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NC Civil War History Center Planned For Fayetteville

NC Civil War History Center

We profile the soon-to-be-built North Carolina Civil War History Center in Fayetteville.  They’re seeking 100 stories from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties for their archive.

Today, we continue our commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.  Local living history programs, reenactments, and museums have been participating, highlighting the sesquicentennial anniversary. But a planned history center in Fayetteville is taking a different approach to preserving North Carolina’s Civil War history.  James White’s Great Great Grandfather joined the Confederate army in Craven County in 1861, but he wasn’t alone.  His wife followed him throughout the entire war.  Here’s his family story which has been added to the North Carolina Civil War History center’s collection, as read by Tom Dunton.

“When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Frank Civils joined the Confederate army immediately upon the call for troops, joining Co. K of the 31st N. C. Troops. His wife Mary Jane followed him wherever he went as he marched with his unit throughout eastern North Carolina and Virginia, washing and cooking for him, keeping him company and taking care of him. When the war broke out, she was pregnant with her son, Frank Civils, Jr., who was born on August 17, 1861. Even so, she continued traveling the battlefields of the Civil War with her husband, carrying her baby with her.”

In addition to collecting stories about the Civil War from people across the state, the North Carolina Civil War History Center will construct a two story museum.  Senior Consultant David Winslow says the facility would include a place for permanent exhibits that interpret the antebellum history and the Civil War in North Carolina and a 3D theater that portrays U.S. General William Sherman’s final march and Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s surrender at Bennett’s Place. 

“We will be the first history center or museum in the country that will approach the Civil War and its aftermath from the perspective of what it was like to be living as a citizen of North Carolina at the time.”

The 60,000 square foot space will also document the Reconstruction Era, explaining how the war shaped the state socially and economically. Additional gallery space will be available for traveling exhibits and regional history.  Winslow says the center will also house a core collection of artifacts that he hopes offers a more comprehensive view of the Civil War in North Carolina.

Credit NC Civil War History Center

“Artifacts are important because they provide a three dimensional experience to the visitor, they provide authenticity, but we consider them simply one tool for how we’re going to tell the story.  We think the story is what this is all about more than what things are like buttons, uniforms or cannons. We think the stories are the important part.”

Education is a goal for the center.  The facility will house classrooms and research areas for visitors. Another dimension of the project is the development of digital educational material for students in all grade levels that can be accessed online, in the classroom, at home or anywhere in the world.

“We will have a very, very strong digital component and part of that content will be the availability of these stories online and through our digital programming.”

The $65 million dollar project is proposed to be built on a four acre tract of land that was once the site of the Fayetteville Arsenal, a strategic target for U.S. General William Sherman.

“Fayetteville Arsenal was constructed as a U.S. arsenal between 1836 and 1860.  It was completed just in time to hand over to the Confederacy and it was used during the war as a place to build rifles and repair cannons and prepare munitions.  And in its height, employed between 2,000 and 3,000 people men, women and children visibly at work. It’s was kind of the Fort Bragg of that era.”

The Fayetteville Arsenal was destroyed by Sherman 150 years ago this month.  Troops used railroad rails as battering rams to knock the building down and then set it on fire.  Artillery shells exploded inside destroying the rest of the arsenal.  Today, only sections of the foundation remain at what is now the Cape Fear Historical Complex.  When built, the North Carolina Civil War History Center will replace the Museum of Cape Fear and acquire three antebellum houses on the grounds.

Winslow says they’re planning to officially announce a new “100 by 100” initiative in April. 

“If you were in Virginia, the Civil War was very much about battles.  But in North Carolina, ours is very much a home front story so we are trying to give a more nuanced interpretation of the war.”

Winslow says the goal of the initiative is to collect 100 stories from each county in the state to better describe the Antebellum, Civil War and Reconstruction periods through the lives, words and work of North Carolinians of the past. 

“Which would give us about 10,000 stories that would be part of our database to help build the program, it would help paint the tapestry of what North Carolina was like at that time. We don’t think anyone has ever quite done this before.  And we’re excited because we are protecting history.  If these stories don’t get told, if they don’t get recorded or collected, they’ll disappear.”

Winslow expects to break ground on the NC Civil War History Center as early as 2018, assuming they raise the necessary funds. The facility’s completion date is set for the year 2020.  For more information on how you can submit a family story to be added to the history center’s database, go to:

Credit NC Civil War History Center

Jared Brumbaugh is the Assistant General Manager for Public Radio East. An Eastern North Carolina native, Jared began his professional public radio career at Public Radio East while he was a student at Craven Community College earning his degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. During his 15+ years at Public Radio East, he has served as an award-winning journalist, producer, and on-air host. When not at the station, Jared enjoys hiking, traveling, and honing his culinary skills.