Exploring Durham: Civil War history treasure troves

Apr. 21, 2014 @ 08:21 AM

What if going back in time to learn about the Civil War were as simple as taking a short drive? In Durham, it is. Civil War buffs ranging from academic historians to the casually interested can visit three State Historic Sites (more than any other city in North Carolina) to learn more about Durham’s role before, during, and after the conflict.

In Northern Durham, Historic Stagville was the epicenter of North Carolina’s largest plantation complex, comprising some 30,000 acres and 900 slaves. Unlike many of its antebellum counterparts, the original plantation house is modest and utilitarian. Original slave quarters are just a short walk away from the house, and are similarly preserved as a place to visit and learn. Historic Stagville maintains robust records about the slaves who lived there, and it continues to serve today as a resource to those seeking information about their families’ past.

On the western edge of Durham County, Bennett Place was the site of the largest troop surrender, and therefore the effective end, of the war. This site is where negotiations between generals Joseph E. Johnston and William T. Sherman occurred, and where nearly 83,000 troops ceased fighting. A contemporary museum, memorial and Civil War history library welcome visitors, and historic and reconstructed buildings provide a complete picture of life and war in the mid 1800s. A regular location for re-enactments, Bennett Place is gearing up for the sesquicentennial of the surrender in April 2015.

Duke Homestead, just north of I-85, represents Durham’s transition after the war into an international tobacco powerhouse. Upon returning home to the family farm after the war, Washington Duke continued growing tobacco as he had prior to military service. It was on this land that Duke produced his first brand of tobacco, Pro Bono Publico, which provided the cornerstone of his family’s future success with The American Tobacco Company. The preserved site consists of the original house from 1852, as well as the curing barns, a smokehouse, early tobacco factory buildings, and more. Duke Homestead hosts annual events and festivals that highlight the farm life of the 19th century.

As the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War approaches, more attention is being paid to Durham’s Civil War history. See www.CivilWarDurham.com for more information about Durham’s role in the war, and all the events that occurred here.

Did You Know?:  Duke Homestead now houses the largest collection of spittoons in the world.

The Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau (DCVB) is Durham’s official marketing agency. For more information about things to see and do in Durham, visit www.Durham-NC.com and www.DurhamEventCalendar.com, or stop by the Visitors Information Center at 101. E. Morgan St. in Downtown Durham and pick up the Official Durham Visitor & Relocation Guide.