Thursday, February 20, 2014

Lectures, Civil War ball set for Bennett Place surrender anniversary weekend in April

 Confederate forces surrendered at Bennett Place (NCDCR photo)

North Carolina’s Bennett Place, site of the largest surrender of Confederate forces, in April will host a lecture and living history program that is a run-up to next year’s 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.

The April 26-27 events include “The Grand Blue and Gray Ball,” an evening of dancing and socializing to raise money for the renovation of the historic site’s museum.

The schedule for the lectures by historians and authors, entitled “The Many Roads to Surrender,” is being finalized.

Speakers will detail the stories of seven Southern surrenders -- at Appomattox Court House, Va.; Bennett Place; Citronelle, Ala.; New Orleans, La.; Galveston, Texas; Doaksville, Okla., and Liverpool, England; according to the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

Bennett Place State Historic Site will host a major program on the surrenders and the human cost of the conflict from April 17-26, 2015.

Most Americans are familiar with Robert E. Lee’s surrender of his army to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. But many more Confederate troops across the South fought on for up to two months.

The commander of the largest force soon decided it was time to furl the flags.

Gen. Joseph E. Johnston on April 26, 1865, reached a final agreement with Union Major. Gen. William T. Sherman, ending the war for nearly 90,000 Confederates in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

The two generals met at the James and Nancy Bennett farm, which lies on the Old Hillsborough Road in Durham. The pact effectively ended the bloody Civil War.

Bennett Place includes a rebuilt version of the Bennett home, a few outbuildings and the visitor’s center and museum.

Officials say the 7 p.m. April 26 ball, hosted by the Bennett Place Support Fund, will go toward an upgrade of the exhibits. Admission is $50 for couples and $30 for individuals.

“Our current museum will be undergoing some major changes to include a new floor plan and artifacts,” says Diane Smith, historic interpreter and volunteer coordinator at the farm. “The scheduled date for the beginning of the renovation is set for this summer with the completion set for March/April of 2015 in time for the 150th anniversary of the surrender that occurred here.”

The Murphey School, located on the road that Johnston traveled to meet Sherman, is the venue for the ball, which will include a silent auction that includes sports memorabilia and an airplane ride, according to Smith.

All money from the sale of the tickets to the dance, as well as the silent auction items, go toward the museum renovations.

Back at Bennett Place, invited speakers include Patrick Schroeder, historian at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park; Bert Dunkerly, ranger historian of Richmond National Battlefield Park; Eric Richardson, historian and staff member of the Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Va., and John Hairr, curator of education of the North Carolina Maritime Museum, Beaufort. 

Descendants groups will provide visitors with genealogical information to help find their Civil War ancestors. Union and Confederate soldiers and civilians will perform living history demonstrations throughout the weekend.

Surrender negotiations at the Bennett farm were not without controversy. Initially, Sherman and Johnston’s agreement included political terms that were considered overly generous to the South.

Officials in Washington, angered over the recent assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, turned them down in favor of purely military terms.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered Johnston to dissolve his army into guerrilla bands to continue the fight, but the general, who knew continuing the fight was useless without Lee’s forces, disobeyed the order and signed the revised agreement.

For more information, contact Bennett Place State Historic Site at 919-383-4345.

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