Visit to Bentonville - Largest NC battle, last-ditch Confederate offensive

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
I visited once as I drove home from Florida, but as usual I took a bit too long to get there and only had a hour or so to visit. This is one of the problems of visiting sites on a drive home. I can see one site and spend three hours touring it, or I can visit two sites and spend an hour at each.
 

A. Roy

Sergeant Major
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Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
This is one of the problems of visiting sites on a drive home. I can see one site and spend three hours touring it, or I can visit two sites and spend an hour at each.

It's a dilemma, isn't it? We were at Bentonville for 3-4 hours, which was time enough to drive the loop trail, and for me to spend some time walking along earthworks. Even so, I know that I still missed a lot!

Roy B.
 

rli

Private
Joined
Jul 11, 2020
Location
North Carolina
It's a dilemma, isn't it? We were at Bentonville for 3-4 hours, which was time enough to drive the loop trail, and for me to spend some time walking along earthworks. Even so, I know that I still missed a lot!

Roy B.
That's always the case. Now that I'm retired I'm going to change that starting in November. Remembrance day is the 21st. I booked my room from the 20th -23rd. I'm going to spend time seeing everything I was too rushed to see before. Really explore not just look
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
I like the word "look" as opposed to study or visit. Way too many sites I only had time to look at a few of the major places of importance.
 
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SJU

Private
Joined
Sep 21, 2020
I passed the sign for the battlefield years ago while travelling on 95 but couldn't get my wife to stop.
My son was stationed at Ft. Bragg in 2018-19 and I spent a week visiting. Of course I had to use the opportunity to get my battlefield fix. Bentonville was great as Roy said. Averasboro is a short drive away and is worth the side trip. You can see it in an hour or so and the guy in the small visitor center is a real gentleman. Got to knock Ft Fisher off the bucket list while I was down there.
 

A. Roy

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
I was there for he 145 th re-enactment . the trenches are still there. the confederates under Johnson stopped the union under Sherman . That as the objective so that Sherman could not hook up with grant and create a super army .

Yes, I only included one photo of the trenches in this post, but I got to see some extensive stretches along the trail. I plan to post more about the trenches in the Forgotten Forts & Places Forum.

You are right about the Sherman-Grant "super-army." That was the intention, and Bentonville delayed Sherman for a few days. But before the time came for Sherman to move out and head north, word came through that Lee had surrendered. So the objective became to achieve the surrender of Johnston (or his destruction).

Roy B.
 

farrargirl

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 9, 2017
Location
Baldwin County, on the Alabama Gulf Coast
This past week, I visited the Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site, an easy drive of less than an hour from where I live in Raleigh, North Carolina. The park is located at the southern end of Johnston County, not far from I-95. Efforts since the mid-1900s have resulted in preservation of a good portion of this battlefield, known as the location of the largest Civil War battle fought in NC, and the last engagement of the war where Confederate forces were able to mount an effective offensive. In spite of that, the three-day battle, 19-21 March 1865, is considered a Union victory.

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The Battle of Bentonville was a final effort by Confederate forces under Joseph Johnston to halt or slow down the progress of Sherman's Carolinas Campaign. Sherman, with something like 60,000 soldiers, intended to consolidate his forces at Goldsboro, and Johnston decided to pose an obstacle.

Hal Jespersen's map of the Carolinas Campaign shows the overall movements of both Confederate and Union forces during the campaign, and the position of the Battle of Bentonville (up there to the west of New Bern, where all the arrows kind of converge):

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Sherman apparently didn't expect much resistance from Johnston, with a weary force of about 22,000 patched together from remnants of several different departments. But Johnston decided to surprise the left wing of Sherman's forces under Henry Slocum in the vicinity of the small village of Bentonville. Johnston's forces were able to do some successful fighting on the first day, but as the rest of Sherman's forces arrived, Johnston got pushed back and boxed in, and finally had to withdraw over the one remaining bridge over Mill Creek, escaping north toward Raleigh. Sherman decided not to pursue at that point, but to continue on to Goldsborough to rest and re-supply.

Most of the 6,000-acre battlefield is in private hands and is still good farming land. Agriculture and logging have disturbed much of the battlefield, but acquisitions have brought 1,867 acres under preservation, according to the American Battlefield Trust.

If you've spent much time in the North Carolina Coastal Plain, you can probably imagine what the land is like -- flattish farmland and pine woods, with creeks and swampy areas in places. Not unbeautiful, but not as varied as the Piedmont or as exciting as the Appalachians. Here are some photos I took during our tour of the battlefield, which will give you an idea of the terrain:

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NC State Historic Sites has put together a useful driving tour which takes you on a 10-mile loop around the battlefield. Tour stops along the way provide parking areas (protecting you from barreling dump trucks), and interpretive plaques with historical information, quotes from primary sources, and great maps that I haven't been able to find anywhere else. One helpful feature of the tour is that the seven stops, A-G, take you for a more-or-less chronological trip through the three days of the battle.

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Here are some shots from one interesting location, Tour Stop B. The stop is titled "Morgan's Stand." The stop covers much of the first day of the battle, when Confederate forces made some successful repulses of Federals in fierce fighting.

Each of the driving-tour stops is well-marked with signage. Apparently, some North Carolina boy couldn't manage to "stop" at Morgan's Stand, and careened off Harper House Road into the sign:

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The plaques at each tour stop are a great educational tool, and by the end of the tour, I found that I had gained a good overall view of how the battle unfolded over its three days. "Morgan's Stand" refers to the position held by Union Brig. Gen. James D. Morgan, whose division faced Confederate Gen. Robert F. Hoke's division at this position south of Harper House Road (then called Goldsborough Road).

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The signage explains that Federal Troops were driven south into a woodsy, swampy area that became known as the "Bull Pen," where opposing troops engaged in fighting so intense that the woods even caught fire. Here's a view from the tour stop south toward the Bull Pen. Standing there, you can tell that the land drops off beyond the edge of those trees:

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As I mentioned before, the tour-stop plaques include maps that I have not been able to find elsewhere. As you move from stop to stop, you can get a good idea of how the battle progressed throughout the three days. To understand the maps, you have to examine them closely. There is a "You Are Here" marker on each map, but you have to follow a shadowy cone shape to see what position on the map that marker actually refers to. Then you have to pay attention to the direction indicated by "Your Angle of View," which isn't always straight ahead. On top of that, the battle maps aren't always oriented toward the north. After some study, though, I was able to use this map (actually oriented toward the south) to understand the location of the Bull Pen, and to see how badly pressed the Union forces were on the first day of the battle:

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As I said, the series of stops on the driving tour gives you a rough idea of the chronology of the battle. Here is the marker for tour stop G, "Hardee's Counterattack," from which you can also see stop F, "Johnston's Headquarters." These two stops, by the way, are at the cross roads where the original village of Bentonville stood. One Union surgeon said the hamlet consisted of "scarcely a dozen small unpainted weather-beaten dwellings." Several of the homes there were taken over as hospitals during the battle.

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The marker below, located at stop F, explains that Gen. Johnston established his headquarters in the field directly in front. Johnston was so close to the fighting that, at one point, his headquarters were even overrun by Federal skirmishers, before the enemy was driven back by the counterattack marked by tour stop G. This counterattack drove Federal forces away from the crucial road to the north and the bridge over Mill Creek, the only way out for Johnston and his army, who manage to withdraw the night of 21 March. The Army of Tennessee retreated to Raleigh, and then beyond to Greensboro. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was surrendered only about two weeks later, and then Johnston's army on 26 April, along with all the rest of the active Confederate forces.

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This map from tour stop F, "Sherman's Headquarters," shows how dramatically the situation had changed from 19 March to 21 March, when the rest of Sherman's forces had arrived at Bentonville. You can see that the Army of Tennessee is pressed into a horseshoe line, with Federal forces pressing in nearly from three sides. The Mill Creek escape route, with heavy fighting nearby, is located at the upper left corner of the map, which is oriented to the north.

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Another noteworthy feature of the Bentonville Battlefield site is the Harper House, adjacent to the visitor center. The house was used as a Union hospital during the battle. The park offers tours of the house, which is equipped with displays related to its history as both a family home and as a Civil War hospital.

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Of special interest to me are the extensive earthworks which have been preserved at Bentonville. One plaque says that over 15,000 feet of remaining earthworks were surveyed there in the late 1990s. I plan to post some photos and comments in the Forgotten Forts & Places Forum later, but here is one example from the First Michigan Engineers fortifications, which can be seen near the visitor center:

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If you're visiting North Carolina -- or just passing through on I-95 -- a visit to Bentonville is well worth it! I'm sure that there are colleagues here who know the Battle of Bentonville and the Carolinas Campaign much better than I do, so I would enjoy seeing others' comments -- and corrections, if I've gotten anything wrong here.

Roy B.
Thank you for this beautifully photographed tour. Have been wanting to read this soft cover I picked up last year by Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes, no doubt a descendant of the Cheairs brothers of Spring Hill, Tenn.

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JOHNT

Cadet
Joined
Mar 15, 2012
It's a dilemma, isn't it? We were at Bentonville for 3-4 hours, which was time enough to drive the loop trail, and for me to spend some time walking along earthworks. Even so, I know that I still missed a lot!

Roy B.
next time, hike the Cole plantation trail, both union and confederates earthworks. and walk the field of the last charge of the army of Tennessee
 

Will Carry

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 1, 2015
Location
The Tar Heel State.
If you look at topo maps of the area you will notice that Bentonville is on a line between the creeks to the south. Most old roads in North Carolina traveled along this "high ground" or ridges so they wouldn't need to cross streams or build bridges. Mill Creek is the one stream that had to be crossed. Not a bad place to ambush ol' "Willie the Torch" Sherman. People under estimate Fightin' Joe Johnston, whom I consider to be a great general that never had a chance to prove himself.

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JD Mayo

Retired User
Joined
Jun 12, 2020
Location
Greensboro NC
Which was his regiment? Do you know where he was during the battle?

Roy B.
Co. A Ark. MTD Rifleman, CSA Philip W Bush he was the grandson of my 4th great grandfather Abner L Gaines who lived in Kentucky Philip and his brother both served. His cousins house Anna Maria Hanger Gaines was used for General Sterling Prices army during the war out west. Also Abner L Gaines house was used for General Kirby Smith's house as well for his headquarters. In summer of 1864.https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/24564805/phillip-edward-bush
 
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