The Fayetteville Arsenal
The Fayetteville Arsenal was built in Fayetteville, North Carolina in 1838. In April 1838 the Arsenal was constructed of brick and stone. An octagonal tower rested in each corner of the Arsenal with an iron gate guarding the entrance. Most of the inside walls were lined with shops, housing, and barracks, while the main arsenal building was positioned in the center of the compound. After the War of 1812, the United States government realized that the factories that distributed weapons and ammunition was not adequate for the defense of the country and therefore built the Arsenal. The arsenal continued to grow as the Civil War sustained and became completely operational by 1865.
Backstory and Context
The arsenal was surrendered to North Carolina militia forces and turned over to the Confederate States of America in May 1861. When the Harpers Ferry Arsenal, in present day West Virginia, fell to Union forces, rifle making machinery from that location was relocated to the Fayetteville Arsenal. Because the equipment from Harpers Ferry was installed at the Arsenal, it became a major supplier of small arms to the Confederate troops. The main building was known as the Fayetteville Rifle. Here the arsenal could produce around 500 rifles per month and other various numbers of other larger ordnance, cartridges, swords, and bayonets. Workers from the Harpers Ferry Arsenal had relocated with their families to Fayetteville to work in the shops. Many young woman were also employed from the local area for cartridge assembly and as clerks.
In 1865, Union General William T. Sherman led his force during the Carolina Campaign to capture the Fayetteville Arsenal. Though the Confederate forces showed resistance, the force became engulfed by the number of the Union troops and the firepower which they used. The stores and equipment had all been removed and placed in other locations by the time Sherman entered Fayetteville and took possession of the Arsenal. The Harpers Ferry rifle manufacturing machinery was rumored to have been hidden in the Egypt, NC coal mines. On his way through Fayetteville, Sherman ordered the Arsenal be burned to the ground. The Union soldiers knocked down buildings and set fire to the rubble. The fire caused artillery shell remains to explode and this completed the Arsenal’s demise. The Arsenal was burned and rendered completely useless.
Very little of the Fayetteville Arsenal remains are still at the actual site today. A partial frame from an outbuilding and a historical land marker, as well as other fragments of the Arsenal, can be seen on display at the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex. Visitors can explore the site, which contains extant ruins with explanation signage; a steel semblance of the Northwest tower called the "ghost" tower as well as two Civil War Trail markers. The hours of operation for the museum are Tuesday-Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Sunday, 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. and closed on all Mondays. The arsenal site was listed on the national Register of Historic Places in 1983.