Background Fact Sheet

Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site 150th Anniversary Reenactment

 1. Who administers this site? Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site is administered by the Division of State Historic Sites and Properties, under the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, a state agency dedicated to the promotion and protection of North Carolina’s arts, history, and culture.

2. What is the relevance of the site? The Battle of Bentonville was the largest Civil War battle in the state of North Carolina. On March 19th 1865, General Joseph E. Johnston’s small Confederate army attacked one half of Major General William T. Sherman’s Union army marching north from Georgia. A three day pitched battle ensued involving nearly 20,000 Confederate and almost 60,000 Union soldiers. Bentonville witnessed the last offensive by a Confederate army in open territory during the war.

3. Why Bentonville? The tiny village of Bentonville was chosen by the Confederates to launch their attack on the Union army because it was the only crossroads in eastern North Carolina south of Goldsboro where the Confederates could concentrate their scattered armies.  The Confederates hoped to defeat Sherman before he could be resupplied and reinforced at Goldsboro.

4. What happened during the battle on March 19th? General Sherman separated his large army into two separate “wings,” so that they could march over parallel roads on their way to Goldsboro. Splitting his army in halves allowed Sherman to advance at a quicker pace, but it also gave the Confederates an opportunity to engage only half the Federal army instead of the entire force at once.  Seizing the opportunity, the CS Army engaged the Union Left Wing at Bentonville on March 19th, 1865. General Johnston’s plan was to defeat the Left Wing, one piece at a time, then prepare to face the Right Wing the next day. The southerners did manage to rout one Left Wing division, but soon found themselves outnumbered even though fighting only half of Sherman’s army. Realizing that they could not accomplish their goal of destroying the Federal Left Wing, the Confederates wisely retreated back to their trenches and awaited the arrival of the Right Wing. The Confederates held their own in heavy skirmishes with both the Left and Right Wings on March 20th, but on March 21st, a flanking attack by Mower’s Union division nearly captured Confederate headquarters and General Johnston with it. Although this attack was eventually repulsed by the CS Army, “Mower’s Charge” showed the untenable nature of the Confederate position. Faced with this realization, Johnston prudently retreated his army north across Mill Creek. Sherman was more than willing to allow Johnston to retreat so that he could continue his march to Goldsboro. Thus ended the largest battle ever fought in North Carolina.

5. What happened after the battle? Bentonville proved to be the last major battle between the armies of Johnston and Sherman. It also proved to be the last major battle in the state, as Johnston would eventually surrender his army to Sherman at Bennett Place in Durham on April 26th, 1865. Due to the timing of the battle, Bentonville was overshadowed by other famous events such as the surrender of Lee’s army at Appomattox and the Lincoln assassination. After a few years Bentonville returned to a sleepy rural village, showing little evidence that 80,000 soldiers had once fought one of the climactic battles of the Civil War in the tiny community.  The first monument to the battle was not placed at Bentonville until 1895, and the second in 1924. Besides these two markers, the battlefield virtually went without interpretation until the 1950s.

6. Interpretation of the battle: The property for Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site was purchased in 1957. The historic site is centered around the circa 1855 Harper House, which served as a field hospital during the battle. Nearly 600 of the 4,200 casualties from the battle were treated at the Harper House by Union doctors. After the battle, 54 wounded Confederates were left behind in the care of the Harper family. 23 of the 54 later died in the Harper’s care and are buried near the Harper House. A Visitors Center was built adjacent to the Harper House in 1965. The historic site has grown from a few acres in 1957 to nearly 2,100 acres today.  Tens of thousands of visitors now visit Bentonville every year.

7. Why is this event happening? Large reenactments such as this one began at Bentonville in 1990. Because of the tremendous amount of planning and infrastructure required to undertake these huge events, they only take place every five years. A smaller living history program to commemorate the anniversary of the battle takes place every March. Living history programs are used to further awareness and promote the history of Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site, as well as to raise funds to maintain and enhance the site.

8. What is the event? The event is a battle reenactment to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Bentonville. The reenactment will take place Saturday and Sunday March 21st and 22nd, 2015. Saturday’s scenario is a reenactment of the “Fight for the Morris Farm,” while Sunday will see a reenactment of “the Last Grand Charge of the Army of Tennessee and Morgan’s Stand.”  A separate ticket is required for each scenario. Advanced tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for ages 9-12. Advanced combo tickets can be purchased for both battles for $20 and $10, respectively.  Children 8 and under are free. In addition to the battles there will be numerous free activities, including but not limited to guest speakers, camp cooking, 19th century domestic demonstrations, medical displays, and Harper House tours. Additionally, the Bentonville Volunteer Fire Department (BVFD) will have concessions for sale. Proceeds from food sales during the 2010 reenactment allowed the BVFD to purchase personal safety equipment and updated communications equipment. Over 50,000 people visited Bentonville during the 2010 reenactment weekend, and similar attendance figures are expected for the 2015 event.

9. Who sponsors the event? The reenactment is sponsored by the Friends of Bentonville Battlefield, Inc. an independent nonprofit 501 ( c ) (3) organization whose purpose is to support the preservation and interpretation of Bentonville Battlefield, North Carolina State Historic Sites, and the Johnston County Visitors Bureau. The event is part of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources’ commemoration of the Civil War’s sesquicentennial anniversary. 

10. What are the future plans for Bentonville Battlefield? Proceeds from the reenactment will go towards further battlefield preservation and towards improvements of Bentonville Battlefield’s visitor’s center. Bentonville Battlefield will expand its interpretative area to include a three-mile walking history and nature trail that will give visitors a chance to see the battlefield from battle lines, following original trench lines that were built 150 years ago.