Touched and Torched by the Civil War – Fayetteville, North Carolina, USA

Antietam, Gettysburg, Bull Run, Chancellorsville – these are often the first names people think of when the subject of the Civil War comes up. Yet, the Fayetteville, North Carolina area has its own contributions towards the ending of this dark period of U.S. history. The Civil War affected this area for years afterward. Did you know that North Carolina was the last state to secede from the Union? It had fewer slaves than any other rebel state, but it gave up more of its men (around 40,000) than any Confederate state for the southern cause.

Civil War venues for even the most ardent Civil War buffs
Begin your Civil War History rediscovery at the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex, which contains an on-site museum and Arsenal Park. At the museum, learn about North Carolina’s departing from the Union via exhibits and displays. I discovered that most citizens wanted to be a part of the Union and wanted the slavery issue settled. Instead, this state joined the Confederacy after Abraham Lincoln called for state troops to help suppress the rebellion after Fort Sumter was captured in South Carolina. Then Governor, John W. Ellis, wrote to Lincoln saying that sending troops was “in violation of the Constitution and a gross usurpation of power”.

Read diary excerpts of Malinda Ray; she wrote about the surrender of the Federal Arsenal to the Confederacy. Over 1,000 North Carolina militiamen stormed the place held by only 50 Federal troops.

Besides Civil War history, this museum contains two floors of southeastern North Carolina history that goes back to the Paleo Indians (10,000 years ago), featuring a couple of period arrowheads. It was the Scottish Highlanders who “settled” this region in 1732-33. It honors their contributions, as well as more artifacts from the 18th and 19th centuries that cover The American Revolution, slavery, the textile industry, steamships, etc., on through to a 1920’s general store diorama, where you can hear old radio shows.

Arsenal Park is located across the bridge from the museum. It contains 4.5 acres of remnants of the Federal Arsenal, which the state of North Carolina seized and turned over to the Confederacy at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. This arsenal produced and stored arms and ammunitions, including Fayetteville Rifles, which used .58 caliber shells. These collector items can nab tens of thousands of dollars today! But for the days that spanned March 12 to 14, 1861, General Sherman’s troops destroyed the arsenal to punish the city for rebelling against the Union. Over 900,000 rounds of ammunition, signal rockets and friction primers were assembled by women at this spot to aid the Confederacy.

Also on site at the complex is a late Victorian home, the 1897 Poe House. It contains artifacts that’ll take you back in time more than a hundred years. This mansion was owned by a successful brickyard owner/operator.

The Union’s pursuit was temporarily held off by gallant fighting Confederates at the Market House; a prominent landmark in the downtown area on Hay Street. It was spared by the vengeful forces of General William T. Sherman when town officials negotiated a settlement. It has stood since 1832, and was the City Hall for Fayetteville. The public auction of slaves took place on the open ground floor (arcade). It has been designated a National Historic Landmark. At this spot is where the North Carolina government officials ratified the US Constitution, and charted the University of North Carolina in 1789. The actual building where those events took place burned down in 1831.

Confederate displays on hand at the  Museum of the Cape Fear Historical  Complex
Confederate displays on hand at the
Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex

Fayetteville Area Transportation Museum
At this museum, you’ll not only learn about transportation times in the Fayetteville area during the Civil War, but also the history of transport from the time of the Indians to the present day. It’s housed in the restored Cape Fear and Yalkin Valley Railroad Depot.

I learned a few interesting facts about the Civil War. General Sherman used Morganton Road to invade the city, coming from the west. Ironically, Morganton Road is still used today for invasions by those heading to the city’s largest shopping complex – The Cross Creek Mall. When he reached Fayetteville, General Sherman destroyed the Arsenal. The arsenal, though, was actually constructed by the US government on “pie in the sky” transportation infrastructure commitments made years earlier, beginning in 1838, on the dashing hopes that more railroad lines would be built to connect Fayetteville with the outside world. The lack of funding dispelled these ambitions; only one short rail line was put in that lead back and forth to some coal and iron ore mines north of Fayetteville. These raw materials were used against the Union during the Civil War.

Fayetteville Area Transportation Museum: 325 Franklin St., Fayetteville, North Carolina 28301. 910-433-1455. Free admission. No direct website.

The Battle of Averasboro
The Averasboro Battlefield & Museum is 16 miles from downtown Fayetteville, but well worth the visit for Civil War buffs who want to see the place where one of the Confederacy’s last real stands took place.

Some of what's basically left of General  Sherman's "handiwork" on the Federal  Arsenal
Some of what's basically left of General Sherman's
"handiwork" on the Federal Arsenal

Start at the complex’s museum, where you’ll get background and detailed information about the battle by the friendly guides, including one history teacher. You’ll see many relics of the battle, including a lot of exploded shell parts, shotguns, Condfederate/Union belt buckles, letters, diorama models of the battle scenes, and even an officer’s chair that was used by officers of both sides. One of the most prized possessions donated was the uniform of Confederate Colonel Thomas James Purdie, whose 18th Regiment North Carolina troops accidentally shot and eventually killed the renowned General “Stonewall” Jackson at Chancellorsville, Virginia, in 1863. Civil War History is so big that when the Purdie Family gave the uniform to the museum, 200 people attended a ceremony just for this donation!

People do not think well of William Tecumseh Sherman, the general who spearheaded Union forces from Atlanta (destroying 30 per cent of the city) to the seaport of Savannah. He left a rage of destruction before heading north to Virginia, burning and destroying. I won’t tell you what I was told, but believe me, it’s not nice, even though Sherman showed more mercy towards North Carolina than Georgia or South Carolina!

On March 15-16, 1865, North and South Carolinians fought the Union in a harsh two-day battle that cost close to 1,500 casualties combined. While this battle (also called The Battle of Black River) was considered a stalemate, it’s purported that it was worthwhile for the South since it did delay General Sherman’s virtual unhalted march to Virginia for a couple of days; bought time for the Confederates to wage one more major offensive against the Union at Bentonville, North Carolina, just miles away.

Here’s a rundown on some of the interesting sites from the complex, easily accessible from the museum, with the assistance of the map that’s provided by the museum.

Farquhard Smith home
This Greek Revival of Farquhard Smith, known as “Lebanon”, is north of the museum; used as a hospital for the South.

The mass grave site marker honors Confederate dead buried at Chicora Cemetery
The mass grave site marker honors
Confederate dead buried at Chicora Cemetery

Chicora Cemetery
The name Chicora comes from the Indian word for Carolina. Fifty-six Confederate soldiers are buried here; they lost their lives at the Battle of Averasboro. What makes this place chilling is the gravestones; many marked only by the mass amount of dead buried below each gravestone. It shows how horrific war can be. There is also a former slave quarters built in the early 1800’s. Union soldiers were once buried here, too, but their remains were moved to the Federal Cemetery in Raleigh.

William Smith Plantation House
Also known as “Ashwood”, this Greek Revival home contained 14 rooms, and served as a Union field hospital. The piano inside the plantation home was taken out and used as an amputation/operating table.

Old Bluff Church
The grounds of the Old Bluff Church were used as a Yankee encampment on March 14, 1865, one day before the Battle of Averasboro, a few miles south of the battlefield complex. According to tour guide Mac Williams, the recorded church minutes of that day make no reference to the fact that the Union camped here en route to the fateful battle a day later. In 1867, one reference was made about contributing to Confederate war widows; the only Civil War reference ever mentioned. The most notable burial here is of David M. “Carbine” Williams, the inventor of the M1 Carbine Rifle.

The Old Bluff Church: General Sherman was here
The Old Bluff Church: General Sherman
was here

Roy’s Travel Tips
Okay, so the South lost the Civil War, but when it comes to their fried chicken, they are certainly winners! Head on over to Cape Fear BBQ & Chicken for some delicious Southern Fried Chicken and BBQ. Trust me, I’m a fried chicken connoisseur! When you say “barbeque” in this area, it means one thing: pork. I’d never had North Carolina BBQ; it was an experience eating sauce that is vinegar based. The prices are fair, and you get good-sized portions. It's at 523 Grove Street, Fayetteville, NC 28304. Telephone: 910-438-1884. Fayetteville is on Interstate 95. An incredible book, Drive I-95, is currently available for purchase about what you’ll find while driving Interstate 95, exit by exit, from the Boston area to the Florida border. This includes nearby attractions, pet-friendly hotels, car repair shops, etc. It’s researched meticulously by the husband-wife team, Stan Posner and Sandra Phillips-Posner.

Fayetteville Tourist Information

You can read Roy's first article here, and his second at this link.

Roy A. Barnes is a Civil War buff and a frequent contributor to Bootsnall.com. He even has tips and inspirational articles that have been featured at The Willamette Writer, Burning The Midnight Oil, The Fabulist Flash, The Busy Freelancer, Absolute Write, and FellowScript.

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  • Jeet Skeet Jet said at 2012-09-10T13:34:04+0000: looks so historically exciting! my boyfriend and I are taking a day trip to see these important sites! :)
  • John N Linda Overby said at 2012-09-30T18:05:38+0000: While you are in Fayetteville, be sure to visit "Campbellton Landing" on the banks of the Cape Fear River where Sherman's men crossed the Cape Fear River headed to Averasboro Battlefield! It seems to be a well kept secret so ask for directions a the Fayetteville Visitors center on Person Street because no one else in Fayetteville knew where it was when we asked for directions to go to the "8th Civil War Reenactment" there Saturday-Sunday Sept 29-30th! We finally found it on our own and it is BEAUTIFUL there!