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.

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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.

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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





W. T. Sherman’s Boyhood Home

6 08 2014

While I’m posting these letters of W. T. Sherman (there are a few more to come), it’s about time a share of few of the photos I took earlier this year on my visit his boyhood home in Lancaster, OH. The trip was made the day after my presentation to the Central Ohio Civil War Roundtable on March 12, courtesy of friend Mike Peters.

The Sherman House Museum is located at 137 East Main St. This is the main drag of the town, and it’s not until you actually stand there on the street that you realize how proximate are the sites familiar to students of Sherman and the Ewing family to one another. Sherman’s father Charles was a lawyer, as was Thomas Ewing, with whom Cump went to live after his father passed away. The homes of Sherman and Ewing, and the courthouse where they did business, are all located within a block of each other. The two houses are separated by two lots, on one of which Cump’s sister and her lawyer husband built their home.

The Sherman House was not scheduled to be open that day, but Mike called ahead and the Fairfield Heritage Association, which maintains the museum, graciously opened up for us anyway. I believe it was FHA Executive Director Andrea Brookover who guided us through the home. No interior photos were allowed, but below are a few shots of the exterior and of the Ewing house. Click on the thumbnails for larger images.

The house was expanded over the years, and not all is as it was when Uncle Billy lived there. There are some items that are original to the home at the time of the general’s occupancy, and some of his furnishings from later homes. The second floor includes a pretty cool – and large – collection of Sherman memorabilia and ephemera. We were also treated to a look at the basement, which always gives me a better idea of a structure, although I’m not sure the original dwelling had a basement, and it certainly did not have this particular basement.

The Sherman House Museum is definitely worth the trip if you’re in the Columbus area.

Sherman House Front

Sherman House Front

Sherman House Rear

Sherman House Rear

Sherman House Yard

Sherman House Yard

Sherman House Plaque

Sherman House Plaque

Ewing House

Ewing House





Col. W. T. Sherman, to His Wife, On Blackburn’s Ford

4 08 2014

Camp – 1 m. West of Centreville

26 from Washington

July 19, 1861.

Dearest Ellen,

I wrote to John yesterday, asking him to send you my letter that you might be assured of my safety.  Thus far the enemy has retired before us – yesterday our General Tyler made an unauthorized attack on a battery over Bull Run – they fired Gun for Gun – and on the whole had the best of it – the Genl. finding Centreville a strong place evacuated, followed their tracks to Bull Run which has a valley deeply wooded admitting only of one narrow column. I was sent for and was under fire about half an hour, the Rifled Cannon shot cutting the trees over head and occasionally pitching into the ground. 3 artillerists – 1 infantry a & 3 horses in my Brigade with several wounded – I have not yet learned the full extent of damage – and as it was a Blunder, dont care – I am uneasy at the fact that the Volunteers do pretty much as they please, and on the Slightest provocation bang away – the danger from this desultory firing is greater than from the Enemy as they are always so close whilst the latter keep a respectful distance. We were under orders to march at 2 1/2 A.M. – the Division of Tyler to which my Brigade belongs will advance along a turnpike Road, to a Bridge on Bull Run – This Bridge is gone – and there is a strong Battery on the opposite shore of the River – here I am summoned to a council at 8 P.M at General McDowell’s camp about a mile distant – I am now there, all the Brigade commanders are present and only a few minutes intervene before they all come to this table.

I know tomorrow & next day we hall have had hard work – and I will acquit myself as well as I can – with Regulars I would have no doubts, but these Volunteers are subject to Stampedes[.] Yesterday there was an ugly stampede of 800 Massachusetts men – the Ohio men claim their discharge and so do others of the 3 months men – of them I have the Irish 69th New York which will fight.

I am pretty well, up all night and sleeping a little by day – Prime [,] Barnard, Myers & others of your acquaintance are along – Prime slept in my camp last night.

My best love to all – my faith in you & children is perfect and let what may befal me I feel they are in a fair way to grow up in goodness and usefulness. Goodby for the present yrs. ever

Sherman

Simpson, Brooks D.& Berlin, Jean V. Sherman’s Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865, pp. 118-119

 





Col. W. T. Sherman, to His Brother, On Preparations to March

3 08 2014

Camp opposite Georgetown,

July 16, 1861.

Dear Brother,

We start forth today –  camp tonight at or near Vienna – tomorrow early, we attack the enemy at or near Fairfax C. H., Germantown, and Centreville – thereabouts we will probably be till about Thursday when movement of the whole force some 35,000 men on Manassas, turning the position by a wide circuit. You may expect to hear of us about Aquia Creek or Fredericksburg (secret absolute)

I leave your saddle & bridle with the Commissary Gray with orders to Send it with my large trunk over to you – I take your saddle bags, along – and will have my small trunk to follow.

If anything befal me, my pay it drawn to embrace June 30 – and Ellen has full charge of all other interests. Goodbye, Yr. brother,

W. T. Sherman

(over)

Ellen will write to your care and you can enclose her letters. This will give me a better assurance of receiving them. Send the enclosed to her. Yrs.

W. T. Sherman

Simpson, Brooks D.& Berlin, Jean V. Sherman’s Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865, p 118





Col. W. T. Sherman, to His Wife, On Preparations to March (2)

17 07 2014

Camp opposite Georgetown.

July 16, 1861.

Dearest Ellen,

We start forth today at 2 P.M. move forward 10 miles to Vienna, there sleep – and tomorrow morning expect to fight some six or eight thousand of the enemy, at or near Fairfax, Germantown or Centreville – There we may pause for a few days & then on Manassas Junction, Beauregards Hd. Qrs. distant from here about 30 miles. I think we shall make a wide circuit, to come on his rear.

I am going to mind my own Brigade – not trouble myself about General plans – McDowell commands the whole – Brig. Gen. Tyler our column of 4 Brigades of about 10, or 11,000 men. I will have 3,400 – New York 13, 69 & 79th & Wisconsin 2nd with Shermans Battery now commanded by Capt. Ayres.

I take with me a few clothes in the valises & saddle bags – leave my small trunk to follow – have about 50 dollars in money, a Boy named John Hill as servant – have drawn pay to June 30 – and you know all else.

I think Beauregard will probably fall back tomorrow on Manassas, and call by R. R. from the neighborhood of Richmond & Lynchburg all the men he can get, and fight us there, in which case we will have our hands full.

Yesterday I went to the convent to bring the Girls over to see a drill – I found India Turner over visiting John Lee – Miss Whittington out in the country – so I brot over Miss Patterson and a Miss Walker of New Orleans – and after drill took them back – I saw Sister Bernard, and another who said she was your drawing teacher – She had a whole parcel of little prayers, and relics to keep me from harm – I told her you had secured about my neck as it were with a Silk cable a little medal which would be there, and her little relics I would stow away in my holsters.

Whatever fate befalls me, I Know you appreciate what good qualities I possess – and will make charitable allowances for defects, and that under you, our children will grow up on the safe side. About the Great Future that Providence that gives color and fragrance to the modest violet will deal justly by all – knowing the Secret motives & impulses of every heart. In the noise, confusion, hustle and [crises] of these thousand volunteers, my tongue and pen may be silent henceforth about you and our children, but I confide them with absolute confidence to you and the large circle of our mutual friends & relations.

I still regard this as but the beginning of a long war, but I hope my judgment therein is wrong, and that the People of the South may yet see the folly of their unjust Rebellion against the most mild & paternal Government ever designed for men – John will in Washington be better able to judge of my whereabouts and you had better send letters to him. As I read them I will tear them up, for every ounce on a march tells.

Tell Willy I have another war sword, which he can add to his present armory – when I come home again – I will gratify his ambitions on that score, though truly I do not choose for him or Tommy the military profession. It is too full of blind chances to be worthy of the first rank among callings.

Watch well your investments – the note you left with Turner, as well as you others lest you may be necessitated to fall back on them. Always assure Maj. Turner and Mr. Lucas of the unbounded respect I feel for them. Give your father, mother, sis & all my love. Tell Henrietta it has been an impossibility for me to go over to see her father & mother without neglecting my command which I never do. Good bye – and believe me always most affectionately yrs.

W. T. Sherman

Simpson, Brooks D.& Berlin, Jean V. Sherman’s Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865, pp. 116-118





Col. W. T. Sherman, to His Wife, On Preparations to March (1)

16 07 2014

Rosslyn, opposite Georgetown.

July 15, 1861.

Dearest Ellen,

Charles Sherman came over yesterday & spent most of the day with me. He brought your two letters of the 11th and I was very glad to hear you were so well and that the little baby was also flourishing. We certainly have a heavy charge in these Six children, and I know not what is in store for them. All I can now do is to fulfil the office to which I am appointed leaving events to develop as they may. After all Congress is not disposed to increase the Regular Army as the President supposed. The ten new Regiments are only for the war, and will be mustered out, six months after the close of hostilities, but who know when hostilities are to cease? I won’t bother myself on this point but leave things to their natural development.

I now have my brigade ready for the March – Mine is the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division[.] Brig. Gen Tyler commands the Division composed of four Brigades – Keyes’s (you remember him in California) Schenck – Sherman and Richardson – In my brigade are-the New York 69, Irish, 1,000 strong – the 79 Scots, 900 strong – Quinbys 700 strong, and Wisconsin and Col. Peck 900 strong, and the Battery of Capt. Ayres – used to be Shemans battery 112 men – 110 horses and six Guns – We move without baggage – I have Lt. Piper adjt. – McQueston & Bagley aids – two mounted orderlies and a negro servant John Hill.

4 columns move out against the forces of Beauregard – posted from Fairfax C. H. to Manassas Junction – supposed to be from 30, to 45,000 men – one under Col. Miles starts from below Alexandria – one Col. Heintzelman from Alexandria – one Col. Hunter from Long Bridge – and ones from this point Gen. Tyler – This latter is a West Point Graduate, at present Brig. Genl. from Connecticut. I don’t know him very well, but he has a fair reputation – McDowell commands the whole – say 40,000 men – The purpose is to drive Beauregard beyond Manassas – break his connection with Richmond, and then to await further movements by Gen. Patterson and McClellan – I know our plans, but could not explain them to you without maps – It may not produce results but the purpose is to fight no matter the result. We have pretty fair knowledge of the present distribution of Beauregards forces, but he has a Railroad to Richmond from which point he may get reinforcements, and unless Patterson presses Johnston, he too may send forces across from Winchester. Manassas Junction in our possession, Richmond is cut off from the Valley above Staunton. But with these Grand strategic movements I will try to leave that to the heads, and confine my attention to the mere handling of my Brigade[.]

Keyes Brigade is about 5 miles out – the Ohio 4 miles – mine here, Richardson is on the other side – on the first notice we simply close up – and early next morning at Fairfax C. H. where there are 6 or 7 S. C. & Georgia Regts. – Close at hand at Germantown, Flint Hill, Cumberville, Bull Run & Manassas are all occupied & fortified – but we may go round these. I take with me simply valise, & saddle bags – and leave behind my trunks to be sent over to John Sherman. Letter can take the same course. If we take Manassas, there will be a Railroad from Alexandria to that point, so that letters can be received regularly. Though we momentarily look for orders to cook Rations to be carried along, I still see many things to do, which are not yet done, and General Scott, will allow no risks to be run – He thinks there Should be no game of hazard here. All the Risks should be made from the flanks.

I wrote to Minnie yesterday – Poor Charley will be disappointed sadly – He overrates my influence and that of John Sherman – I have some hopes of the transfer with Boris. I will write again before we start but the telegraph will announce all results before you can hear by mail – as ever &c.

W. T. Sherman

Simpson, Brooks D.& Berlin, Jean V. Sherman’s Civil War: Selected Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865, pp. 114-116





New Original Artwork on “Civil War Monitor”

2 03 2012

Friend Terry Johnston sent me an image of the cover of the new, 3rd issue of The Civil War Monitor. It features one of Daniel Tyler’s brigade commanders. Here it is (click it for a bigger image):

I love this stuff. It really sets Civil War Monitor apart. I know it has to be expensive and maybe we can’t expect to see it on every issue, but I really, really like it.








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