Civil War (1861 to 1865)
North Carolina seceded from the Union on May 20, 1861. According to the 1860 US census, there were 992,662 people living in the state. Nearly one third of the state’s population (331,099 people) were enslaved African Americans. While few battles were fought on North Carolina soil, the state provided nearly 125,000 men to the Confederacy and approximately 15,000 men to the Union Army. Many Confederate North Carolina units served in the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of Robert E. Lee. Soldiers from North Carolina fought in over 20 battles in the state as well as the Battle of Big Bethel, the Battle of Manassas Junction, Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, Antietam, the Battle of the Wilderness, and Sharpsburg. Nearly 40,000 North Carolina men never returned.
The invasion of North Carolina by General William T. Sherman's Union army in March 1865 was devastating to people, personal property, and industry. Sherman's troops had gained a reputation for widespread destruction of property in Georgia and South Carolina, and North Carolinians suffered the same fate. The Confederate army fought several battles in the state but failed to stop Sherman.
Sherman’s army advanced on Fayetteville in the spring of 1865. The Confederate government hastily ordered the destruction of stock piles of cotton and naval stores, railroad tracks, and factories to prevent goods and materials from falling into Union hands. Sherman’s forces destroyed anything that was left behind including local farms, plantations, and the Fayetteville Arsenal. It took years for the textile and turpentine industries to recover.
The best known Civil War action in the Sandhills is the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads. While the battle did not have a major influence on the war’s outcome, it was one of the last all-cavalry engagements of the conflict. On March 10, 1865 three Confederate cavalry divisions led by General Wade Hampton attacked a large Union cavalry encampment that was part of General William T. Sherman’s army. Hampton’s men undertook a daring cavalry charge and overran the Union camp under the command of Brevet Major General Judson Kilpatrick. In the end Kilpatrick’s men forced Hampton to withdraw and they were able to recapture their artillery and camp. While the Confederates suffered heavy casualties, they captured a number of Kilpatrick’s men, horses, and supply wagons.
To gain a greater understanding of the details of the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads and to help Fort Bragg preserve the battlefield, the National Park Service under the direction of Douglas Scott undertook archeological studies at the site of the engagement. This work revealed previously unknown details of the battle. Many of the same investigative techniques used to unravel the mysteries of the Battle of the Little Bighorn were adapted and applied to this Civil War site. Go to the archaeology section to learn more about this exciting project.