DURHAM — The story many students learn in school, especially if they grew up outside North Carolina, is that the Civil War ended at Appomattox Court House in Virginia when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army.
But those who run the Bennett Place State Historic Site are quick to point out that their west Durham farm site was where the largest surrender of soldiers in the Civil War took place, 17 days after Appomattox. This weekend, Bennett Place is commemorating the historic surrender with one eye toward the big event that will take place in 2015 to mark the 150th anniversary.
Through Sunday, the public can learn about the five major surrenders of the Civil War and the role that Bennett Place played in ending the hostilities. Cavalry re-enactors are also on hand to talk about the experiences of the troops.
“This is a great opportunity for the public to learn that Appomattox didn’t end the Civil War,” John Guss, the site manager for Bennett Place, said Saturday. “There were other surrenders that were spread out. This war was fought from coast to coast.”
On April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered his roughly 26,000 soldiers to U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant. But at that point, there was still concern that the remaining Confederate troops might engage in guerrilla warfare rather than surrender.
But the fears largely subsided on April 26, 1865, when Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered 89,270 soldiers to U.S. General William T. Sherman. The generals held their negotiations at the Bennett Farm.
"Bennett Place is a key part of talking about the end of the Civil War,” said Patrick Schroeder, historian at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, an author and a speaker at Bennett Place this weekend.
Over the next two months, the remaining smaller Confederate armies surrendered as well.
Guss said he hopes that 500 to 700 people will visit Bennett Place this weekend.
Leroy Warman, a graduate student from Maine on an internship at Duke University Hospital, said visiting sites such as Bennett Place offer a different perspective on the war.
“Coming from the North, you grow up thinking the North was in the right and the South was in the wrong,” he said. “It’s kind of interesting to see how people from the South see it differently.”
Saturday marked the second time that John Bann has visited the site. Bann, who is visiting from England, said he’s been interested in the Civil War since seeing trading cards during the 1960s.
“I like history,” said Bann, who is visiting his son who lives in Durham. “I’ve always been fascinated by the American Civil War.”
There’s been renewed focus on the Civil War with the ongoing 150th anniversary commemorations that will run through 2015.
Next year will mark several 150th anniversaries in North Carolina, including the Union capture of Fort Fisher, the Battle of Bentonville, the surrender of Raleigh to Sherman’s troops and the Bennett Place surrender negotiations.
“North Carolina has some amazing historic sites of national significance that people should be proud of,” said Bert Dunkerly, an author who has written about Johnston’s surrender, a park ranger at the Richmond National Battlefield Park and a speaker at Bennett Place on Saturday.
Guss said he’s hoping to raise the site’s national recognition so that as many as 10,000 people attend next year’s weeklong commemoration. In the face of state funding cuts, he said fundraising from the public will help.
“We’ve got a lot of great plans,” he said. “It’s going to take logistics, planning and money.”