Bennett Place in Durham, North Carolina
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.
A whitetail deer by the Nature Trail at Bennett Park in Durham, NC.
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.
Bennett House and the original Hillsborough Road (between the two snake-rail fences): Confederate General Johnston and Union General Sherman traveled the Hillsborough Road from opposite directions, (Johnston coming from the direction on the right; Sherman from the left), and convened inside Bennett House. — Bennett Place, Durham, NC
The Bennett House as it stands today is a replica constructed of materials from another Durham farmhouse of the same period. The original house burned down in 1921. All that remained was the chimney (still intact and pictured here on the left side of the structure). The Bennett House consists of one large room on the first floor and a small room on the second floor.
The wooden well on the Bennett Farm: Reportedly, the Civil War generals tied their horses under a large oak tree near this well while they discussed terms of surrender inside the Bennett House. — Bennett Place, Durham, NC
The Bennett family gathered in the kitchenhouse, (picture here), while the two Civil War generals negotiated terms of surrender in the main house. The reconstructed kitchenhouse was built on the original foundation. — Bennett Place, Durham NC
Furniture and kitchenware of the 1800s provide a glimpse into American Civil War-era life, as seen through the window of the kitchenhouse at Bennett Place in Durham, NC.
The smokehouse on Bennett Farm was used for curing meat and storing food and supplies. (This reconstructed smokehouse was erected where the original once stood.) — Bennett Place, Durham NC
Inside the smokehouse, tools of the period (Civil War/late 1800s) are on display. — Bennett Place, Durham NC
From the rear of the Bennett Place: the replica 1800s garden in the foreground, the kitchenhouse just beyond the fence, the smokehouse to the right, and Bennett House in the distance. — Bennett Place, Durham, NC
A Unity Monument was erected at Bennett Place on October 12, 1923, as a symbol of national unity. The monument, which turned 90 years old in 2013, consists of two columns, one representing The Confederacy and one representing The Union. The columns are joined at the top by a bridge bearing two shields and the word UNITY. (Durham, NC)
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.
A Confederate soldier’s uniform and typical effects on display in the museum at Bennett Place in Durham, NC.
This Civil War-era home remedy kit is quite interesting…and quite exhaustive, it would seem. — Bennett Place museum in Durham, NC
Copies of the surrender documents between General Johnston and General Sherman are on display in the museum at Bennett Place. (North Carolina)
The Bennett family lost two sons and a son-in-law in the Civil War, leaving no males to work the farm. James Bennett (Bennitt) ceased farming at about age 70 and signed a sharecropping agreement with his in-laws. He died in 1878. Nancy and Eliza Bennett moved into the growing city of Durham.
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.