Today marks my ninth full year as a Durhamite. I must confess that, with the exception of Duke Gardens, I really haven’t explored Durham, North Carolina, much in the past nine years. Determined to change this, I recently set out for Bennett Place, a local landmark and North Carolina Historic Site that was fully restored in 1960 to what it looked like in Civil War-era 1865.
I parked in the lot off of Bennett Memorial Road, which is by the Visitors Center. Beside the Visitors Center is a nature trail, where I immediately spotted a whitetail deer—a herald to the nature of the trail, or so it would seem.
That encounter digitally documented, I made my way down a grassy road lined on both sides with snake-rail fence: the original Hillsborough Road. (I opted for a self-guided tour, but guided tours are available and free of charge. Donations are accepted.)
Meet the Family
Members of the Bennett family included James, his wife Nancy, their two sons, Lorenzo and Alfonso, and a daughter named Eliza. Both sons joined the Confederacy and died in the first years of the war—Lorenzo as a result of battle, and Alfonso from pneumonia while still in training. Eliza’s husband, Robert Duke, also died while serving.
Like the Bennetts, many other families during the Civil War experienced mortal losses and other hardships, (such as food rationing as the result of blockades). What was unique, however, was that the Bennett property would become a place for negotiating surrender–surrender that would bring with it the dawn of peace and national reconstruction.
A Meeting Place
Near the close of the American Civil War, Bennett Place became the site of a “Generals meet-up.” In April 1865, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston left his headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina, and met Union General William T. Sherman, headquartered in Raleigh, at the Bennett Place to discuss terms of surrender. They traveled down the old Hillsborough Road toward the Durham Station of the North Carolina Railroad, each coming from opposite directions. The Bennett farm proved to be a halfway point.
Johnston was escorted by 60 troopers of the 5th South Carolina Cavalry Regimen. Sherman had with him 200 men from the 9th and 13th Pennsylvania, 8th Indiana, and 2nd Kentucky Cavalry. Sherman brought with him the news of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination only days earlier.
The generals’ private discussions began on April 17th. They met again the following day and terms of surrender were signed; however, the the terms were rejected by government officials in Washington with claims that they were more generous than previous terms (that General Ulysses S. Grant had given to General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, Virginia, on April 9, 1865). The generals met a third and last time at Bennett Place on April 26, 1865, and signed the final papers of surrender for Southern armies in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida–a total of 89,270 soldiers, making it the largest group surrender during the Civil War.
Inside the Visitors Center, there is a gift shop, a research library, and a three-room museum containing information and artifacts relating to both the Bennett Family and the events that put Bennett Place on the Civil War Tours map and in the history books.
I looked for but didn’t see any signs stating that I could not take pictures, (my bad if I missed them!), so I turned off my flash and took just a few.
Places like Bennett Place serve as reminders that disagreements, hardship, and loss are the sad realities of life. Places like Bennett Place can be a bit depressing. It’s little wonder, then, that some thought it important to erect a monument there to symbolize unity. One Nation. Under God. Indivisible.