"Time may teach us to forgive, but it can never make us forget."
? ? - Confederate Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton, memorial address at Bentonville, March 20, 1895.
By the evening of March 22, 1865 both the Union and Confederate armies had vacated the village of Bentonville. The Union army advanced towards Goldsboro, while the Confederates moved to nearby Smithfield. Not only did local citizens have to cope with hundreds of wounded Confederate soldiers left behind after the battle, residents found their property covered with the graves of over five hundred Union and Confederate soldiers killed during the battle.
Dead Union soldiers were buried in marked graves so that their remains could be located and interred elsewhere after the war. The Confederate dead were buried on the battlefield either by their comrades, Union soldiers, or local residents. Twenty of the twenty-three Confederates who died in the Harper House were buried by the Harper family adjacent to the family cemetery, which sits in front of you to your left.
In 1867, the U.S. government established several National Cemeteries in North Carolina and Union soldiers buried in Bentonville were re-interred in the Raleigh National Cemetery. The fallen Confederates were left in their unmarked or poorly marked graves for nearly thirty years before any concerted effort was made to properly honor them.
"The object of this communication is to bring to the notice of your Association a sacred spot of earth, where sleep in unmarked graves the silent dust of twenty of the brave men who sacrificed their lives on the altar of Southern Rights."
? ? Bentonville native M. H. Bizzell to the Confederate Monumental Association of North Carolina, June 2, 1893. ? ? Reprinted in the Goldsboro Daily Argus, June 3, 1894.
In 1893, Bentonville native M. Haywood Bizzell wrote the North Carolina Monumental Association requesting an enclosed monument for the graves of Confederate soldiers treated in the Harper House. Although not immediately successful, his actions led to the monument before you.
In 1894, the Goldsboro Daily Argus printed the letter, prompting the Goldsboro Rifles, a North Carolina militia company and social organization, to raise money for an obelisk-style monument. The donors included Union veteran T. E. Harvey, who lost four fingers during the battle. The Rifles desired to relocate all "of the Confederate heroes who died in that fight" but were buried elsewhere to a "spot set apart for their final resting place."
On March 20, 1895, Confederate general and South Carolina governor Wade Hampton spoke at the dedication. The Harpers' eldest son, John, a minister opened with prayer. A heavy rain curtailed most of the program which was to include a "sham battle," the forerunner of today's reenactments.
Modern ground penetrating radar indicates a mass grave here, although the exact number interred is unknown.
"As the last token of friendship and remembrance of my Brother Soldier and companion in arms, I plucked from our Earth a nice little wild plumb tree filled with white blossoms and planted it at his head praying as I done so."
Excerpt of a letter from Clark L. Reed to the parents of Pvt. J. M. Knapp, 21st MI, who was mortally wounded on the battle's first day, dated March 24, 1865.
Quote courtesy of Harold and Lynn Green, Cedar Springs, Michigan.