With the commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of Bentonville Battlefield approaching on March 21-22, the site is preparing for an expected 50,000 visitors over the weekend.
According to North Carolina’s Department of Cultural Resources, Bentonville Battlefield is known for being the site of “the last full-scale action of the Civil War in which a Confederate army was able to mount a tactical offensive.” This event, which took place on March 19-21, 1865, was the largest battle ever fought in North Carolina—ultimately leading to the only notable Confederate attempt to defeat Union Army Gen. William T. Sherman in the spring of 1865.
Starting on Saturday, March 21, commemoration speeches—presented by an array of Civil War historians—will begin at 9 a.m. and last until 3 p.m., followed by a battle reenactment. Then, on Sunday, March 22, the site will open at 9 a.m., and another reenactment will take place at 1:30 p.m. Over the course of the weekend, more than 3,000 reenactors will flood the battlefield to give visitors an accurate portrayal of the action that took place on the ground nearly fifteen decades ago.
The proceeds raised from these reenactments will go towards the building of a new museum in Bentonville. “The museum will focus mainly on the battlefield itself and the community of Bentonville,” said Bentonville Battlefield Historic Site Manager Don Taylor.
Along with these battlefield homages, the park will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its visitor center, featuring temporary exhibits pertaining to the battle.
While Bentonville Battlefield officials plan for these upcoming events, they are also undergoing numerous projects on the battlefield. One of these ongoing projects is trying to interpret the land—ultimately providing visitors with the most enriching experience possible.
Some of the past efforts the park has made to heighten guest experiences include the installation of four telephones at historic locations throughout the battlefield to provide listeners with a five-minute overview about what occurred at each location. According to Taylor, the park has constructed three more telephones, which they hope to have installed shortly.
This is not the only upcoming plan for the park, though. The park also features a series of interpretive panels to provide visitors with an explanation of the historic events that occurred at destinations throughout the site.
“We’re trying to interpret the battlefield itself, through different tourist stops,” Taylor said. “Where the bulk of the battles happened, we have interpretive panels at those locations which give you a good idea—a brief history of it—quotes from soldiers that were on the site during the battle, and historical maps.”
“We are in the process of putting in an about-3 ½ mile walking trail through the battlefield,” Taylor added. “And along that, once it’s completed, we will put signs that tell what brigades were there and then bigger interpretive panels that tell what happened at those locations.”
Bentonville Battlefield has also been working alongside Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center in an effort to better interpret the wildlife that inhabits the battlefield.
While many other battlefields aim to restore the land that they have acquired, Taylor believes that preservation and interpretation are the most important focuses for Bentonville. “The biggest thing is to protect what we have and expand interpretations of the site,” he said.
Bentonville Battlefield covers a total of 6,000 square acres of land—2,000 of which have actually been purchased and preserved. Due to the constant efforts of the state, the Civil War Trust, and other organizations, the battlefield is in very similar condition to its Civil War-era appearance.
As the park moves forward, officials hope for a successful anniversary of both the battle itself, and the battlefield’s visitor center. Visitors can expect an exciting weekend full of history and homage, all on the beautiful landscape that makes up Bentonville Battlefield.