In 2015, the United States commemorated the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, and Durham was a special place for the national events because the war's largest troop surrender occurred here in April 1865, effectively ending the Civil War. That surrender, and the negotiations leading up to it, took place at the farmhouse of James and Nancy Bennett, near modern day Durham. Today, the Bennetts' land is home to one of three state historic sites in Durham, all of which have ties to the Civil War. Each gives visitors a chance to step back in time and learn more about life before, during, and after the war.
Historic Stagville provides visitors insight into an antebellum Durham – a time when Durham was nothing more than a railroad station. The land that would later become Durham housed white subsistence farmers and skilled free blacks alongside Stagville, which was one of the largest plantations in the South in its day with 30,000 acres and nearly 900 slaves. These discrepancies in wealth were emblematic of the contrasts that shaped the state and the union before and after the war. Today, Historic Stagville tells stories from the lives of both the plantation owners, which differed greatly from the grand plantations from Gone with the Wind, as well as the enslaved population.
During the Civil War, the last picket battles in the state were fought in Durham, leading to the truce between Generals Johnston and Sherman. The two longtime enemies agreed to meet at a farm located midway between their two armies, which just happened to belong to the Bennett family. Now commemorated as Bennett Place, the site offers visitors a chance to learn about how the two generals drafted a document outlining the terms of the largest troop surrender of the Civil War, and how, as a result, they were both labeled as traitors.
After the end of the war, veterans returned home and worked alongside blacks to forge enterprises that would launch North Carolina into the industrial revolution. Duke Homestead is the historic site that now honors the place where Washington Duke first grew and processed the tobacco that would later lead to the formation of the American Tobacco Company – one of the largest in the world. The tobacco empire built by Duke and his sons, along with other companies, like those run by Julian Carr, paved the way for Durham tobacco factories, textile factories, and hydroelectric technology. Much of Duke's profits were invested in land and industries, but some were used for humanitarian causes – it was Duke's son, James Buchanan Duke, who provided the fund that allowed Trinity College to become Duke University.
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