Not even 30 miles from Bentonville Battlefield, where the final battle of the Carolinas was fought, a Confederate army of 6,455 soldiers lined up shoulder to shoulder in the farmland of Averasboro and did what they could to stop the flow of Union troops.
Embedded among the acres of farmland in Harnett County sits Averasboro Battlefield & Museum, a private nonprofit that is doing its best to preserve the memory of the little-known Civil War battlefield. Despite limited funding, The Averasboro Battlefield Commission (ABCI) has been working to secure the land where the battle was fought in order to prevent developers from building on it.
ABCI was awarded 27.5 acres through the National Park Service, an investment of $60,640, in a grant announced June 10. Benny Pearce, secretary and publicity director for the organization, said ABCI has no plans to develop the newly acquired land. Rather, the plot is part of a larger attempt to preserve the land in its current state.
“We want the land to remain agrarian,” Pearce said. “That, to us, is the way it should be left.”
The Battle of Averasboro was two days long and resulted in over 1,000 casualties combined on both sides. The Union general, William Sherman, soon marched on to a major victory at Bentonville.
Driving past the farmhouses that inhabit the area surrounding the battlefield, it is hard to imagine there is any threat of the land being developed. Houses here use septic tanks; any hopeful developer would have to pay for a sewage line in order to build.
But Victoria Stauffenberg, a public information officer with the National Park Service, said considering the rapid development in nearby Fayetteville and Raleigh, it is not a stretch to imagine the land being developed in the near future. Some threat of development was a requirement for the grant awarded to ABCI.
Among the 14 recipients of this round of grants from the National Park Service, ABCI was awarded one of the largest plots of land for the least amount of money. Many battlefield organizations seek the grants while the land is at a lower price even if it is not in immediate danger of being developed, Stauffenberg said.
All of the 14 battlefields awarded grants were coordinated through the Civil War Trust. Jim Campi, policy and communications director for the trust, said in an email the Averasboro land is under contract, and the deal should close in August.
Grants through the Civil War Trust for North Carolina battlefields have amounted to $4.4 million. Of the land preserved in North Carolina, 1,770 acres have gone to Bentonville Battlefield and 492 to Averasboro Battlefield.
This is not the only grant ABCI has sought recently. The North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund, which handles land grant applications for conservation nonprofits, is reviewing another application that would give ABCI 128 additional acres.
Pearce said the group has ideas of what it might do with the newly acquired land, but for the moment, ABCI lacks the funds to do anything but keep the museum open.
“If we acquire land,” Pearce said, “we typically will just set it aside and wait for the organization to get stronger.”
ABCI runs the museum and works to preserve the land where the battle took place 150 years ago. The commission was established about 20 years ago.
In those 20 years, attendance has remained steady at about 1,000 visitors per month. The museum is roughly 30 miles from Fayetteville and 40 miles from Raleigh, in a farming community on the outskirts of Dunn.
The museum does not charge admission and is run by volunteers, most of whom are Civil War buffs in retirement. ABCI has an annual budget of about $50,000, including donations. The building where the small museum and its gift shop are housed costs about $4,000 to run every month, which does not leave much in the annual budget for other expenses.
“It takes up most of our money just to keep things going,” Pearce said.
Volunteers hold yard sales to try to make up for the financial need. But this sort of work is challenging for the volunteers, who are generally older.
There are about 50 volunteer docents and 23 members who sit on the board and handle the business side of operating the museum. The future of the museum depends on more people with a passion for Civil War history choosing to dedicate their time to the tiny, underfunded museum without being paid. Pearce said the museum workers’ shared love of history is the reason they choose to work at the museum.
“I applaud them,” Stauffenberg said. “That’s out of passion.”
Pearce keeps coming back to work despite the physical challenge of two knee replacements. He decided to dedicate his time to the Averasboro museum after retiring from work in education in 2003. His dream is to add bleachers to the field beside the museum for spectators to sit while they watch battle re-enactments. But for the moment, that dream isn’t possible.
“I do worry about the financing,” Pearce said. “Hopefully something will become available to help us establish more permanent funds.”