Almost one hundred years after its 1777 founding, the Town of Smithfield had a population of approximately 3,000 people by the mid-1860s. Situated along the Neuse River, the Town's citizens sustained their living from Smith's Landing, a river landing for commerce and trade. With merchants, the county courthouse, churches and homes, the Civil War came late to Smithfield. With no actual battles fought here, the town still played a role in the last days of the war. As General Joseph E. Johnston traveled to intercept General Sherman's advanced north from Savannah, he needed a field office. He decided to try to stop Sherman before he reached Goldsboro, and the Hastings House in Smithfield became his Confederate headquarters in March 1865. There with General Braxton Bragg, he planned the battle which would take place such fifteen miles southeast of Smithfield, March 19-21, 1865. Union troops outnumbered Confederates, 60,000 to 20,000, and the three day battle fought on 6,000 acres would be the largest land battle fought in North Carolina.
After the confederate loss, the Town of Smithfield would again become part of history as General Sherman's troops encamped here. The Courthouse Square would become Union Headquarters for Sherman in April 1865. Several events took place while the town was occupied, including the bridge crossing the Neuse River being destroyed by soldiers. However, the most notable event was General Sherman receiving word from Appomattox, that the Civil War was over. Sherman would gather his troops and announce the end of the war on the steps of the courthouse.