The Preservation of Monroe’s Crossroads, Averasboro and Bentonville

Not every Civil War battlefield is within the boundaries of a national park. Three important ones, all associated with Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign of 1865, are preserved, but are not within the boundaries of a national park. All three provide excellent examples of other means of ensuring the preservation of Civil War battlefields.

First is the Monroe’s Crossroads battlefield. This battle, fought on March 10, 1865, was the last large-scale all-cavalry battle in the Western Theater of the Civil War. Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton, with 5000 still-feisty Confederate cavalrymen, pounced on two brigades of Bvt. Maj. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry. After a nearly day-long fight that kept the Union cavalry tied up and unable to pursue Lt. Gen. William Hardee’s escaping infantry across the Cape Fear River in Fayetteville, Hampton withdrew and Kilpatrick, who was lucky to escape, was happy to let him go. That day not only allowed Hardee to escape, he also destroyed the Clarendon Bridge across the Cape Fear, forcing Sherman to have to wait for bridging materials to arrive.

The Monroe’s Crossroads battlefield is, perhaps, the single best preserved Civil War battlefield in the United States for the simply reason that it sits squarely in the middle of Fort Bragg, just outside Fayetteville, North Carolina. The U.S. Army takes excellent care of the battlefield, which is almost completely pristine. Once a year or so, the Army burns out the undergrowth, and with the exception of the growth of trees in areas that were fields, the battlefield very much looks as it did that chilly March morning. The Army has erected a monument to the soldiers of both sides, and mass graves of Union soldiers who were killed during the vicious fighting are scattered around the battlefield.

Sadly, due to security concerns, the Monroe’s Crossroads battlefield gets almost no visitation, as the Army closely controls access due to the fact that the battlefield sits in the middle of an active and important military base. If the 82nd Airborne is not deployed overseas and is drilling, it can be all but impossible to get access. There are no paved roads on the battlefield–only sand roads–so a four-wheel drive vehicle is an imperative. Finally, I am advised that a recent change in policy requires that all visitors to the battlefield must be conveyed in Army vehicles. Opportunities to visit are extremely limited, but they occasionally present themselves. They require plenty of advance planning and notice with the base’s Cultural Resources branch.

Looking south from Hardee's second line at Averasboro.
Looking south from Hardee’s second line at Averasboro.

The battlefield at Averasboro, by contrast, is owned and operated by a not-for-profit corporation called the Averasboro Battlefield Commission, Inc., which is located in the small town of Dunn, North Carolina. The Battle of Averasboro was fought on March 16, 1865, and featured the best example of a defense in depth of the Civil War. Hardee, with only about 8,000 men, held off half of Sherman’s army for an entire day by making excellent use of three prepared defensive positions. Hardee’s command slipped away after dark and was able to join the force that Gen. Joseph E. Johnston was gathering at Smithfield.

The Averasboro battlefield is almost entirely owned by the corporation, which has a nice little museum on the battlefield. A local monument company donated several handsome monuments for interpreting the battlefield. Chicora Confederate Cemetery is also part of the battlefield, and houses Confederate dead from the battle. The battlefield is well-marked and well-maintained, and with the exception of some federal grant money, everything has been accomplished with private funds. It is a wonderful little battlefield that doesn’t get the amount of visitation that it should. It is well worth a visit if the opportunity presents itself.


The Harper House at Bentonville.
The Harper House at Bentonville.

The key event of the Carolinas Campaign was the three-day battle at Bentonville, March 19-21, 1865. The Bentonville Battlefield, is a North Carolina state park, located in the hamlet of Four Oaks, North Carolina, which is about an hour southeast of the state capitol at Raleigh. In 1987, only a tiny portion of the battlefield was owned by the State of North Carolina. That small parcel was on the first day’s battlefield, and included the Harper House (a field hospital), a few monuments erected by the veterans, and the small Confederate cemetery. Since that time, the park has expanded to nearly 1700 acres, including nearly all of the first day’s battlefield and most of the second and third day’s battlefields, thanks to the dedicated efforts of the Civil War Trust and the very good work being done by the Friends of Bentonville Battlefield.

The map below shows the exponential growth of the protected lands on the Bentonville Battlefield. The battlefield features trench lines where the original head logs from 1865 are still extant and can still be seen. Plenty of interpretation has been added to the battlefield. There are regular tours offered by the Friends, which is a large, active, and very effective organization.

A "Then and Now" from the Civil War Trust by Steven Standly.
A “Then and Now” from the Civil War Trust by Steven Standly.

The three major battlefields of the Carolinas Campaign are all almost entirely protected today, albeit by three wildly different models. None of these sites are within the control of the National Park Service, but two of the three are readily accessible and present plenty of opportunities for even the most dedicated battlefield stomper. Do yourself a favor and visit them if the opportunity presents itself.

1 Response to The Preservation of Monroe’s Crossroads, Averasboro and Bentonville

  1. Great post on preservation. Do you know if there is a road map to model these successful local preservation organizations for individuals interested in accomplishing the same level of preservation at other battlefields?

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!