TwHP Lessons

The Battle of Bentonville:
Caring for Casualties of the Civil War

[Cover photo] Harper House
(Bentonville Battleground State Historic Site)


arch 19, 1865, dawned soft and balmy in central North Carolina. A brass band played the hymn "Old Hundred." The hymn's tranquil strains reminded the 30,000 men on the Left Wing of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's Union army group that it was Sunday, while blossoming fruit trees called to mind quiet homes and families far away. Many of the soldiers looked forward to the end of the war, which now seemed imminent.

But the idle thoughts of a Sunday morning exploded as the Federals approached the farming community of Bentonville. Just outside of town 20,000 tattered Confederates, the remainder of a once-powerful army, attacked the Union troops. Dreams of joyous reunions were soon replaced by the carnage of war, and men who had marched to the front now lay wounded on the battlefield.

Four years earlier, at the beginning of the war, these men might have remained, untreated, on the battlefield for days. At the First Battle of Manassas in 1861, for example, many Union doctors fled in fear and those who stayed found themselves without adequate supplies or ambulances for their patients. As the war progressed and casualties mounted, however, military surgeons became more adept at caring for wounded. By the Battle of Bentonville, one of the last major engagements of the Civil War, the United States Army Medical Department had developed an effective system for operating field hospitals and an ambulance corps. This improved organization was typical of the advances in logistics that helped the North's war effort.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. Sherman's March
 2. The Battle of Bentonville

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. From Incompetence to Proficiency:
 The Development of Union Medical Care

 2. Fighting and Treatment at the
 Battle of Bentonville

 3. Wounded on the Field of Battle
 4. Victims of Circumstance:
 Ordeal of the Harper Family

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. An amputation at Camp Letterman
 2. An early army field hospital
 3. The Harper House

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. Once a Soldier
 2. The Other Side
 3. On the Homefront
 4. A Popular Example
 5. In Your Own Community

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This lesson is based on the Bentonville Battleground State Historic Site, one of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.




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