National group is raising money for battlefield

Aims to expand Bentonville site

Staff WriterJuly 19, 2010 

— A national group is raising money to preserve more of the Civil War battlefield where the army of Union Gen. William T. Sherman defeated the forces of Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston.

The Civil War Preservation Trust hopes to purchase about 240 acres, which would be added to the 1,350-acre, state-managed site in Johnston County's Bentonville community.

Bentonville battlefield is ideal for preservation because it is well-managed and historically significant, said Mary Koik, a spokeswoman for the trust. "It's a site where there's sort of the perfect storm of opportunity," she said. "It's a site where there is that willingness in the community, among the landowners, to see it protected."

After the purchase, the state will own the new acreage, she said.

The new property will include land where troops fought on the first and third days of the battle, including woods, farmlands and fields, said Donny Taylor, manager of the historic site.

Bentonville battlefield's 35,000 annual visitors might be able to walk by some of the sites on their tours, but the state will rent other parts of the property back to farmers.

"It keeps development out," Taylor said.

Since 1987, the Civil War Preservation Trust has bought and preserved about 29,000 acres, including 1,142 at Bentonville. The new Bentonville purchase is the kickoff for a larger, $2.2million North Carolina Legacy Campaign.

The trust hopes its 55,000 members will donate a large chunk of the money for the state campaign. The trust has already lined up four tracts to buy at Bentonville and plans to purchase another 210 acres throughout the state.

A federal grant program will match all donations, and Koik said the money would be used for land purchases, not overhead costs. In most cases, money donated will be spread among North Carolina property purchases, not used strictly at Bentonville, she said.

"It'll be going into the pot," she said, adding that people with a strong association with Bentonville might be able to work out a direct donation.

The campaign is scheduled to last about 18 months, Koik said.

The Civil War Preservation Trust has already entered contracts with the Bentonville landowners, she said, and is waiting on the money to make the buys.

The 1865 battlefield encompassed about 6,000 acres, Taylor said, meaning the new purchases will bring the site to about a quarter of the total field of conflict.

When landowners approach Taylor with possible expansions, he analyzes and prioritizes the land, then sends it to the Civil War Preservation Trust for a final decision.

Koik said battlefields like Bentonville are worth preserving. "There's history in everybody's backyard, and here's a chance to see some of it protected forever," she said.

The Battle of Bentonville was the last major battle of the Civil War and the largest battle ever fought on North Carolina soil. or 919-836-5758

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