In the forests and fields around the North Carolina village of Bentonville, the armies of Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston and Union Gen. William T. Sherman fought their last major engagement of the Civil War on March 19-21, 1865. Sherman was marching toward Goldsboro to meet Union armies coming inland from New Bern and Wilmington to re-supply his force. Johnston tried to stop Sherman by striking one last blow against his foe. Before Bentonville, their two armies had fought at Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Atlanta.
With nearly 80,000 men (60,000 Federals and 20,000 Confederates) on some 6,000 acres, the Battle of Bentonville was the largest battle fought in North Carolina and the last major Confederate offensive of the war. The battle resulted in four Congressional Medals of Honor for heroism but at a terrible price. The approximate combined casualties figure for this battle was 4,200 soldiers (killed, wounded, and missing or captured).
The 14-mile battlefield driving tour uses a road network little changed since 1865. While not covered with statues and cannons, Bentonville has historic markers dating to 1959. These exhibits will help you understand the complexity of this three-day battle and learn more about it from the soldiers who fought here. Please respect the battlefield - its fields, trenches, and trees - and do not damage or liter it. Much of it remains private property.
"The battlefield should be visited by thousands . . . . Great deeds were done there, on both sides, and American valor, endurance, and skill were nobly illustrated."
? ? - Fred Olds, father of the N.C. Museum of History, after touring the battlefield of Bentonville
"The Civil War was the defining moment in our nation's history - and that war was decided on the battlefield, at sacred places like Bentonville. These hallowed battlegrounds are living memorials that remind Americans of the true cost of freedom. Preserving them for future generations guarantees that the sacrifices of the Civil War will not be forgotten."
? ? Jim Lighthizer, President, Civil War Preservation Trust
After the battle, the country rang with news of Sherman's fight with Johnston in the Carolina pine barrens. Northern newspapers, such as the New York Tribune, featured lengthy front-page stories. Yet the Confederacy was collapsing, and within a month the final surrenders of Johnston and Lee overshadowed Bentonville. Although veterans later stated that the fighting here was as intense, fierce, and devastating as the battles at Gettysburg or around Atlanta, Bentonville fell out of public awareness. The remote community enjoyed a quiet obscurity, while the battlefield remained in private ownership for most of a century.