in office as long as he was useful and then substituted a better man [Andrew Johnson] to finish the work.” Ben Wade, Henry Winter Davis, and the others present agreed, of course, as did Radicals everywhere. Oliver Wendell Holmes, when he heard the news in Boston, judged that “more than likely Lincoln was not the best man for the work of reconstruction.” Wendell Phillips assured his listeners in a memorial speech at Tremont Temple the next week, “God has graciously withheld from him any fatal misstep in the great advance, and withdrawn him at the moment when his star touched its zenith, and the nation needed a sterner hand for the work God gives it to do.”

The rightness or wrongness of these opinions is irrelevant. Keep in mind that these are not the opinions of defeated and vengeful Confederates. These are the powerful Union men, relatively more powerful in peace than in war, with whom Lincoln would have to deal for the next four years.

A tough row to hoe.





Homeboys at Ford’s Theater, 4/14/65

15 04 2015

Check out this interesting post about four soldiers from the vicinity of my hometown, McKeesport, PA, who were pressed into duty on the fateful evening of April 14, 1865. Note that they were artillerymen, not infantrymen, however (Independent Battery C, Pennsylvania Light Artillery.)

And yes, the men were represented by reenactor proxy at the memorial events yesterday in Washington. Friend and blogger Ron Baumgarten of All Not So Quiet on the Potomac took this picture of three of them:

11149285_906844726024525_3939897021555072303_n

 





Preview: Wittenberg – The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads

8 04 2015

MONROEJacket_lgI received a few new Savas-Beatie releases, three in the Emerging Civil War series and a paperback reprint of Eric Wittenberg’s The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads and the Civil War’s Final Campaign. Unlike Savas-Beatie sesquicentennial editions of previously published works, this is a straight reprint to paperback. So if you weren’t fortunate enough to purchase a hardcover edition (now sold out), here’s your chance to get the full contents in a format that can be tossed in your backpack if you’re lucky enough to find yourself on the battlefield (it lies within the confines of Ft. Bragg and is very tough to be granted access. I was lucky enough to tour the field with the author a few years ago.)

Touring Monroe's Crossroads, 2005

Touring Monroe’s Crossroads, 2005





150 Years Ago Today

2 04 2015

1506594_10202031686936001_8118502619450450512_nOn this day 150 years ago, my great-grandfather Pvt. John B. Smeltzer stepped off with his comrades of Co. C, 205th PA Volunteer Infantry, in their assault on Battery 30, part of the defenses of Petersburg near Ft. Mahone. John, of Hopewell Township, Bedford County, had enlisted on August 24th, 1864 at the age of 18 years 8 months, and served until mustered out with his regiment at Alexandria, VA, on June 2nd, 1865. He was wounded in the leg during the assault. After the war he was employed as a coal miner and steelworker, married Hannah Virginia Gates, and fathered 8 children including my grandfather, Harry Gates Smeltzer. He lived variously in Bedford County, McKeesport in Allegheny County, PA, and for 6 months at the Soldiers’ Home in Dayton, OH, before returning to Hopewell where he died on Sept. 22, 1923, at the age of 77. He is buried in St. Paul’s Cemetery in Yellow Creek, Bedford County, PA, next to his granddaughter Pauline.

Update: Friend and Sesquicentennial tourist extraordinaire Craig Swain took this photo of the site of Battery 30 today:

Site of Battery 30, Petersburg, VA, 04/02/2015.

Site of Battery 30, Petersburg, VA, 04/02/2015.

Apparently, (and according to Craig who also took these snaps) great-grandpa had to charge past the dumpster by the Pizza Hut,

IMG_3899

and through the playground,

IMG_3904

to take that flower bed.

IMG_3902





Interview With Dr. Joseph L. Harsh

28 03 2015

Joe2Click here for the transcript of an interview with Dr. Harsh that appeared in a 1995 issue of Civil War magazine. Hat tip to Drew Wagenhoffer. Good stuff and, if you’re amenable, thought-provoking. If you know all there is to know, and are just looking for confirmation of same, don’t click.

When you’re done, click here for an  old old post regarding the influence of Dr. Harsh’s scholarship on interpretation at Antietam National Battlefield. Be sure to read the comments.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,919 other followers