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Two Civil War battlefields in Eastern NC will soon be getting larger

Bentonville focuses on history, not politics

Video: Reenactors and spectators come to Bentonville Civil War Battlefield for the history, not the politics, during a 'living history' demonstration Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017.
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Video: Reenactors and spectators come to Bentonville Civil War Battlefield for the history, not the politics, during a 'living history' demonstration Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017.

Two Civil War battlefields in North Carolina will add more than 50 acres with the help of federal grants announced this week.

Averasboro Battlefield — spelled Averasborough when Confederate and Union forces met there near the end of the Civil War —will gain two tracts of land totaling nearly 49 acres. Bentonville Battlefield will gain one tract of 2.8 acres.

“We have been trying for years to add property to both of these battlefields as it becomes available,” said Michele Walker, spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Averasboro Battlefield straddles Cumberland and Harnett counties.; Bentonville Battlefield is 25 miles away in Johnston County. They were the sites of significant back-to-back battles in March 1865.

According to Averasboro’s website, on March 15-16, the troops of Confederate Gen. William Hardee met the left wing of Gen. William Sherman’s troops at the 8,000-acre Smithville Plantation along the Cape Fear River. The site says that though they were outnumbered and outgunned, the Confederates were able to delay the Union forces on their way north from Fayetteville.

The delay allowed Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to gather more men to meet the Union troops at Bentonville on March 19. The battle there, the largest fought in North Carolina with 81,000 opposing troops, lasted three days. Johnston’s troops were outnumbered nearly four to one and suffered heavy casualties.

Johnston surrendered to Sherman a month later at Bennett Place, near Durham. Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, and the war was effectively over.

Benny Pearce, secretary of the Averasboro Battlefield Commission Inc., which manages the site, said $75,500 in grant money would be used to buy one 30.18-acre property to add to the battlefield, and another grant of $47,449 would help buy an 18.6-acre tract. At Bentonville, a $43,411 grant will help buy 2.8 acres.

All three grants require matching funds, which were raised by the American Battlefield Trust. Nicole Ryan, spokeswoman for the trust, based in Washington, D.C., said the trust has spent more than $11 million acquiring land for Revolutionary and Civil War battlefield preservation in North Carolina over the years.

The trust has helped preserve more than 1,800 acres at Bentonville alone, Ryan said in a phone interview.

Bentonville, a popular state historic site, holds battle re-enactments and living history programs that sometimes draw thousands of people.

Averasboro holds living history programs as well. Pearce said the additional land will allow the site to hold more living history performers and to accommodate larger crowds at events.

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.


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