’Tis a wretched affair indeed when state government can’t fess up a poke of Yankee dollars to buy two acres abutting the Bennett Place.
So you will kindly avoid staring when the Department of Cultural Resources extends a tin cup for $310,000. No other source of funds seems likely before an option on the 1.9-acre tract expires Oct. 31.
Hanging in the balance is, admittedly, a wooded buffer with little historical gravity except for a segment of the old Hillsborough-Durham Station Road. It would help immensely if the Bennett Place and its iconic Unity Monument, where Confederate Gen. Joe Johnston agreed on April 26, 1865, to surrender 80,000 troops to Union Gen. William T. Sherman, the man who made Georgia howl, were a battlefield.
No, it’s the site of a peace parley. And that makes a big difference to what would ordinarily be a receptive ear to saving land, the Civil War Trust. The trust (Disclosure: I am a member) turned down the state’s bid for aid, citing its rules against putting money into anything but battlegrounds.
I agree with the trust that its policy keeps the charity’s eye where it should be, on the prize.
Still, I and others who dabble in Civil War history don’t like to see even ancillary land thrown to the wolves – er, developers. The Bennett Place deserves better than serving as a backstop to a Butler building, as a Cultural Resources official told staff writerJim Wise.
I doubt that the Bennett Place would be in this vise if the Rebs and the Yankees had gone at each other.
True, Appomatox Court House, where Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865, to his nemesis U.S. Grant, is not a battlefield. But then at Appomatox you had the first string. Everything that followed was a second act.
It gets worse. In this sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War, a non-event if ever there was one, the Bennett Place languishes because despite what many people believe, the Civil War didn’t end there.
What did end was combat in the Eastern Theater. After Joe Johnston’s surrender, dominoes fell rapidly in other Confederate departments.
Perhaps few Americans realize it, because few Americans these days know much about our history, but the Confederate government itself never swooned.
It simply went out of business on May 5, 1865, at tiny Washington, Ga., about 100 miles east of Atlanta.
In full flight from Richmond, Jeff Davis was captured by Union troops at Washington – the name is rich with irony – five days later.
With Davis a prisoner and the Confederacy no more, a reasonable person would regard the four-year struggle as finished, too.
Except that it wasn’t. According to the omniscient muse WikiPedia, on May 13, 1865, the final land battle of the war erupted when a glory-seeking Union colonel attacked Rebs at Palmito Ranch, Texas.
The Rebs won.
That ended the fighting, but not the surrenders. Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby-Smith, commander west of the Mississippi, handed over his sword on May 26, 1865.
The end, surely. But no, Brig. Gen. Stand Watie, the only Native American to attain flag rank in the Civil War, surrendered his Cherokee Mounted Rifles almost a month later, on June 23.
And still it wasn’t quite finished. The rebel commerce raider Shenandoah, unaware that the Confederacy had collapsed, continued to pillage Union shipping in Alaskan waters. After the captain learned of his rogue status, he took his ship around Cape Horn and on to internment in Liverpool on Nov. 6, thus becoming the only rebel ship to sail ’round the globe.
If the Civil War has an official ending, it is President Andrew Johnson’s proclamation of August 26, 1866, that the Union had, in fact, triumphed.
Compared to all this, two acres at Bennett Place might seem small change. Not really. Once any land touched by the war is despoiled, it cannot be made whole again.
So, good luck to the Cultural Resources fund-raisers. Their heart, if not their balance sheet, is in the right place.
Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.