Today I was feeling the undeniable need for...let's call it a "hit of history". So I collaborated with my very close friend...Google...to decide which direction to wander on this Field Trip Friday. My first choice was a battlefield that sounded really interesting (you know, if you're a Super Nerd like me)...until I pinpointed its location and discovered it's almost an hour and a half away. Back-burnering that for another day, I settled on a local attraction that's been on my radar for a while: Bennett Place, a mere 20-minute car ride away in nearby Durham.
After a serene and picturesque drive through the Orange County rural countryside, I arrived at the modest little site. Honestly, it's not terribly impressive as historical markers go--it's mostly comprised of the Visitor's Center, one lone monument, a couple of reconstructed log buildings, and some miscellaneous other structures...all clustered within a few hundred feet of each other. Yet its significance in the narrative of the Civil War cannot be overlooked.
It was here, on this small, unassuming plot of land containing the Bennet family farm, where two formidable adversaries--generals Joseph E. Johnston and William Tecumseh Sherman--convened to negotiate terms of surrender for a massive number of Confederate troops still engaged in fighting in several Southern states. When the peace treaty was finalized on April 26, 1865, more than 89,000 soldiers laid down their arms and returned to their homes. At this point, the War Between the States was all but over, although it took about another month for the official end to be declared.
These commanders had encountered one another previously: about a month before, their forces had clashed in the Battle of Bentonville (yeah, that's the one I had to save for later--darn it!), in which Johnston's contingent had attempted--and failed--to stem Sherman's ongoing march through the Carolinas. This event is now considered to have signaled "the beginning of the end" for the Confederacy's chances in the campaign. Then, in early April of 1865, the more famous meeting occurred between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee in Appomattox, Virginia, culminating in the disbanding of the Army of NorthernVirginia.
However, what transpired at Bennett Place represents "the largest surrender of the American Civil War". Now, strolling around the peaceful grounds of this former homestead doesn't necessarily give you an overwhelming sense of tragedy, like at Antietam or...I don't know...an idea of...the weight of historical importance, like at Gettysburg. This is one of those educational adventures where you have to actually stop and read the plaques to get anything out of it. Moreover, if you're a stickler for facts and a...learning junkie...you come home and look up the timeline for the final months of the Civil War, to better understand what was going on overall in our still-divided nation in the Spring of 1865. (And then, of course, compose a descriptive essay about the experience...yes, this IS how I choose to spend my free time, so what? But let me tell ya, if there's a quiz on this stuff, I am ready, baby!)
But anyway, when all was said and done, I enjoyed a pleasant end-of-the-week diversion...and some new, (probably useless in the future, but whatever) information to foist off on whoever will listen...er, "read". Not bad for a fun Friday frolic!