Come Spend an Afternoon in Orange County, NC

With Civil War Artifacts and Sites
Sarah Faircloth

Orange County, NC — Located in central North Carolina, Orange County is home to the historic towns of Chapel Hill and Hillsborough. There are many Civil War sites and objects to see while taking in the beautiful college town of Chapel Hill, home to the oldest public university in the nation, and Hillsborough, one of the oldest towns in North Carolina.  Spend the afternoon in the quaint towns of Chapel Hill and Hillsborough learning about Civil War history. Enjoy a nice day with these recommendations.   

UNC Wilson
UNC Wilson's Library is home to many Civil War document collections. (Imagining the Civil War, 1861-1900)

Start your tour at UNC’s Wilson Library, home to many Civil War document collections. The library houses the North Carolina, Southern Historical, Rare Books, Southern Folklife, and University Archives Collections.  The Collections have countless papers from the Civil War, including papers written by federal prisoners of war in Richmond, Salisbury, NC, Tuscaloosa and New Orleans.  

While browsing Wilson Library’s website, check out their Civil War Day by Day blog, a digital posting of newspapers, letters, and other documents from the War. Archivists have transcribed the documents and one document from every day of the War can be viewed on this blog. Also, if you are in town before July 20, go see the student-curated exhibit “Imagining the U.S. Civil War, 1861-1900.” It displays letters, books, photographs, and other documents from Wilson Library’s special collections and provides a comprehensive look at valuable documents from the War. Visit Wilson Library’s homepage and click the link “Civil War Research Gives Students ‘Experience of a Lifetime’ in Wilson Library.”  

Silent Sam
The Silent Sam monument memorializes the UNC students who fought in the Civil War.

Once you are done visiting Wilson Library, walk along the tree-lined brick sidewalks of UNC’s campus to McCorkle Place to view the statue of Silent Sam, a monument dedicated to the soldiers from UNC who fought the War.  Hundreds of alumni from UNC fought for the Confederacy and 321 alumni died fighting. This statue is an important marker for UNC and North Carolina, and it serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by the fallen men. 

Just across from Silent Sam is Franklin Street, the iconic street where students and visitors eat and shop at local restaurants and stores. From Franklin Street take a short, 25 minute drive west to historic Hillsborough where you can learn more Civil War history. The Hillsborough Visitors Center, housed in the late-18th century Alexander Dixon house, is a great place to start.  

Not only will you become acquainted with the history Hillsborough has to offer, but you will be standing in the place that General Joseph E. Johnston used as headquarters when he surrendered to General William T. Sherman. It was there in April 1865 that he made the decision to surrender the largest Confederate army at Bennett Place in Durham, NC.  

Dixon House
The Alexander Dixon house served as Gen. Joseph E. Jonston's headquarters when he surrendered to Gen. William T. Sherman.


After exploring the place where General Johnston once stood and worked, go over to the Orange County Historical Museum where you can view the permanent exhibit The Wrath to Come. It features Civil War weapons and a muster roll from the “Jeff Davis Boys” among many other things. While the exhibit is mostly about local Orange County citizens who played integral roles in the War, it is nevertheless worth a visit to see some amazing artifacts and learn stories from the War. There are many more exhibits in the museum, focusing on periods of the Revolutionary War and the lifestyle of mill villages, among other things.  

With these suggestions, you can spend a nice, affordable afternoon learning about Civil War history.  Let your journey through the history of the Civil War unfold as you take in the sights of the University of North Carolina’s charming campus and historic Hillsborough. 

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