I’ve lived in North Carolina for over 18 years, I am the daughter of a Civil War buff and my daughter lived in Durham for 7 years, but I never set foot at Bennett Place until the weekend before Christmas of 2019. So what? Bennett Place is the actual spot where the Civil War ended. Not Gettysburg, Appomattox, Petersburg or Spotsylvania. Bennett Place right outside Durham, North Carolina.
I must admit that I became interested in Bennett Place because it is my boyfriend Roy’s last name. I thought maybe there was some distant family tie or perhaps there was a confederate General Bennett that lent his name to the historic marker. I was incorrect. Bennett Place was the family farm and home of James and Nancy Bennett and was the site of the last surrender of a major Confederate army in the American Civil War, when Joseph E. Johnston surrendered to William T. Sherman on April 26th. It was also the largest surrender of the Civil War. This surrender agreement ended the war for the 89,270 soldiers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
Here is why you’ve never heard of Bennett Place:
Appomattox Court House
Appomattox Court House is where the beginning of the end of the war started. General Robert E. Lee commanded the Army of Northern Virginia, while Major General John Brown Gordon commanded its Second Corps. Early in the morning of April 9, Gordon attacked, aiming to break through Federal lines at the Battle of Appomattox Court House, but failed, and the Confederate Army was then surrounded. At 8:30 A.M. that morning, Lee requested a meeting with Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to discuss surrendering the Army of Northern Virginia. Shortly after twelve o’clock, Grant’s reply reached Lee, and in it, Grant said he would accept the surrender of the Confederate Army under certain conditions. Lee then rode into the little hamlet of Appomattox to the Court House and waited for Grant’s arrival to surrender his army. About 28,000 confederate troops were surrendered, but Lee and Grant were the main leaders, so Appomattox is credited with being the end of the war.
John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln on April 14th and Lincoln died on April 15th at Petersen House in Washington, D.C. The news of the assassination overshadowed any war news since Lee and Grant had already signed what is referred to as “The Gentleman’s Agreement” just five days earlier. The nation was grieving the first presidential assassination and he was lying in state for three days in Washington D.C. This was followed by a two-week funeral train ride home to Illinois which commenced on April 21st. It traveled through Baltimore, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, New York, Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Chicago and finally arrived in Springfield on May 3rd. The assassination held the nation’s attention.
John Wilkes Booth
Once Lincoln was shot at Ford’s theater, it was pandemonium in Washington. Booth and his accomplice, David Herold, fled to southern Maryland. Booth had broken his leg after he leapt from the balcony after shooting Lincoln. He found a Doctor Samuel Mudd in St. Catherine, Maryland who reset his leg after Booth told him he was injured by a fall off a horse. Federal troops pursued Booth and Harold to Bowling Green, Virginia. Booth and Herold were apprehended in a tobacco barn by a cavalry detachment under the command of Lieutenant Edward Doherty. After Herold gave himself up, Booth was shot and killed by Corporal Boston Corbett on April 26th. April 26th is the same day that Johnston and Sherman had come to terms on the surrender at Bennett Place. The news of the president’s assassin’s death was a much more newsworthy event.
Timing is everything. Appomattox will always be revered as the end of the war. It is a National Historic site. But for the horrific murder of one of our greatest presidents and the pursuit of his killer, maybe Bennett Place would be more than just a lost footnote in the saga of the bloodiest war on American soil with over 620,000 lives lost. Just to set the record straight, there were several more much smaller surrenders throughout the south with the final declaration of the end of the war by President Johnson on August 20th, 1866. But for the surrender at Bennett Place, there could have been guerrilla warfare for countless years. I am grateful that James and Nancy Bennett lent their home to bring a bloody chapter in American history to an end.