When Johnny went marching home
Related Articles by Mike Harris '93 MA, UNCG Magazine assistant editor
Where did Johnston, and later the Union regiments, camp?

Without archaeological proof or definitive documentation, neither location is known for sure.

“A couple of things come to mind,” Howard Hendricks ’82, ’87 MA said when asked his opinion.

“Johnston’s camp was where there was a spring,” he says. He believes Johnston may possibly have camped at the future site of Foust Building and the draw in front of it. He says he bases that possibility on one account he recalls by a Union soldier and on what Ethel Arnett wrote. He adds that may be anecdotal, though “if they were to do an archaeological study, they may find evidence.” When Johnston first arrived in Greensboro, he adds, he had been near the rail yard downtown.

Hendricks notes local traditions that Union regiments camped near where West Market Street now passes by campus. Other Union regiments camped in the valley along Battleground north of where it intersects with Hill Street, his research showed. They camped in many other places, too. “Any locales that are open and have a spring” would be a desirable location, he says.

Hendricks worked in the museum field for years. He was later a planner for the City of Gibsonville, and is currently an adjunct faculty member at GTCC.

As a master’s student, he read Ethel Arnett’s publication “Confederate Guns Were Stacked.” He saw a need to further flesh out this somewhat overlooked topic – people knew Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, but not Johnston’s larger one in North Carolina. “Imperiled City” became his thesis project. “I was in a master’s program with really good professors.” Robert Calhoun, William Link and Allen Trelease were on his research committee.

It took him to the National Archives in Washington, to the Military Historical Center in Pennsylvania, and to many libraries in North Carolina.

“I kind of got out of control,” he jokes. He was so captivated by the research, he couldn’t seem to stop.

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Books, bullets and more — Civil War miscellany

  • 1865 In a May 14 letter, Union soldier William Bentley of the Ohio 104th says, “We are now nicely fixed in the new camp which is a nice grove just out of town.” The editors of “Burning Rails As We Pleased,” a collection of his letters, say the 9th New Jersey and the 104th Ohio encamped a mile and a quarter west of town. “This is probably the site that is now Peabody Park and part of the University of North Carolina – Greensboro campus,” they write.
  • 1866 A year after the war’s end, “Athos” (James Cole) reflects in the Greensboro newspaper: “Johnston had his headquarters about a mile and a half west of the centre of town on an eminence, and now and then you could see the stately, dignified soldier riding through to or from his camp.”
  • 1866 In his “Personal Recollections” book Union captain George Whitfield Pepper recalls his visit to the camp of General Johnston, “over a mile west of the town. The camp is located on a hill side, looking toward the south, with a small stream of water coursing at its foot. In the rear of the General’s and the Staff Officers’ tents, were scattered the smaller tents of the attaches of headquarters…”
  • 1894 John Brown Gordon spoke at commencement exercises, flanked by 100 gray-clad Confederate soldiers, history professor Richard Bardolph said. The topic of this general who led the final charge at Appomattox: “The Last Days of the Confederacy.”
  • 1901 Letitia Morehead Walker reminisced on Schofield and Cox residing with her family at Blandwood. Johnston visited as well. The Union troops for several months “encamped on the hills around the town, and at sunset each evening the practicing of the various bands of music would again open the floodgates of tears.”
  • 1960s In time for the Civil War centennial, Bennett Place was recreated around the house‘s original chimney. It is a state historic site.
  • 1965 Ethel Arnett’s “Confederate Guns Were Stacked: Greensboro, North Carolina,” published at the war’s centennial, states that Johnston’s camp was “About a mile and a half west of town on Spring Garden St, near the location of UNCG in 1965.” She notes some of Johnston’s troops camped on or near where NC A&T is. Also, she states that when the first armistice ended, Johnston moved troops from east Greensboro and the men then encamped “about a mile and a half west of the town.”
  • 1970s An unfired .58 caliber Springfield rifle bullet, commonly used during the Civil War, was found near the Peabody Park stream behind Philips-Hawkins, by Robert Rice ’73, ’76 MFA. He gave it to his roommate, Kevin Carle ’74.
  • 1980s Howard Oswald Hendricks ‘82, ’87 MA writes a master’s thesis about the end of the war and Greensboro. He wrote Johnston camped a “mile and a quarter west of town, in a grove of trees facing south,” citing and quoting from George W. Pepper’s 1866 “Personal Recollections,” a great contribution to what can be discerned about the location of his headquarters. Among the thesis’ many contributions: He states Johnston’s “good-bye” General Order was meant to be read by commanders to their various troops well outside Greensboro. He says there is no evidence it was read by Johnston near the depot downtown, which others have said.
  • 1990s “Sherman’s March through North Carolina: A Chronology” (1995) says the headquarters was “near the present campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.” Likewise, Clint Johnson’s “Touring the Carolinas’ Civil War Sites” (1996), crediting local historians, says Johnson’s headquarters was “on what is now the campus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.”
  • 2000s Biology faculty member Dr. Robert O’Hara, earlier this decade, writes of some lore of camping by troops in the vicinity of Peabody Park, citing two regiments, the Ohio 104th and the Ninth New Jersey. Takisha Little ‘02 did some research on this.
  • 2006 Graduate students in History create the downtown walking tour podcast "Chaos and Collapse in Confederate Greensboro."
  • 2008 Bradley Foley ’98 MA, MLIS ’00 and Adrian Whicker ’96, ’99 MA, ’04 MLIS produce “The Civil War Ends: Greensboro April 1865.” It notes local lore that the area near Peabody Park was used by troops.
  • 2011 The North Carolina Division of Cultural Resources, led by Secretary Linda Carlisle ‘72, launches the North Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial, with a series of educational events through 2015.
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Last casualties of the Civil War? Reviewing an unlikely theory.

A Dec. 19, 1899, Charlotte Observer report – “still not wholly refuted,” Dr. Richard Bardolph said in a 1982 Alumni News– proposed that the campus’ 1899 typhoid outbreak was caused by the encampment of Union troops during the closing weeks of the Civil War and the few weeks following it.

Bardolph, a highly regarded history professor, said: “After rioting through Georgia and the Carolinas, picking up infections as they went, the men – some 1,500-2,000 – camped on what is now the UNCG golf course, awaiting demobilization. Their latrines are suspected to having harbored the deadly bacteria. According to experts at the time, these could, in some circumstances, when covered up, retain their virulence for decades. If this was so, it was just possible that some of the last casualties of the Civil War perished on what became the playing fields of UNCG.”

The epidemic was traced to two well springs on the modern day golf course, Bardolph said.

However, a look at 1899 documents in UNCG Archives shows that of the wells tested that year, two were found to be contaminated. One was located near present-day Curry Building. The other – deemed to be the cause of the outbreak – was located behind Foust Building. It was thought to be contaminated by leakage from a flaw discovered in underground sewer piping 125 feet from the well, near Brick Dormitory. The wells were sealed. City water was used afterward.

Regardless of how much weight – if any – should be given to this alternative theory linking Civil War latrines to the outbreak, the 1899 newspaper article may provide great value in helping reveal where Union troops had camped 34 years earlier. In the following, was the correspondent referring to the golf course area, as Dr. Bardolph indicates – or a much different spot?

“During the latter part of April and the first part of May, 1865, a division of between 1,500 and 2,000 of Sherman’s army was camped upon the hill at Greensboro where the Normal College (UNCG) is now located and on the depression between that hill and the elevation upon which the Greensboro Female College (Greensboro College) is situated. Only the officers of higher rank occupied the last named location and the great body of the troops tented on the present site of the Normal College…”
   - “A New Theory Advanced,” Charlotte Daily Observer, Dec. 19, 1899

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The final morning at headquarters — a newspaper account

At least two reporters interviewed Johnston in early May. One news report seen apparently by few since 1865 (it is cited in an endnote in Mark Bradley’s “This Astounding Close“) details the final morning at Johnston’s headquarters:

Mr. Theodore C. Wilson’s dispatch – Greensboro, N.C. May 4, 1865 (in New York Herald May 10 edition)

General Johnston taking leave of his staff

This morning General Joseph E. Johnston broke up his headquarters near this place, bade farewell to the members of his staff, except his personal aids, and proceeded to Charlotte. The scene was an affecting one and all who witnessed it regarded it in that light. In the midst of a woods, at a distance of two miles from Greensboro, were a few tents, some wagons, and a number of horses. No longer the headquarters’ guard paced to and fro. … Soon after sunrise the General and staff arose and partook of a frugal meal. A camp chest served them for a table, and the ground was used in lieu of chairs…The meal over, their appetites appeased, orders were given and received, the tents struck, personal property packed, the wagons loaded, and everything got in readiness to be moved. This accomplished, the General gathered his staff around him and made a few remarks. He thanked them for their services, the aid they had rendered him, and hoped the future would be brighter than the present and the past….By noon, the wagons moved, and the General and those of his staff who proposed to journey his way placed their horses and wagons on the cars and left for Charlotte. And as they did so the headquarters of the rebel Army of the Tennessee ceased to have an existence – commencing its journey to history and posterity.

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In their own words

Read full accounts in the generals’ own memoirs:

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More sources

Interested in learning more on the local angle? Many books available at Jackson Library or the Greensboro Public Library focus on Greensboro’s role in the last weeks of the Civil War:

  • Wilson Angley, Jerry L. Cross, Michael Hill, “Sherman’s March Through North Carolina: A Chronology”
  • Ethel Stephens Arnett, “Confederate Guns were Stacked: Greensboro, North Carolina”
  • Bradley Foley with Adrian Whicker, “The Civil War Ends: Greensboro April 1865”
  • Howard Hendricks, “Imperiled City: The Movements of the Union and Confederate Armies toward Greensboro in the Closing Days of the Civil War in North Carolina” (thesis)
  • William Trotter, “Silk Flags and Cold Steel”
  • Jim Wise, “On Sherman’s Trail: The Civil War’s North Carolina Climax”

The writer would also like to acknowledge additional works, not otherwise mentioned, helpful in creating this article:

  • Michael B. Ballard, “A Long Shadow: Jefferson Davis and the Final Days of the Confederacy”
  • John. G. Barrett, “Sherman’s March through the Carolinas”
  • Mark L. Bradley, “This Astounding Close: The Road to Bennett Place”
  • Timothy Brookes, “Military Images,” March-April 1994, “Harvey: War Dog of the 104th”
  • Clint Johnson, “Touring the Carolinas’ Civil War Sites”
  • Bradley S. Keefer, 1984 thesis at Kent State, “They Stood to their Guns: The 104th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War”
  • N.A. Pinney, “History of the 104th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry from 1862 to 1865”
  • Raphael Semmes, “Service Afloat during the War Between the States”
  • Online bibliography page “104th Ohio Infantry,” compiled by Larry Stevens
  • Craig L. Symonds, “Joseph L. Johnston”
  • “War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” Series I, vol. 47, part III
  • Greensboro Patriot newspaper on microfilm and New York Herald newspaper on microfilm

Special thanks to UNCG University Libraries Interlibrary Loan staff, Archives staff and UNCG Grounds staff.

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What have you heard?

Have you heard any local Civil War lore? Perhaps a professor or local resident or an older alumnus told you a story regarding the area around campus? Or do you have any Civil War-related campus history to tell? Please share what you know by emailing mike_harris@uncg.edu or beth_english@uncg.edu.

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