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Durham farm celebrates its place in US history

Posted April 17, 2015

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— In April 1865, the largest surrender of Confederate troops occurred at Bennett Place, a farm in what is now northwest Durham, confirming the end of the Civil War.

The historic site on Friday began 10 days of activities to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the event, including guided tours, guest speakers and re-enactments. Bennett Place also will mark the opening of its museum during the anniversary.

Although Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Va., on April 9, 1865, fighting continued between the two forces across the South.

Defying the orders of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Gen. Joseph Johnston met with Union Gen. William T. Sherman several times at Bennett Place between April 17 and April 26, 1865, to negotiate a cease-fire and the surrender of some 90,000 Confederate troops across the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida.

Fred Kiger, a former history teacher whp led a group of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill alumni around Bennett Place on Friday, said the farm was chosen by coincidence, but it was an appropriate setting to end a war.

"When I come here to Bennett Place, there is a tranquility and there is a peace," Kiger said.

In all, there would be five Southern surrenders in 1865.

"None, none comes close to the volume of Confederate troops who surrendered on this spot," Kiger said.

The surrender at Appomattox involved only 28,000 troops from Virginia, yet the meeting between Lee and Grant still casts a long shadow over Bennett Place.

"We still go up to Virginia and we tell people about Bennett Place, and they look at us like, 'Where is that?'" said John Guss, manager of the state historic site at Bennett Place. "We tend to call ourselves the red-headed stepchild or Rodney Dangerfield of the Civil War."

Historians say what happened at Appomattox was significant, but the war's end became reality only because of what happened at a farm on the road between Hillsborough and what was then known as Durham Station.

"You have, really, the complete collapse of the Confederate government and also the real winding down of the Confederate military here," Guss said.

The historic site is closed on Monday but open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. otherwise.

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