155 years ago, the United States was in turmoil. President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated, his killer, John Wilkes Booth, was on the run, and some Confederate forces had not yet surrendered. While Gen. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox effectively ended the Civil War, there were still soldiers in North Carolina and in states and territories out west that didn’t lay down their arms until weeks or even months after Appomattox. President Andrew Johnson didn’t declare an end to the hostilities until August 20, 1866, over a year after the last Confederate General surrendered.
Not only was North Carolina a pivotal place in these last few weeks of the war, it also served as the birthplace of President Johnson, who was negotiating the peace. Once the travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic are lifted, the Raleigh/Durham area is a great place to visit to learn more about this hidden history. Remember to follow all social distancing and travel restrictions by the local, state, and national governments.
Start your tour in Raleigh at the Andrew Johnson birthplace, located in Mordecai Historic Park, just north of downtown.
This site was home to the Mordecai family and was the largest plantation in Wake County. Once this site was donated to the city, other historic sites, including President Johnson’s birthplace, were moved to this location, making it a one-stop shop for all things historic in Raleigh!
Begin your visit at the Visitor Center, which is located in a beautiful historic home.
You can buy your tickets for a guided tour here. Make sure to visit the permanent exhibits on the Mordecai family, their faith, and the enslaved population that lived and worked here as well.
You can see the exteriors of the buildings on a self-guided tour but to see the inside of the buildings and to hear the stories, sign up for the guided tour. I recommend this guided tour for ages 6 and up.
Your tour will begin at Andrew Johnson’s birthplace, which was relocated here from its original location in downtown Raleigh.
Your guide will tell you about the future President’s childhood of poverty and hardship in this cabin.
It was also interesting to learn about his apprenticeship to a tailor and how he ran away, eventually to Tennessee.
While generally viewed as one of our nation’s worst Presidents, especially since he was the first President to be impeached, it is still amazing that he became President after such humble beginnings and no formal education.
Johnson’s political fortunes were made in Tennessee, where you can visit the Andrew Johnson National Historic Park. See a virtual tour of his home here.
After touring the tiny Johnson birthplace, your guide will take you through the rest of the historic park, including the impressive Mordecai home.
You can also tour the chapel, law office, and gardens.
It is the perfect place to go on a lovely day, once the travel restrictions have been lifted! Until you can visit in person, you can access its online resources, including a fun map quiz, and tour on Google Maps.
After learning about the 17th President, who presided over the end of the Civil War, you can travel 30 miles northwest to Bennett Place, where Gens. Sherman and Johnston negotiated the surrender of almost 90,000 Confederate troops on April 26, 1865. I have not had a chance to visit this site but hope to once the travel restrictions are lifted. In the meantime, you can visit virtually with Google Maps. While some troops still remained in the west, this surrender, the largest of either side during the war, ended the fighting in the east.
While North Carolina is not typically a place that comes to mind when discussing the Civil War, it is a great place to learn more about the little known end to the Civil War in the east and the birthplace of the 17th President. Learn more about this week in Civil War history here and plan to visit when the travel restrictions are lifted.
Helpful hints for Mordecai Historic Park:
- Cost: $7/adults; $4/children
- Recommended: guided tour/6 and up; grounds self-guided tour: all ages
- Tour time: guided tour/1 hour; self-guided/30 minutes
- Gift shop located onsite
- Transportation: Plenty of onsite parking. Also available for touring on the Historic Raleigh Trolley.
- Dining options nearby: We ate at The Pharmacy Cafe (currently closed due to COVID-19 pandemic) and loved it!
- Nearby hotels: Downtown Raleigh has many hotel options, including a Marriott and Residence Inn. Check out Visit Raleigh for all options. Another good neighborhood option is Raleigh’s North Hills/Midtown neighborhood.
- Nearby attractions include (all currently closed due to COVID-19 pandemic): President Andrew Johnson’s birthplace historic sign at Morgan and Wilmington Streets, North Carolina Museum of History, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, NC State Capitol, NC General Assembly Legislative building, NC Executive Mansion, Marbles Kids Museum, and City of Raleigh Museum
- Other Johnson sites include: Andrew Johnson National Historic Park and Andrew Johnson Museum and Library – both in Greeneville, TN
Books to Read:
See my booklist for these sites on Bookshop.org, an Amazon alternative that supports independent bookstores. This link is an affiliate link where I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Other relevant books not listed in the booklist are:
- 14 and up:
- 10 and up: