Saturday, April 26, 2014

Surrender Anniversary in the Carolinas

Bennett Place State Historic Site
Durham, North Carolina
149 years ago today (April 26, 1865), Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered to Union General William Tecumseh Sherman. The surrender was carried out at what is now Benton Place State Historic Site in Durham, North Carolina.

Johnston's surrender was the largest of the War Between the States (or Civil War) and came after his army waged one last brutal fight at the Battle of Bentonville. The Confederate attacks came close to wiping out one wing of Sherman's larger army. The tide of the battle turned when Sherman rushed reinforcements to the field and Johnston called off the attacks and withdrew.

Road by which Johnston approached Bennett Place
By early April 1865, he had moved his army into positions at Hillsborough about 35 miles northwest of the state capital of Raleigh. The Union army took Raleigh and moved into positions there. Johnston and Sherman faced each other from the two cities when news arrived of the surrender of General Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Army of North Virginia at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

Johnston now found himself in a critical position. With Sherman's much larger army just 35 miles away in Raleigh, he knew that if he continued to fight he could expect Union General Ulysses S. Grant to push down from the north. His small army would be swallowed up.

Restored farm and monument at Bennett Place.
His situation became even more stressful when President Jefferson Davis, fleeing south after the fall of Richmond, ordered the veteran general to continue the fight. Davis, in fact, told Johnston that if he could not defeat the armies arrayed against him, he should break up his own force and turn his men into guerrillas who would continue the war for years if need be.

Rather than launch a guerrilla war that would flood the South with blood, Johnston decided to meet with General Sherman. He sent a letter through the lines, Sherman responded, and the two generals met near Durham, about half-way between their armies. They decided to find a house where they could sit down and talk, but the first home-owner they approached refused to let Sherman set foot in his house. They moved on to the Bennett Place, home of James and Nancy Bennett, who consented to allow the generals to meet in their home.

Table at which the surrender document was prepared
On the next day, April 18, 1864, Johnston agreed to surrender the Army of Tennessee. Sherman offered him extremely liberal terms. When the proposed surrender terms reached Washington, D.C., however, Union officials said no. The North was then outraged over the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and Sherman's humane terms were refused by his superiors. He accordingly notified Johnston that he would have no choice but to continue the fight in 48 hours.

Johnston knew that he had no hope of defeating Sherman, so on April 26, 1865, he surrendered the Confederate Army of Tennessee and all Confederate forces east of Alabama on the harsh terms demanded by the politicians in Washington.

To learn more about the surrender at Bennett Place, please visit

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