SITE OF THE NEGOTIATION FOR THE CIVIL WAR'S LARGEST TROOP SURRENDER
The simple farmhouse was located between Confederate General Johnston's headquarters in Greensboro
and Union General Sherman's headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina. In 1865 the two officers met at the Bennett Place, where
they signed surrender papers for southern armies in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. Today, James Bennett's reconstructed
farmhouse, kitchen, and smokehouse recall the lifestyle of an ordinary Southern farmer during the Civil War.
In April 1865, however, two battle-weary
adversaries, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston and Union General William T. Sherman, met under a flag of truce to discuss a peaceful solution to the tragic Civil War.
The military leaders and their
escorts assembled midway between their lines on the Hillsborough Road, seven miles from Durham Station.
Johnston suggested they sit down together at a simple farmhouse
a short distance away.
On three separate occasions the
Union and Confederate generals struggled to come to mutually agreeable surrender terms at the home of James and Nancy Bennitt
(research indicates Bennitt is the correct spelling of the family name). Finally, on April 26, the Bennitt home became the
site of the largest troop surrender of the Civil War.
|General Joseph E. Johnston
|NC Office of Archives and History
After his controversial
march from Atlanta
to Savannah, Sherman turned
his army of 60,000 northward. In March 1865 he entered North Carolina.
Living off the land and destroying public buildings and factories, the Union commander
brought his "total war" policy to a state that had been slow to secede. Johnston, recently
placed in command of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, failed to stop Sherman
at the Battle of Bentonville.
The days of the Confederacy were numbered. Seeking to avoid capture
in Virginia, President Jefferson Davis arrived in Greensboro
on April 11 and summoned Johnston to assess the strength of
his army. Though Davis felt the South could continue the war, the confirmation of Lee's surrender
prompted him to allow Johnston to confer with Sherman.
|General William T. Sherman
|NC Office of Archives and History
On April 17 Johnston and Sherman met
at the Bennitt farm. Before negotiations began, Sherman showed Johnston a
telegram announcing the assassination of President Lincoln. Unaware of the problems this tragedy would create, the generals
began their conference. Sherman was prepared to offer terms
like those Grant gave Lee - military terms only. Johnston
wanted "to arrange the terms of a permanent peace," including political terms.
At the second meeting on April 18, Sherman submitted "a basis of agreement" which Johnston
accepted. This liberal document provided for an armistice that could be cancelled at 48 hours notice, disbanding armies following
the depositing weapons in state arsenals, recognition of state government, establishment of federal courts, restoration of
political and civil rights, and a general amnesty. Jefferson Davis approved these terms, but the Union rejected them because
of hostilities in Washington following Lincoln's
assassination. Grant instructed Sherman to renegotiate terms similar to those given Lee at
Davis, who opposed the more stringent
terms, ordered Johnston to disband the infantry and escape
with the mounted troops. Realizing the tragedy of a prolonged war, Johnston disobeyed orders
and met Sherman again at the Bennitt farm on April 26. The
final agreement was simply a military surrender which ended the war in the Carolinas, Georgia,
and Florida, and involved 89,270 soldiers. The mustering
out of the troops and the issuing of paroles for those who surrendered took place in Greensboro.
Additional surrenders followed, including: Richard Taylor in Alabama on May 4 and E.
Kirby Smith at New Orleans on May 26 (also see Final Surrenders). Together, with Lee's surrender, the Confederate forces were completely disbanded.
The surrender spared North Carolina the destruction experienced by her neighboring states. Equally important,
the economy of the entire state and the development of Durham
were boosted when troops in the area were introduced to "bright leaf" tobacco.
The Bennitt Family
In 1846 at age 40, James Bennitt, his
wife Nancy, and their three children settled on a 325-acre farm in Orange
County. The family grew corn, wheat, oats, and potatoes, and raised hogs.
Bennitt was also a tailor, cobbler, and sold horse feed, tobacco plugs, and distilled liquor. Bennitt's sons and son-in-law
died during the war years. Age and the loss of available labor compelled Bennitt to enter into a sharecropping agreement with
his in-laws. He stopped farming in 1875 and died in 1878; his wife passed on six years later.
In 1921 a fire destroyed the farmhouse
and kitchen; only the stone chimney survived. The present buildings at the site were carefully reconstructed in the 1960s,
using Civil War sketches and early photographs as a guide. The simple reproduction farm dwelling and log kitchen show what
life was like during a tragic period in our nation's history. A modern visitor center with exhibits and an audiovisual program
help tell the Bennett Place story.
|Bennett Place Civil War North Carolina Map
|Bennett Place North Carolina Battle of Bentonville Civil War Map
Source: North Carolina Office of Archives and History