Fort Bragg’s history didn’t just begin when the base was built in 1918.
The lands now occupied by what is known as “Fort Bragg” were once home to Native American tribes and European settlements. Fort Bragg and the Fayetteville area were part of several defining moments in the history of this country, including skirmishes from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, which were fought within the present day installation.
The original inhabitants of the area were various American Indian groups, some who spoke the Siouan language (others in the state spoke Algonquian), with numerous tribal names. Evidence of Native Americans living in the Sandhills dates back 12,000 years.
Fort Bragg is home to several hundred archeological sites that represent various cultural periods of occupation, mostly camp sites and hunting grounds. According to Voices of the Sandhills’ website, the radiocarbon dating on features such as fire pits goes back 5,000 years.
These pits were used for cooking, heating, and creating and reshaping tools. On some sites, stains in the ground arranged in a semi-circle in the area also suggest that shelters or windbreak had been created to help protect the fire pits from large gusts of wind.
The cultural landscape of North Carolina began to change during the early 1700s when Europeans trading with the Indians moved through the area. These early traders were followed by settlers colonizing the state in great numbers, causing conflicts with the American Indians already living around enviable properties such as woodlands and waterways. Skirmishes with Native Americans helped to unify the settlers across the state.
The settlers in the Cape Fear area were largely Highland Scots. Two early settlements, Cross Creek and Campbellton, later became present day Fayetteville. Cross Creek held a population of Highland Scots of around 12,000, and during the Revolutionary War they were largely Loyalists to the crown.
In the pre-Fort Bragg lands, small hamlets of Highland Scots dotted the landscape. Some were called Inverness or Argyle for the place names of their homeland. These hamlets often had a church, a cemetery, a post office and sometimes a commission to provision the homesteaders. They were located along major wagon roads that bisected the Sandhills, with names like Yadkin Road, Carthage Road, Morganton Road and Longstreet Road.
The Revolutionists in Cumberland County banded together in 1775 to write the “Liberty Point Resolves,” a unifying battle cry. The Association, as they named themselves, signed the document at Lewis Barge’s Tavern in Cross Creek. The goal of the document was to protest the actions of Great Britain after the battles of Lexington and Concord.
The Resolves states, “We, therefore, the subscribers of Cumberland County, holding ourselves bound by that most sacred of all obligations, the duty of good citizens towards an injured Country, and thoroughly convinced that under our distressed circumstances we shall be justified before you in resisting force by force; do unite ourselves under every tie of religion and honour, and associate as a band her defence against every foe; hereby solemnly engaging, that whenever our Continental or Provincial Councils shall decree it necessary, we will go forth and be to sacrifice our lives and fortunes to secure her freedom and safety.”
Armed and united, the Patriots defeated the Loyalists on February 27, 1776 at the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge in present day Pender County, North Carolina. A group of 1,600 Loyalists marched across Moores Creek Bridge while on the other side of the river, a Patriot force of 1,000 waited for the charge.
The North Carolina Loyalists, made up largely of Scottish Highlanders, made their stand with broadswords, but were ultimately defeated by the North Carolina Patriots. Residents of Cumberland County were on both sides of the fight.
Between 30 to 70 Loyalists died during the battle, including Lt. Col. Donald McLeod, the leader of the attack. The rest of the force either surrendered or retreated. According to the National Park Service, Moores Creek is the site of the first Patriot victory of the revolution, and ended British authority in the colony.
Two months later, North Carolina became the first colony whose delegates in the Continental Congress voted for independence.
North Carolina saw a few smaller battles and skirmishes in the fight for independence. In 1781, Loyalists attacked a group of Patriot militiamen at Piney Bottom Creek, on present day Fort Bragg. The Patriots were hauling supplies in a wagon train for the American Army.
The resulting ambush became known as the Piney Bottom Massacre. In retaliation for the attack, the American militiamen overran the area and committed guerrilla warfare against any Loyalist they could find.
A large population of the Scots in Cumberland County moved after the war; their property had been seized and the Loyalist sentiment was not welcome.
Campbellton and Cross Creek united after the war ended in 1783. They named the town “Fayetteville” after Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, a Frenchman who once led the colonists to victory in the Revolutionary War.
Although numerous towns in the southern states had towns named for the famous Frenchmen, Fayetteville was the only town to be honored by his visit during his American tour in 1825. He was escorted by the Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry, the second oldest militia unit in the U.S., formed in 1793 and still active today in a ceremonial capacity.
Fayetteville became a busy town, and was largely peaceful until the Civil War.
(Editors note: Information for this article was provided by: Dr. Linda Carnes-McNaughton, Archaeologist, Cultural Resources Management Program, Fort Bragg, Voices of the Sandhills and the National Park Service.)
(Editor’s note: The Paraglide will be publishing a series of articles throughout the year on the history of Fort Bragg to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the installation.)