1. At Bentonville, General William T. Sherman's Union Army advancing from Fayetteville toward Goldsboro met and battled the Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston. General Robert E. lee had directed the Confederates to make a stand in North Carolina to prevent Sherman from joining General U. S. Grant in front of Lee's Army at Petersburg, Virginia.
Johnston had been able to raise nearly 30,000 men from South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and eastern North Carolina. His army included a galaxy of generals, two full generals besides Joseph E. Johnston: four lieutenant generals; fourteen major generals; and many brigadier generals. Ahead of Sherman with his force, he looked for an opportunity to strike.
Sherman's Army of 60,000 men was divided into two wings; 30,000 men in the Left Wing marched via Averasboro and Bentonville, and 30,000 men in the Right Wing marching on a parallel route to the southeast. Sherman's North Carolina's objective was Goldsboro where an additional 40,000 troops and fresh supplies would reinforce and nourish his weary army.
This three day battle ended in stalemate. After an initial success on the first day, the Confederates were unable to destroy the united Federal Left and Right Wing 60,000 men and on the night of March 21-22 they withdrew. The union Army anxious to reach Goldsboro did not pursue.
2. An open field with endless possibilities. This is the site of Lt. General William Hardee's attack of Union forces. Although successful, he was unable to prevent the overtaking of General Johnston's Headquarters and eventually withdrew. Sherman allowed the South to slip away as he headed on to his original destination Goldsboro to regroup and refresh. The battle ended in a stalemate.
3. History happened here, 85,000 to 90,000 troops were involved in the three-day battle. The Bentonville Battlefield was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1996. The website civilwar.org tells the story perfectly, it is worth the read for full comprehension of who and what took place.
4. The decision makers at Bentonville were Johnston and Sherman.
After the war, Johnston was an executive in the railroad and insurance businesses. He served a term in Congress and was commissioner of railroads under Grover Cleveland. He died of pneumonia after serving in inclement weather as a pallbearer at the funeral of his former adversary, and later friend, William T. Sherman.
General William T. Sherman was calling the shots for the Union Army. Sherman was familiar with Johnston for he was also present in Georgia for the Atlanta Campaign. The war was winding down. This was the last battle between the two but they would meet again soon.
5. The Harper House is a reconstruction of the home of John and Amy Harper who raised 9 of their children here. This historic home located near Harper, Johnston County, North Carolina was built around 1855. The house was approximately 10 years old during the battle, a relatively new home. If you refer to movies, I would not call this a sprawling southern plantation but this family did okay. They had been slave owners. Mr. Harper was a Justice of the Peace; the family grew most of their own food and made a living from the sale of cut down pine trees used for tar and the making of turpentine.
Imagine the knock on the door from the Union Army the first day of battle.
6. The Union Army took over the downstairs, and their home served as a Union field hospital during the Battle of Bentonville, March 19-21, 1865. The family stayed in the house, moved their belongings and some of their furniture to the second floor. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. It was not uncommon to use people's homes and establishments to treat soldiers but this was the first time I went inside and saw such a setup. It was not total gore but you certainly got the message. Some of the rooms served as makeshift operating rooms where the surgeries took place, while the other was for less serious injuries.
7. Witness to history tree to the left was present for the battle. The younger crape myrtle to the right would have rooted during more peaceful times. I wonder if the older sycamore shares old war stories, if trees could talk. The two out buildings represent the one time slave quarters and a kitchen.
8. Weapons of war used during the American Civil War included rifles, pistols, handguns, canon balls, swords and knives. Some have different names today but are still considered weapons of mass destruction.
9. Bonds were formed between Union soldiers and freed slaves. Corporal Charles F. Hallock, 5th Connecticut, was photographed with runaway slave John Taylor in Atlanta during the autumn of 1864. Taylor accompanied Hallock during the March to the Sea and the Carolinas Campaign, eventually going home with Hallock to Norwalk, Connecticut, in 1865.
Bonds were broken: As told on the signage below, Willie Hardee was the son of Confederate Lt. General William Hardee. O.O. Howard was Willie Hardee's tutor before the war. Major General Oliver O. Howard was the leader of Union Right Wing. He and General Hardee had been close friends at West Point.
10. On exhibit inside the museum, one of the cases shows a prosthetic wooden leg that was supplied to soldiers after losing a limb during the war, also in the case is a "how to" surgical book carried around by the medical staff, and then there is the doctor's medical bag of instruments. They looked like carpenters tools, pliers, a saw and various size blades on a collection of knives. I was told it sometimes took 15 minutes to saw off a leg. Could you hold your breath that long? North Carolina became the first of the former Confederate states to offer help to their wounded soldiers with artificial legs or the money equivalent of seventy dollars. nchistoricsites.org
During the upcoming weekend March 21 and 22 approximately 50,000 spectators along with reenactments will occupy these fields once again on the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Bentonville in North Carolina.
References and further reading
YouTube also has reenactment videos of the Battle of Bentonville
We build monuments and we preserve land to teach the importance of history and to illustrate the damage and destruction brought about from these conflicts through time. I find these resources so valuable to the education of future generations. Perhaps someday we will learn something from them. If nothing else it should stop and make us pause and maybe just think about these lives in future decisions.