Smithfield, NC, February 26, 2015: An exhibit entitled, "American vs. American: Our Most Cruel War,” will open in the Holding-Richardson Exhibit Hall of the Johnston County Heritage Center on Saturday, March 7, at 2 pm.

The displays will feature artifacts such as a Confederate infantry officer’s sword and hand-painted canteen, a rifle made at the Fayetteville Arsenal in 1864, a bugle played by a local soldier at Appomattox, wallet of a soldier with a girl’s tintype photograph still inside, Confederate currency, a saddle from a Union cavalryman’s horse, uniform buttons and other items unearthed by local citizens, a bayonet found in a tree near Bentonville, and church records bearing poignant messages from Union soldiers. There are also photographs from the war period, including a rare collection of tintype photos of U.S. Colored Troops.  

The formal opening will include an appearance by Rev. Henry McNeal Turner (portrayed by Rev. Abdue Knox of Bethel AME Church near Selma), a famous U.S. Colored Troops chaplain who came through Smithfield in 1865. He will discuss two fascinating Smithfield accounts published in a Philadelphia newspaper during the war.

“There are some amazing stories from this period in our history,” says Heritage Center Director Todd Johnson. “We had men who fought on both sides, so the title of this exhibit could also be Johnstonian vs. Johnstonian.”  The exhibit’s title panel shows Private William Lee of Johnston County wearing a U.S. Army uniform. Lee was one of the first men to volunteer in the Confederate Army in 1861, but for unknown reasons he later walked to federally occupied New Bern and volunteered to fight against his old comrades. 

Johnston County was decidedly pro-Union throughout the war. Local voters sent Unionist delegates to the secession convention in Raleigh even after President Abraham Lincoln called for North Carolina to furnish troops for the U.S. Army. “When North Carolina finally entered the war,” Johnson adds, “Johnston County men volunteered and served valiantly.”  The boys and men who fought in the war made up one tenth of the county’s population of about 15,000. Around 500 died from wounds or disease. Toward the end of the war, desertion was rampant as many tired of risking life and limb in what they believed to be a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”

While deserters were hiding out in local forests and swamps to avoid capture by state militia in the spring of 1865, over 100,000 soldiers from North and South converged here at Bentonville, leaving a path of destruction in their wake . Union soldiers burned several finer plantation houses in eastern Johnston County, although their superiors had not given such orders. The most well known incident was the Thomas Atkinson mansion on Brogden Road near the Wayne County line.

For more information call 919-934-2836 or visit the Heritage Center’s website,


Contact: K. Todd Johnson


Phone 919-938-4708

241 E. Market Street

Smithfield, NC 27577