Like much of the South, Fayetteville had a period of rebuilding after the Civil War. Small skirmishes and battles were fought along the land that would become Fort Bragg and downtown Fayetteville saw the destruction of an arsenal and the offices of the Fayetteville Observer.
Post Civil War and Reconstruction
Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman also destroyed something else in Fayetteville during his march through the South. A railroad line to the Chatham County coal fields (now parts of Lee, Chatham and Moore counties) provided the city of Fayetteville rail commerce not connected to cotton.
This line, known as the Western Railroad, was chartered in the 1850s by a group of residents of Fayetteville. The first rails were laid in 1858, and the line was completed by 1863 from Egypt, North Carolina to Fayetteville. Charles Beatty Mallet, a cotton manufacturer, became the line’s second and fourth president, and gained controlling interests of the coal fields in Egypt during this time.
The coal from this line would reach the train depot in Fayetteville where it was then loaded onto steamboats and taken down the Cape Fear River to Wilmington, North Carolina to be sold.
Sherman, however, wanted to cripple the South’s commerce. He was quoted as saying that he wanted to destroy the cotton mills around Fayetteville because they were connected to slave labor.
“Slaves and cotton caused this war and I wish them both in hell,” he said in reference to the cotton trade in Fayetteville, a commerce that included Mallet.
Sherman burned the cotton mills. He destroyed 12 miles of track of the Western Railroad to the coal fields. Mallet was utterly destroyed by Sherman and had to declare bankruptcy not long after the war.
What Sherman did not destroy, however, was the stock of coal. The rail lines took three years to be rebuilt, but Fayetteville was still used as a hub for the movement of the stock of coal. This movement of coal helped Fayetteville’s crippled economy after the destruction of the cotton mills.
The Cape Fear River was used to move this coal, and became the savior of Fayetteville during Reconstruction.
Steamboats
Steam vessels were first used in North Carolina in 1818. North Carolina proved a difficult place to navigate larger ships due to shallow waters and sandy bottoms, but the Cape Fear River was deep enough for these boats to make the trip from Wilmington to Fayetteville.
While railroads had become the main mode of transporting goods from place to place in the mid 1800s, Fayetteville and Wilmington continued to be connected by steamboat, and this practice allowed trade and commerce to continue after the Civil War. While railroads were being built, trade could still continue along the river, and it did.
Wilmington and Fayetteville were eventually connected by rail, in 1890, but steamboats still found their way up the Cape Fear River. Within the next 10 years, however, river traffic began to slow greatly. The naval stores industry of pitch, tar, resin and turpentine was becoming nonexistent due to lower demand and the depletion of Long Leaf Pine.
The steamboat era gave one last gasp of life during the early 1900s with the steamer called the City of Fayetteville. Considered one of the finest steamers in the area, the City of Fayetteville was a passenger vessel that carried people from Fayetteville to Wilmington in considerable style.
The steamboat met an untimely end in 1913, when it sunk. By this point, railroad was considered king in the area.
Rails around Fayetteville
The railroads around Fayetteville began to expand towards the end of the 19th century. The Western Railroad, under new management, took the name Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railway in 1879. It was eventually absorbed into the Mount Airy Railroad.
The Aberdeen and Rockfish Railroad, charted in 1892 in Moore County, began Cumberland County operations by 1902 and had moved into Fayetteville by 1912. It is still in operation today, with a depot in Southern Pines, North Carolina. It was absorbed in 1914 by what is now the Norfolk Southern Railway, a company that controls freight lines all over the South.
Fayetteville trains deploy troops
The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad operated out of Fayetteville. The railroad began in 1900, and in 1911 the company built the current Amtrak Station on Hay Street in downtown Fayetteville.
In 1916, the Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry deployed to help execute the Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa.
They left from the Fayetteville train station on Hay Street.
Gen. William J. Snow, Chief of Field Artillery, visited the Fayetteville area in 1918 in his search for artillery training grounds. He discovered the terrain would be perfect for training troops in mulitple conditions — swamps, semi jungle foliage, sandy hills and riverlands.
When Snow arrived, he also found an extensive network of railways that had already been used to deploy troops. With the terrain, access to water and the railroad system, Snow deemed the land to the northwest of Fayetteville to be perfect for the new artillery training grounds of Camp Bragg.
Sherman used the Army to tear down Fayetteville. Fifty three years later, the Army would begin to make its mark yet again on Fayetteville and the surrounding areas.

(Editor’s Note: information for this article was provided by the Fayetteville Area Transportation and Local History Museum, the Norfolk Southern Railway website at www.nscorp.com/, and the Aberdeen and Rockfish Rail Road Company’s website at www.aberdeen-rockfish.com.)