(March 2020) – Not blossoms but bullets came to the farms and plantations of North Carolina’s coastal plain during the Battle of Bentonville March 19-21, 1865. The fighting raged just yards from the home of John and Amy Harper, and Union forces made their house a hospital. The home and plantation of their neighbor Willis Cole were destroyed in this largest battle ever fought in North Carolina.
The battle will be re-enacted March 21-22 at Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site during a weekend event also featuring period music, guest speakers, and activities for the family. The battles are ticketed; other activities are free.
Guest speakers at the event will include descendants of the enslaved community from the Cole plantation who still live in the area. The Cole family land adjoins what was the Harper farm, and family members have continued to live in the Bentonville area. In interviews about the re-enactment, they say the re-enactments tell an important part of their history.
The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Facebook page now features excerpts of interviews with Cole descendants Carolyn Cole and Melta Lockwood, who talk about their connections to the space in their own words. Bentonville Battlefield is part of the Division of State Historic Sites within NCDNCR. More interviews will soon be published as part of this new, ongoing series of interviews with descendants of families connected to Bentonville.
The 1860 Census indicates there were dozens of enslaved people on the Cole Plantation while the Harper farm had but three. The end of the war just a month after the Battle of Bentonville freed all remaining enslaved African Americans across the South. Afterwards, the ancestors of Carolyn Cole and Melta Lockwood began their families’ long journey toward social and racial equality in the nation.
Many former slaves stayed in the area. Some Cole descendants recall the battlefield as a childhood playground and continue to call this area home.
Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site preserves land on which the largest battle in the state occurred and where Confederate forces failed in their attempt to stop Union General William T. Sherman’s army as it marched across eastern North Carolina. This was one of the last major battles fought during the Civil War, involving over 80,000 troops covering 6,000 acres of farmland in Eastern North Carolina.
Proceeds from ticket sales will benefit the preservation of Bentonville Battlefield and the construction of a new visitor center. Tickets can be purchased online at www.bentonvillereenactment.com.
The 2020 event is sponsored by the Friends of Bentonville Battlefield Inc. (FOBB), the Johnston County Visitors Bureau and the N.C. Division of Historic Sites within the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
Bentonville Battlefield is located three miles north of Newton Grove on U.S. 701 and then three miles east on S.R. 1008. For more information on Bentonville, visit https://historicsites.nc.gov/all-sites/bentonville-battlefield.