Dennis Rogers: Marking history in Morrisville



Morrisville doesn't look like a historic site. Once a quiet village, it is now one of the Triangle's hottest hotbeds of development.
But before the last traces of old Morrisville disappear beneath the condos and cul-de-sacs, it would be nice if the town could save what little history is left. Morrisville, says amateur historian Ernest Dollar, has a story to tell:
It was within sight and sound of the N.C. 54/Carpenter Road intersection that some of the last fighting of the Civil War took place. Death and destruction finally came to Morrisville in the last days of that national tragedy.
Such is the nature of armed conflict. Some are destined to be the first to fall, while others die after the reasons for fighting have have all but vanished. Such, says Dollar, was the fate of Morrisville.
On the morning of April 13, 1865, Raleigh, the last unoccupied state capital in the faded Confederacy, quietly fell to Union Gen. William T. Sherman. The city's leaders had chosen to surrender the town, even as the last bedraggled survivors of the Confederate army were fleeing westward along what is now Chapel Hill Road. Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia, leaving only Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston with a Southern army in the field. .
The war, in spite of what the history books say, did not end at Appomattox Court House. Even as the survivors of Lee's army were beginning to straggle homeward, Rebel soldiers were digging some of the last breastworks and rifle pits of the war. The remains of those pits are behind what is now the Morrisville Town Hall. .
Federal troops in pursuit of the Rebels stopped near what is now the multiscreen movie theater on Chapel Hill Road to unlimber their cannons and open fire. .
Men on both sides would fall as the fighting surged back and forth through Morrisville until finally the Rebel troops pulled back, one force heading for Chapel Hill and the other heading for Hillsborough. The federal troops, after giving pursuit, fell back to Morrisville to camp for the night. .
It was on that night, April 13, 1865, that a Confederate calvary officer named Rowland Lowndes came riding toward the Federal lines at Morrisville with a white flag of truce. He was carrying a message for Sherman from Johnston, seeking arrangements "to terminate the existing war." .
Twelve days later, just west of Durham, the two generals met in the Bennett farmhouse and brought the Civil War to a final, honorable and merciful end. .
There are markers and monuments aplenty memorializing those last few days of the war, but in Morrisville, where the last fighting and dying took place, there is nothing. .
"The first step in saving what is left would be for the state to erect a historical marker in Morrisville," Dollar said. "Unfortunately, they dropped the ball on that. I made application for a marker, but the state committee turned it down." .
Next week, Dollar will take his lonely campaign for a historical marker to the Town Board. It will cost $1,600, he said, to commemorate the sacrifices both sides made there. .
Here's hoping the town's leaders will not let this chance to celebrate their history fade away. .


Dennis Rogers can be reached at 829-4750 or drogers@nando.com