Most people living in the southeastern portion of North Carolina have grown up with stories about relatives who hastily prepared for Sherman and his soldiers as they began to enter into Cumberland, Harnett, Sampson, and Johnston counties of North Carolina. They might have been hiding hams, livestock, or even the pieces of silver which they had treasured. Hams being lowered into wells, cows led into a swampy part of woods far from the house or other treasures buried underground are examples of what civilians did to save their belongings from those dreaded Yankee invaders. These types of stories made the war real to the generations since and personal to those of us who live in the South as well. We remember them and we imagine what it might be like to have lived during those times.
One hundred and fifty years ago, less than 6 miles from the northern border of Sampson County, the last major battle of the Civil War took place on March 19-21, 1865. The principal places of the battle were the village of Bentonville, farm steeds such as the Cole Plantation and the Morris farm as well as large acres of swampy pine woods. The farm-house of John and Amy Ann Harper was less than a mile from the first day of battle and this house was commandeered by the Union forces as a field hospital. The mistress of the house, Amy Ann Woodard Harper was the daughter of Amy Ann Faulkner and James Woodard. Her parents lived in the upper section of Sampson County. James Woodard died in 1839 leaving her mother, Amy Ann Woodard, to live with Amy’s sister, Martha Jane Woodard Keen along with her husband, James Ransom Keen in the Westbrook township of Sampson County at the time of this battle. Imagine the worry and stress that these sisters and their mother experienced while this battle took place. All would have worried about the well-being of each other.
William T. Sherman and his veteran troops were marching from Fayetteville heading toward Goldsboro to refresh his soldiers with supplies from the north. Joseph E. Johnston was in the Smithfield area of Johnston County and had learned of the closeness of the Union troops. Examining the maps, and not realizing they were rather inaccurately drawn, Johnston decided to try to make an attempt to stop Sherman. Johnston felt that he could organize the remnants of various regiments of Confederate troops in North Carolina and have a strong chance of turning the tide of the almost lost cause of the South. Numbers were not in Johnston’s favor. He was able to scrounge together around 20,000 thousand men against Sherman’s 60,000 veteran soldiers. But Johnston felt that there was a chance of victory since Sherman had divided his troops into two wings of around 30,000 each. Sherman did this to make travel easier and when Johnston learned of the arrangement, he felt this would give his men a “fighting chance”. What Johnston did not realize was that both wings were closer to each other than maps of the day revealed. The battle was going to happen near the little village of Bentonville but would not turn out as Johnston hoped.
A three-day battle ensued. On Sunday, March 19th, Johnston’s troops took the Federal soldiers by surprise as they surrounded the Goldsboro road barely a mile from the Harper plantation. Fierce fighting ensued in the swampy forests alongside this road. The Confederate forces appeared on that first day to be making a winning sweep. However, Sherman received word of the Confederate attack so he and the other wing of his troops moved quickly on the second day back to Bentonville. As they entered from the Grantham area of Wayne County, the Confederate troops were outnumbered and surrounded from two sides. Many of the Confederate troops were young – the “seed corn of the Confederacy” and therefore were not the seasoned fighters of the Union troops. After the second wing of Sherman’s troops arrived around noon, the second day of battle, March 20th proved to be too much for the Confederacy. On March 21st , Johnston and his troops go over the bridge going back to Smithfield. Sherman and his troops moved onto Goldsboro to get needed supplies. The wounded and dead were left for the civilians to manage.
Definitely this battle was the bloodiest on North Carolina soil and many veteran soldiers wrote that this battle was one of the fiercest they had encountered. Today we are offered a chance to revisit history as thousands of military living historians from across the country will descend on Bentonville Battlefield on March 21-22, 2015 to become Confederate and Union soldiers in the last major battle reenactment in the Civil War’s 150th anniversary commemoration. They will re-create one of the largest battle fought on North Carolina soil. The public is invited to watch all the action.
Nearly 5000 re-enactors are expected for the two-day event. In addition to the daily battles, the week-end will feature free lectures, 19th century medical displays, period music and dozens of “sutlers” selling Civil War related wares. Advanced tickets for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity are on sale at this time. They may be purchased online at www.150thbentonville.com, at Bentonville State Historic Site, or by calling (910) 594-0789. Checks can be mailed to Bentonville 150th Event Tickets, P O Box 211, Newton Grove, NC 28366. Tickets to the two battles are limited and advanced purchase is strongly encouraged to guarantee availability. Advanced tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for children aged nine to twelve. After March 15, and at the gate (if available), tickets will be $15 for adults and $10 for children nine to 12. Children aged 8 and under attend free. A discounted combination two-day ticket is available during advanced sales only ($20 for adults and $10 for children aged nine to twelve). Battles are the only events that require tickets. All other activities at the 150th anniversary event—lectures, house tours, music, demonstration and more –are free to the public.
This event is sponsored by the Friends of Bentonville Battlefield, Inc. as well as NC State Historic Sites, the NC Department of Cultural Resources and Johnston County Visitors Bureau. This week-end promises to be a chance to re-live history and to learn more about this battle which took place so close to Sampson County soil. Please make plans to attend this event which will allow visitors to relive a moment in North Carolina history.
Bentonville Battlefield Press Release and Website