At a time when protesters around the country have called for the removal of Confederate monuments, dozens of history enthusiasts came Saturday to the Bentonville State Historic Site to learn about the soldiers who fought in the Civil War.
The annual summer living history event at Bentonville, the site of the largest Civil War battle in North Carolina, took place two weeks after the violent confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, between white nationalists and counterprotesters over the removal of Confederate monuments. Organizers and volunteers at the Bentonville event, which was scheduled before the Charlottesville rally, tried Saturday to keep the national controversy away from their historical event, which included musket and artillery demonstrations.
“We are here to give the public a history lesson,” said Donny Taylor. Bentonville site manager. “That’s what we’re doing. There is a lot going on. We stick with our theme and our purpose as a historic site.”
As one of the Southern states that formed the Confederacy, North Carolina has found itself in the national spotlight over what to do with its Confederate memorials.
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A few days after the Charlottesville violence, a crowd toppled a Confederate statue outside the old Durham County courthouse.
Protesters have been conducting a sit-in since Tuesday at the site of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Silent Sam Confederate memorial. Several counterprotesters waving Confederate flags and holding signs opposing the removal of Silent Sam gathered Saturday at UNC-Chapel Hill.
A day after the Durham monument was toppled, Gov. Roy Cooper publicly called for the removal of Confederate statues from state property. He also called for the repeal of a 2015 state law that protects monuments from being removed.
Cooper has largely focused though on Confederate monuments on the State Capitol grounds as opposed to those at Civil War state historic sites such as Bentonville.
“Gov. Cooper believes that our Civil War history is important, but that it belongs in museums and textbooks – not on places of allegiance on the Capitol grounds,” said Ford C. Porter, a spokesman for the governor. “The full criteria for relocation is in the process of being set.”
Taylor said he’s only had a few questions from the public about the Confederate monuments at Bentonville, about 45 miles east of Raleigh. Taylor said he’s had no issues with vandalism of the site’s monuments.
The Battle of Bentonville, which took place March 19-21, 1865, was the last major tactical offensive by a Confederate army during the Civil War. During the battle, 80,000 Union and Confederate soldiers fought in an engagement that resulted in more than 4,100 casualties.
There were no protesters Saturday at Bentonville. But Dean Harry of Raleigh, captain of Company D of the 27th North Carolina re-enactment group, said he had told the other re-enactors to be prepared for any eventuality Saturday.
“People that come to places like this and people who come to Gettysburg, they are people who want to know about this (Civil War) and think it’s important to remember,” said Harry, who is a licensed guide at Gettysburg National Military Park. “They’re not the kind of people that would like to destroy any evidence of the Civil War – at least any evidence of the Confederate part of the Civil War.”
When you erase a country’s history, how can you fully teach the foundations of the country?
John Benson of Clayton
Attendees included John Benson of Clayton, who said he can trace Confederate soldiers among his ancestors. Benson said the Confederate monuments that are part of the history of this area should not be removed.
“When you erase a country’s history, how can you fully teach the foundations of the country?” he said. “We are who we are based upon the trial and error and successes and failures of the people that were here before us.”
Some attendees said that politics had nothing to do with why they came to the event.
“For us it’s just a history lesson,” said Brock Heineman of Raleigh, who came with his father, wife and two young sons. “It’s part of teaching the boys about history and watching the guns go boom.”