"Batter . . . into piles of rubble"
— Carolinas Campaign —
[Preface at top left]
The Carolinas Campaign began on February 1, 1865, when Union Gen. William T. Sherman led his army north from Savannah, Georgia, after the "March to the Sea." Sherman's objective was to join Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia to crush Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Scattered Confederate forces consolidated in North Carolina, the Confederacy's logistical lifeline, where Sherman defeated Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's last-ditch attack at Bentonville. After Sherman was reinforced at Goldsboro late in March, Johnston saw the futility of further resistance and surrendered on April 26, essentially ending the Civil War.
On March 11, 1865, Union Gen. William T. Sherman and his army marched into Fayetteville, and Sherman made the arsenal his headquarters while he reported to Washington on the progress of the Carolinas Campaign. Believing that "the United States should never again confide such valuable property to a people who have betrayed a trust," Sherman ordered his chief engineer, Col. Orlando M. Poe, to "batter the arsenal building into piles of rubble and then burn and blow up the ruins." Poe assigned the duty to the 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics.
The engineers began their task on March 12, first attacking the machinery with sledgehammers and axes to render it into scrap. Poe wrote that "the clang of hammers & axes wielded by more than a thousand men, is almost enough to drive one crazy." Then the engineers battered down the arsenal's brick walls using railroad irons suspended from wooden tripods with chains. Finally, on March 14, the piles of rubble and lumber were set ablaze as Sherman moved his headquarters across the Cape Fear River. The arsenal grounds stood vacant until 1873 when the government auctioned the land.
[Sidebar at bottom right]
The U.S. Arsenal at Fayetteville was constructed between 1838 and 1853, but the facility lacked equipment until 1857. Before the federal government could utilize it, the Civil War began, North Carolina seceded, and local militiamen occupied it. In June 1861, the state transferred control to the Confederacy. Workers converted 36,000 flintlock muskets to percussion-cap weapons and installed machinery captured at Harper's Ferry, in present-day West Virginia. The arsenal produced about 10,000 rifles and assembled a few pistol carbines. Its greatest contribution to the Confederate war effort, however, was the more than 900,000 rounds of small arms ammunition, signal rockets, and friction primers assembled by women workers.