I have visited Bentonville Battleground on numerous occasions. It is located in a rural area, near Four Oaks, NC. The history of Bentonville is that it was the largest Civil War Battle fought on North Carolina soil. The battle was fought for three days beginning on March 19, 1865 and ending on March 21, 1865. Four Thousand men were killed, wounded or went missing during this battle.
On my first visit to Bentonville, I was amazed at how well it still blended in with the rest of the rural community in which it is located. Without the benefit of a rather large sign, it could be easily overlooked. Trees and woods surround it, a lovely, but simple looking farm house stood in the middle of it and the visitors center was the only modern structure on the property. A closer look prompted me to a large white monument that stood near the paved road that runs parallel in front of it. It was a monument erected for the unknown men that died and were buried on the battlefield, according to our guide. I brought my camera and began snapping pictures. My eyes quickly spotted something behind the monument. It was the fenced-in graveyard of the Harper Family that once resided in the two-story farmhouse. Our guide informed us that we were standing on the actual battlefield and had been doing so since we departed our vehicle in the parking lot at the Visitor’s Center. The battlefield area was not blocked or sectioned off as I had imagined it would be. I thought that if it had been, it would not have blended in so well with the rest of the area. It looked inviting and I found it appealing.
Our first stop took us to the Visitor’s Center. There was a gift shop and tutorial area in which visitors could educate themselves about the battle. This was the first time I saw an image of Mrs. Amy Harper. Her picture was on the wall of the Visitor’s Center and must have been taken near the end of her life. She was obviously an older lady, but still charming in the dress style that ladies wore in the day. She seemed petite and had small facial features. Her long hair was fixed into a practical ball that must have been held in place by pins. She looked rather elegant and I wondered what she would have thought about her home and final resting place becoming a public place.
Our guide informed us that Harper House had been used as a Civil War Hospital, but only the ground floor. The Harper Family lived on the second floor during the battle. Our guide opened the pad-locked front door of Harper House and as I waited standing on the front porch, I got a feeling of uneasiness. I forced myself inside of the small entrance hall that ran straight through the first floor. The first room on the right had a fireplace and two windows within it. In the middle of it was a door that had been removed, placed on supports and had been utilized as a make- shift operating table for amputations during the battle. Our guide explained that the surgeons used what they had. They needed an operating table so, a door within the house was removed and utilized for operations. He went on to say that the legs of the soldiers, once removed, were thrown outside of the windows for burial later. One could only imagine what a bloody room it must have been. One of the tools of the surgeon was a saw that looked like an older version of a hack saw. It did nothing to help my uneasiness. Our tour took us upstairs through a very narrow staircase and my anxiety intensified. The rooms were small and stuffy and I could not wait to get out of the house. My feelings were of sadness, anxiety and fear.
Once we returned outside, I asked our tour guide if Harper House is haunted. He replied with a coy laugh and told me that it is not. I did not believe him. Maybe it was his coy laugh or the quickness in which he turned to padlock the front door of Harper House, avoiding all gazes. I had the impression that he knew more than he was willing to discuss. I had read the stories about Harper House ghosts in which accounts had been written about for many years. I found it disturbing that the guide refused to even acknowledge that those accounts had not only been written, but published in various books. I shrugged it off and realized that I had not taken any pictures of Harper House from the outside. It was a clear, December day and I took several.
I took my film in to be processed and after a few days, I picked up my 35mm pictures. They were all very clear and pristine, no sign of double processing on any of them. As I flipped through them, the last picture caught my attention. Specifically, it was a picture of the front of Harper House. The window on the first floor was indeed an area that caught my attention. This was a picture of the outside of the window in which the operations or amputations had taken place. In the picture, you could see what appeared to be a transparent image of a lady, her hair in a ball, standing in front of the window from inside of a locked house, looking out. I smiled at the thought of Amy Harper still looking after her home after so many years.
I still have that picture. It does not scare me or conjure negative images in my mind about Bentonville Battleground. I like to think that perhaps Amy Harper did not care for coy laughs or averted gazes either.