Are there any new stories about the American Civil War, or stories that just haven't been told? That's the case with the Town of Smithfield and what happened in this small town, chartered in 1777, and situated along the Neuse River.
This community of about 3,000 people sustained their living from Smith's Landing, a river landing for commerce and trade. With merchants, the county courthouse, churches and homes, the Civil War came late to Smithfield, with no actual battles fought here, the town still played a role in the last days of the war. As General Joseph E. Johnston traveled to intercept General Sherman's advanced north from Savannah, he needed a field office. He decided to try to stop Sherman before he reached Goldsboro, and the Hastings House in Smithfield became his Confederate headquarters in March 1865. There with General Braxton Bragg, he planned the battle which would take place such fifteen miles southeast of Smithfield, March 19-21, 1865. Union troops outnumbered Confederates, 60,000 to 20,000, and the three day battle fought on 6,000 acres would be the largest land battle fought in North Carolina.
After the confederate loss, the Town of Smithfield would again become part of history as General Sherman's troops encamped here. The Courthouse Square would become Union Headquarters for Sherman in April 1865. Several events took place while the town was occupied, including the bridge crossing the Neuse River being destroyed by soldiers. However, the most notable event was General Sherman receiving word from Appomattox, that the Civil War was over. Sherman would gather his troops and announce the end of the war on the steps of the courthouse.
For the first time, as part of the 150th Bentonville Battlefield Anniversary events, the Town of Smithfield will tell what happened here before and after the last major battle of the Civil War.
Events sponsored by the Johnston County Heritage Commission
Saturday, February 28, 2015, Opening of Exhibit, “American versus American: Our Most Cruel War,” detailing Johnston County’s role in the Civil War, 1861-1865,” Johnston County Heritage Center, 241 E. Market Street, Smithfield
- See displays of local artifacts, photographs, letters, maps, and documents from the war period, learn about real people and their stories, play dress-up in period attire, listen to 1860s period music, and pose for pictures in front of the old courthouse mural
Saturday, March 21, 2015, beginning at 6 pm, Candlelight tours of Smithfield’s Civil War sites, featuring
- Extended hours for Heritage Center’s Exhibit Hall
- Guided tours and carriage rides (admission charges apply)
- Confederate encampment near the Town Commons
- A “shape-note” songfest in a one-room meeting house
- Living History demonstrations
- Real-life characters portrayed
The historic Hastings House, saved from destruction in the 1960s, is now open to the public and managed by the Smithfield Downtown Development Corporation. In addition to the many original architecture elements that remain intact, visitors are able to view an art collection of eight giclée by artist John Paul Strain that depict various Civil War era scenes. Just down the block from the Hastings House, an easy walk, is the Riverside Cemetery with confederate graves and monuments.
For listings of events taking place throughout the month of March and April, visit the Johnston County Visitors Bureau events calendar, www.johnstoncountyevents.com.