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Fayetteville: Union Accounts

While Sherman and his men faced little military resistance in Fayetteville, their goals and actions remained the same, to destroy Confederate resources and its will to fight. Just prior to entering Fayetteville on March 10, General Frances Preston Blair released Special orders No. 63 outlining the foraging practices for his men in the city of Fayetteville. In the order, Blair reiterated that “The State of North Carolina is to a great extent loyal,” but they had to forage what was necessary in Fayetteville. (Item 273) The men who did the foraging, Blair described, often went by the name of a “bummer.”  Lieutenant Colonel George Nichols of the Union Army wrote fondly of the bummers while he was in Fayetteville. According to Nichols, a bummer “is a raider on his own account—a man who temporarily deserts his place . . . and starts out upon an independent foraging expedition.” However, Nichols acknowledged, “these wanderers from the ranks are often a great benefit to the army.” (Item 274) Although bummers took mass amounts of food from the Fayetteville population, Sherman and his men believed that bummers played a vital role in keeping the Union army fed and advancing. Bummers derived their importance from Sherman’s destructive strategy. He had largely destroyed much of the transportation infrastructure on his march through the South in order to cut off supply lines, making foraging from local populations a military necessity.

Sherman’s army moved beyond the taking of food to desolate the town of Fayetteville. The Union troops destroyed many key buildings and factories within the town. In Special Field Orders No. 28, Sherman ordered his men “to destroy all railroad property, all shops, factories, tanneries, and all mills, save one water-mill of sufficient capacity.” (Item 294) The main item that Sherman wanted to destroy was the arsenal building, which the United States federal government had built in Fayetteville before North Carolina seceded. Sherman said of the arsenal in Fayetteville, “the enemy shall not have its use, and the United States should never again confide such valuable property to a people who have betrayed a trust.” (Item 295) The destruction of the arsenal held importance as a military item, but it was also important symbolically as Lieutenant Colonel George Nichols wrote in his diary. Nichols wrote, “We shall destroy it utterly . . . . By Monday night that which should have been the pride and honor of the state and the country will be a shapeless mass of ruins.” (Item 165) The destruction Sherman brought to Fayetteville intended to cripple resource centers like factories, but also to cripple its pride.

The Union Army foraged food and destroyed property when it occupied the city of Fayetteville, as a policy of war. Sherman wrote to his wife on March 23, 1865, about the actions he and his men took in Fayetteville.  Sherman said that nothing “has tended more to break the pride of the South, than my steady persistent progress.” (Item 297) The Wilmington Herald of the Union, a pro-Union newspaper established late in the war in North Carolina, reported favorably of Sherman’s war tactics. The Herald of the Union saw Sherman’s March as being “a novel military experiment” that had “gained him some reputation for success.” (Item 298) The occupation of Fayetteville marked “Another grand and successful march through the rebel country.” (Item 300) The Herald of the Union reported Sherman’s movements in Fayetteville as a brilliant war strategy. A private in the Union Army, when in Fayetteville, wrote home to his family in a letter that “It seems hard for the women and children, but this rebellion must be put down and we are doing it.” (Galtthaar 1985, 136) Union soldiers realized their actions in Fayetteville caused struggles for the inhabitants, but soldiers did so as a matter of war, to end the rebellion.