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Fayetteville: Confederate Accounts

The accounts that emerged from the Confederate side of Sherman’s occupation of Fayetteville and surrounding areas differed a great deal from those of Union soldiers. While Union soldiers foraged to supply necessities like food to the army, their actions created hardships for many of the citizens. Local citizen Nellie Worth chronicled how Union soldiers “carried off every single thing we had to eat, did not leave a grain of corn or coffee, or anything that would sustain life one day.” (Item 315) A letter published in the Hillsborough Recorder spoke intensely of the situation. The letter mentioned how the town was “in the greatest distress,” as Fayetteville only had “meal and meat to last us two weeks, by taking two meals a days” because of the damages Sherman and his men wrought. The town needed relief, as the writer feared “If relief does not come soon many must starve to death.” (Item 319) At the end of March, the Wadesboro North Carolina Argus published a similar account as that found in the Hillsborough Recorder. The Argus called “loudly for the aid of all those who have anything to spare and who have been fortunate to escape so sad a calamity as has fallen to their [the people of Fayetteville] lot,” to avoid starvation in the city. (Item 322) Those in North Carolina did not see the bummers in Fayetteville as a military necessity, but instead as “Sherman’s thieving crowd” that had surpassed “London pickpockets in their profession.” (Item 324) The citizens of Fayetteville saw the foraging by Sherman’s bummers as personal, taking necessities the citizens needed to survive.

The issues did not end with the liberal foraging by Sherman’s bummers.The most controversial issue was the destruction of property in Fayetteville. The burning of the arsenal in Fayetteville had a clear military purpose as General Sherman wrote to his wife. For the residents of Fayetteville, the arsenal stood as much more than a military resource. Fayetteville citizen Alice Campbell believed the burning of factories and buildings were bad, but the destruction of the arsenal was the worst. Campbell stated “The crowning point of this nightmare of destruction was the burning . . . of our beautiful and grandly magnificent Arsenal, which was our pride, and the showplace of our town.” (Item 327) The arsenal represented a sense of personal pride for the town of Fayetteville, not just a strategic military installment. Even the ordered burnings of factories and other buildings cut deeply into the daily lives of the local citizens.  Absalon Baird, a general in the Union Army, wrote very casually of destroying “2 iron foundries of some importance, 4 cotton factories and the printing establishment of 3 rebel newspapers,” in his official report from March 24, 1865.(Item 328) But, for E. J. Hale, Jr. and his family, the burning of such buildings was not a casual event.  Hale’s father, E. J. Hale, Sr., was the editor of the local Fayetteville Observer, one of the Rebel newspapers burned, and he had a stake in several local cotton factories. As Hale, Jr. told a Confederate general that his father’s property “was easily convertible into about $85 to $100,000 in specie,” but now he had not “a particle of property which will bring him a dollar of income... His office, with everything in it, was burned by Sherman’s order.” (Item 174) Sherman and his army destroyed the livelihood of many citizens in Fayetteville, like the Hales. The purpose of the destruction was twofold, to cripple southern military resources and deflate the southern will to fight.

Sources from citizens of Fayetteville showed, however, that Sherman’s March caused various citizens to renew their support for the Confederacy. The resistance from Confederate citizens came as a shock to some of those in the Union Army. George Nichols and other Union soldiers had “been altogether disappointed in looking for the Union sentiment in North Carolina.” Nichols continued, “The city of Fayetteville was offensively rebellious” more so than Columbia, South Carolina, which many perceived as the most ardent state in the South. (Item 354) In a letter to her cousin, Fayetteville citizen Nellie Worth told of how she defied the Yankees by “singing the ‘Bonnie Blue Flag’ and ‘Dixie’ with all” her might. Worth “breathed all the fire in my soul into those two songs,” astonishing the Yankees who had asked her to play music. Her letter continued with insults towards the Union, as she hoped “all the powers of earth and heaven combine to destroy them, may their land be one vast scene of ruin and desolation as ours is.” (Item 315) Other women like Alice Campbell urged Confederate men to keep fighting. Although heartbroken, the burning of the arsenal did not dampen her zeal for the Confederate cause. In a meeting with Confederate prisoners in Fayetteville, she urged her “dear boys to be brave, and fight on, that we would win at last.” (Item 327) An unidentified woman’s letter from Fayetteville, on March 22, 1865, arguably showed the most patriotic fervor of any in the area. After a Union soldier destroyed everything this woman owned and asked what she would live upon, she responded, “Upon patriotism; I will exist up on the love of my country as long as life will last.” As the Union soldier continued to hound the woman, she retorted that the Union could “make the whole of this beautiful land one vast graveyard but its people will never be subjugated.” (Item 172) , The people of Fayettville responded to Sherman’s destruction with a resurgence of pride in the Confederacy and contempt for the Union.