Outside Durham, North Carolina is a farm where a unique event took place. On April 17, 1865 General Joseph Eggleston Johnston and Major General William Tecumseh Sherman met to negotiate terms of surrender.
Not long before, on April 9th, Lee and Grant had met at Appomattox and that I thought was the end of the war. I was surprised to learn that the fleeing Jefferson Davis, after the fall of Richmond had met with Johnston and ordered him to continue the fight. The remaining army under General Joseph E. Johnston was reassembled and ready to fight until Sherman moved north into the Carolinas following his March to the Sea. Johnston seeing nothing but guerilla warfare in the future sent a message to Sherman for peace talks and surrendering.
When they were looking for a place to meet, they found the Bennett Farm James and Nancy and their three grown children had lived. The Bennetts were farmers that had never been slave owners. They had lost two sons, one in the army and the other on the home front and their daughter staying at the farm while her husband was at war when the two general arrived to meet.
I cannot imagine how they felt when two generals asked to use their home for a meeting. A farm that had been selected before the Bennetts refused to let a Yankee set foot in their home. The two generals met on April 17, 1865, in an area of open fields and woods prior to finding the Bennett Place. James and Nancy Bennett agreed to let Johnston and Sherman use their home. To give the two generals privacy, the family moved from the house to their log kitchen building, which stood across the yard. The original home burnt in 1921, but today they have a house built circa 1840 that belonged to the Proctor family that lived down the road. The house does have the original rock chimney of the historic landmark.
Sherman planned to give the same generous terms to the Confederates that President Lincoln had outlined. Lincoln’s vision of reconstruction was with “malice toward none, with charity for all.”
Around the time of the meeting, Sherman learned that Lincoln had been assassinated. They left for the night and decided to meet the next day. Sherman decided to stick to the kinder terms of Lincoln’s surrender even though down the road he would suffer gravely for taking on what he was told was authority he didn’t have.
On April 18, 1865, Joseph E. Johnston agreed to surrender the Army of Tennessee. The agreement was ultimately rejected in Washington which was filled with rage over Lincoln’s death. Humiliated, Sherman had to again meet with Johnston on April 26, 1865 with harsher terms. At that time, the surrender included all Confederate forces in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida – 89,270 soldiers in all
Ironically Johnston and Sherman became close friends after the war and Sherman even died of pneumonia after standing bare-headed in a cold rain to show his respect at his Johnston’s funeral.
This small piece of land in North Carolina has such a big place in history. The Bennett family after the war tried to hold onto the farm, but eventually gave it up and moved to Durham. Today, you can take a self guided tour and see where this event took place. Perhaps you, like I, will be moved by the Unity Monument that was erected in 1923 by the Morgan Family as a symbol to the reunification of the United States. Located at 4409 Bennett Memorial Road in Durham, North Carolina, the park is open Tuesday – Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Take time to stop at the visitor’s center and watch the film. It is eye opening.