Vince Strickland’s feet hurt, his shoulders hurt, and he was tired. Tried of walking, tired of being scared, tired of the same food every day, and not enough of it. His shoes were about worn out, but at least he had shoes, unlike some of his buddies. His clothes were dirty and worn and he could hardly remember the last time he had a good meal or even a bath.
Vince was walking along the Goldsboro Road, it was chilly and cloudy, felt like rain was on the way, and so was the army of General Sherman.
It was March 19th, 1865 and Vince was part of the Army of Tennessee, under General Braxton Bragg and he was about to be part of the last great battle of the Civil War.
The Battle of Bentonville, between the armies of General Joseph Johnston and General William Sherman, was an attempt to block Sherman’s march to Virginia and keep the Confederate supply lines open. Johnston’s failure to block Sherman’s army marked the end of the Confederacies hopes for victory.
Between the two sides 80,000 men fought and 4,143 were dead, wounded or missing by the time the battle, and some of the most furious fighting of the war, ended.
About two weeks later, on April 9th, General Lee surrendered at Appomattox, effectively ending the war. General Johnston surrendered to General Sherman at the Bennett Place in Durham on April 26th.
About 50 miles southeast of Raleigh is the Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site, the site of that great battle. There is a lot to see and do there. Start at the Visitors Center next to the Harper house.
The visitors center has maps, artifacts, a film, and an informative 3D map with 3,500 red and blue lights representing the armies, along with narration and sound effects. Spending a bit of time at the visitors center will help you to understand what went on during the battle and make your visit to Bentonville much more enjoyable.
The Harper House is an impressive Greek Revival farmhouse. The lower floor was used as a hospital during the battle while the Harper family stayed upstairs. The house and other outbuildings are open for tours on the hour throughout the day.
From the Harper House take the driving tour around the battlefield. There are 13 markers showing significant places along the tour, you can pull off the road, see maps and other displays, and using your cell phone you can listen to an audio description of the events that took place at that spot.
There are also a few miles of trails, USA Today includes Bentonville as one of “10 great places to hike through Civil War history”. The trails go through a field crossed by both armies during the battle, past Confederate and Union trenches and on to earthworks constructed by an engineer regiment from Michigan.
If you go, there are a number of ways to get there from the Triangle. The easiest way is to just put “Bentonville Battlefield” into your GPS and go. It will send you down I-40 to the Meadow exit and then country roads to the Harper House.
But, if you have a bit more time there are more interesting ways. If you take NC-50 instead of I-40 you will be more closely following the route General Johnston’s troops (including our fictitious friend Vince) marched. You can take NC-50 all the way to Harper House Road, which was the Goldsboro Road Vince traveled.
After your visit to the battlefield you can take Harper House road toward Goldsboro. After a few miles the name changes to Stevens Mill Road, and it’s a really nice drive though the Eastern North Carolina countryside. You’ll drive past farms growing corn, soybeans and tobacco, past cattle, an old mill and finally as you arrive on the outskirts of Goldsboro you’ll see the Cherry Hospital. Then you are in Goldsboro and can take I-795 and US-70 back to the Triangle.
There is a lot of fascinating history in North Carolina, and much of it, like the Bentonville Battlefield, is just a short drive away.
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