North Carolina enjoyed a period of peace after the Revolutionary War. Fayetteville was flourishing; because it was up the Cape Fear River from Wilmington, North Carolina, Fayetteville experienced the economic boom brought by merchants and heavy trade operations. Cumberland County was the second most populated county in antebellum North Carolina.
However, the country was heavily divided and North Carolina wasn’t an exception. The mountainous west depended less on agriculture than the arid east. Slavery was less predominant or non-existent closer to the Tennessee border, and the two vastly different landscapes created a political climate that was being felt all over the United States.
Secession and war
South Carolina led the series of secessions from the United States. After it became clear that Lincoln was going to win the election, the state seceded on Dec. 24, 1860. The Civil War officially began on April 12, 1861 at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, but North Carolina had yet to pick a side. It wasn’t until May of 1861 that North Carolina voted to leave the Union.
North Carolina saw quite a few battles during the four years of the Civil War, but it was Union Gen. Tecumseh Sherman and his forces that dealt the state and the South as a whole with the most devastating blows.
Having defeated the South in key port cities like Savannah, Georgia, Sherman set his sights on uniting the Union Army in Virginia. Sherman decided on a series of movements to reach his goal that became known at the Carolinas Campaign. The first big battle, the Battle of Rivers’ Bridge, was fought in South Carolina in February 1865. Columbia, South Carolina and Wilmington, North Carolina surrendered after the fight and Confederates fled Charleston.
Sherman made his way into North Carolina, where part of his forces defeated Gen. Braxton Bragg near Kinston, North Carolina.
Sherman aimed for Fayetteville. An arsenal was downtown that had supplied the Confederate States of America troops for much of the war, and he wanted to destroy it. The Confederates knew that if they were able to slow down Sherman’s cavalry, led by Brevet Maj. Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, they might be able to stop the defeat of Fayetteville.
The Union Cavalry was camped out by the Monroe Homestead, off Longstreet Road on present day Fort Bragg. The farm had been abandoned and the owners had fled to safer areas.
The Union Soldiers established the house as a commanders’ post and set up artillery near the residence, according to National Park Service archeologist Douglas Scott.
After midnight on March 10, 1865, Confederates Lt. Gen Wade Hampton and Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler began sneaking up on the Union cavalry. Scouts told the generals there were hundreds of Union Soldiers camped out on a small ridge. They had with them wagons of supplies and artillery.
Hampton and Wheeler also suspected that Kilpatrick was with the unmounted cavalry troops, and they hatched a plan to surprise the Union troops and take Kilpatrick hostage. If the plan worked, it would be a big blow to Sherman’s forces. Maj. Gen. Matthew Butler had now joined the Confederate forces as well, completing a trio of military minds that had plagued the North for the entirety of the war.
Wheeler and Hampton came to Monroe’s Crossroads, near Nicholson Creek, from the west. The generals positioned their troops in a semicircle with Wheeler’s two divisions to the center of the semicircle and Butler’s Division to the North. Hampton’s forces took the rear guard. Brigadier Gen. Y.C. Hume would take right flank in the semicircle. His troops ended up becoming stuck in a swamp, however, and didn’t make the battle. In total, the Confederates were directing around 2,000 troops. The Union side had about the same number.
Wheeler, as the commanding general leading the forces into the attack, rode a white horse forward with his cavalry. As dawn approached, he yelled for his men to gallop into the camp. Kilpatrick was standing on the porch of the Monroe Homestead in only his long underwear as the Confederate cavalry came out of the fog.
As the CSA cavalry charged into camp, one of the Confederate Soldiers came up to the Monroe Homestead demanding to know where Kilpatrick was. As Kilpatrick was dressed only in his underwear, he had no identifying insignia. He pointed to a Union Soldier rushing by on a horse and told the Confederate that the man was Kilpatrick. The CSA Soldier gave chase to this person, giving Kilpatrick time to jump off the porch and disappear.
Confederate prisoners held by Kilpatrick were unintentionally set free and joined in the fray. At one point, Confederates surrounded the Monroe house, but were mistaken for Union Soldiers and fired upon by their own men. Once the Confederates had regained a modicum of control, they were able to continue their overwhelming destruction of the Union camp. They captured two artillery pieces that had been near the house.
The Union Soldiers fled the encampment, but were soon stopped by a swamp. They waited for a second assault wave from the Confederates, but it never came. The Confederates were busy in the camp, raiding the supply wagons and celebrating their victory. The CSA troops had been poorly fed and clothed for most of the war, and the wagons full of supplies were bigger draws than the Yankees.
The Union troops regathered near the swamp where Kilpatrick began directing his troops. They attacked the unsuspecting Confederates. The Yankees had a new weapon in their arsenal — the rapid firing Spencer carbine. With their superior weapons, they began turning back the tide of the battle.
Union artillery officer 1st Lt. Ebenezer Stetson made a dash for one of the captured artillery pieces. He managed to get a shell into the 3-inch Ordinance Rifle and fire it at the Confederates. Other Union Soldiers came up to man the second artillery piece and continued firing into the Confederate lines. Between their Spencer carbines and canons, the Union Soldiers outmatched the Confederates. Hampton ordered the remaining Confederates to retreat.
Monroe’s Crossroads was one of the last Confederate cavalry charges of the war. The loss allowed Sherman the chance to destroy the arsenal in Fayetteville, as well as the offices of the Fayetteville Observer, a newspaper Sherman disliked.
Piecing together the past
In 1993, the National Park Service put together a team of experts to study the battle site. Artifacts such as bullets, grommets, buckles and knapsack fragments were recovered. Stanley Dahl, a retired first sergeant, recovered a mouth harp from the location.
Much of the battle has been reconstructed using bullets found throughout the site. The National Park Service located many caliber bullets including .44, .51, Smith .50, Sharps .52, .54, Burnside .54, Spencer .56-56 and .58 as well as round balls, canister balls and shot. They also found Canon related artifacts.
The disbursement of these artifacts helped archeologists to piece together what happened during the battle. Using their discovered information and eyewitness accounts from Soldiers who were there that day, the NPS was able to determine most of the battle activity.
Five cemeteries are marked at the battle site. Several Confederates were buried at Long Street Presbyterian Church. After NPS’s Douglas Scott determined that one mass grave held both Confederate and Union Soldiers, the Army placed a Confederate marker at the site. In 1996, the Army erected a monument on the battlefield.
These grave sites and the battlefield can still be visited today. A few miles south of the Normandy Drop Zone and near the Coleman Impact Zone, this battle site is a protected piece of the history of the Civil War on Fort Bragg. The site is on an active training zone, and tours need to be scheduled to visit Monroe's Crossroads. For tour information, please call the Cultural Resources Management Program at 396-6680.
(Editors note: Information for this article was provided by: The Civil War Battle at Monroe’s Crossroads: A Historical Archeological Perspective by Douglas D. Scott and William Hunt Jr. in conjunction with the Department of the Army, XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg and the Southeast Archeological Center, National Park Service; and Fiery Dawn: The Civil War Battle at Monroe’s Crossroads, North Carolina by Sharyn Kane and Richard Keeton in conjunction with the U.S. Army, XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg and the Southeast Archeological Center, National Park Service.
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.)