Cumberland County's Military History
By Roy Parker Jr / January 2007
You only have to look at the names to learn that Fayetteville has a rich military heritage. The city itself is named for a famous general of the War Of Independence: the Marquis de Lafayette. Cumberland County also bears the name of a famous British military man. The Duke of Cumberland was the first to dispatch British soldiers to North America to defend the colonies against French and Indians.
Portrait of Revolutionary War hero, Marquis de Lafayette, the namesake of the city and the only place he visited that bears his name.
At Liberty Point stands a monument commemorating the Liberty Point Resolves, an early version of the Declaration of Independence signed on June 20, 1775 in Fayetteville.
In the War of Independence, the village of Cross Creek, renamed for Lafayette after the war, served as a supply point and rendezvous for soldiers on both sides. In late 1775, Loyalists rallied in the village to march to the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, where Patriots won an early victory of the war. From then on, Patriots were usually in firm control. In the summer of 1775, a gathering of villagers signed a defiant document known as "the Association" or the "Liberty Point Resolves,"a precursor of the Declaration of Independence.
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After the war, Fayetteville was home to a colorful population of war veterans, several of whom were convivial innkeepers. As late as the 1820s, Fourth of July parades included a contingent of "Heroes of the Revolution," and one of them, Isham Blake, greeted his old comrade Lafayette when the French hero of the war visited his namesake town in 1825. The town has the distinction of being home of the second oldest existing volunteer militia company in the country. The Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry first mustered in 1793. The company’s history includes every war since then. FILI men served in the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil war, Spanish-American War, and World War I. The company has its own museum and its own memorial park. Today’s authentic-uniformed ceremonial company participates in public events as a color guard and marching unit.
Members of the Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry, North Carolina's official historic military command, gather for an event in town.
The carriage Lafayette rode in when he visited Fayetteville in 1825 is on permanent display at the FILI Museum. He was accompanied by FILI during his visit.
In 1838, Congress chose Fayetteville as site of a U.S. arsenal. The handsome brick-and-stone buildings on Haymount were an ornament to the antebellum village. During the Civil War, the arsenal was taken cover by the Confederacy. It turned out rifles, gun carriages, and ammunition for Confederate armies. In that war, hundreds of Fayetteville men were soldiers for Confederate armies. In later years of the war, the town maintained convalescent hospitals for wounded soldiers. In the 20th century, Fayetteville was site of a home for widows of Confederate veterans. On March 11, 1865, the arsenal was recaptured by the Union army commanded by General William Tecumseh Sherman. The column of troops, 60,000 strong, marched into Fayetteville as the climax to a great sweep across the heartland of the Confederacy. The arsenal was razed as Sherman’s triumphant column headed north out of the town. The arsenal grounds and footings are a state historical site. Remnants of three other Civil War military earthworks still exist in and around the city. The Civil War story in Fayetteville can be walked through a series of informative plaques known as "the Civil War Trail."
The remnants of the Fayetteville Arsenal can be toured at Arsenal Park, part of the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex. The Ghost Tower in the background is a replica of one of the Arsenal original towers.
A Civil War battle is reenacted at Campbellton Landing.
Fayetteville’s rich array of volunteer military units lists several pioneering African-American outfits. Earliest mention of such a militia company is in 1876, when a unit known as "The Fayetteville Rifle Guards (Colored)" led the march line in the Fourth of July parade. In later decades of the 19th century, the local African-American company was the "Howard Light Infantry." African-American soldiers served in the Spanish-American War, and hundreds became Doughboys in World War I. Walter Richardson, a Fayetteville African-American soldier, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery in the trenches of France in 1918.
Fayetteville is a center of military medicine and care of veterans. In 1938, the U.S. government built what is today’s Veterans Medical Center, which has served veterans of conflicts back to World War I. A state veterans home and an official military cemetery are located in the area.
Fayetteville’s modern military heritage of course centers in Fort Bragg. "Camp Bragg" was established in 1918 when the Army expanded its field artillery training facilities for World War I. Named for Confederate General Braxton Bragg, a former U.S. Army artillery officer from North Carolina, the camp became a permanent post and was renamed Fort Bragg in 1922. Fort Bragg’s rich airborne history and tradition was informally launched in 1934 when artillery spotters jumped from a balloon platform.
In 1940, Fort Bragg exploded from a sleepy peacetime post of a few thousand soldiers to a sprawling training cantonment of more than 60,000. When World War II came on December 7, 1941, thousands of Fort Bragg troops deployed for battlefronts in every corner of the world. In 1942, the burgeoning airborne element of the Army relocated to Fort Bragg from Fort Benning, Ga. The post has been "Home of the Airborne" ever since.
Fayetteville has a unique position in American society in regard to the country’s history with Vietnam and the Vietnam War. The community currently has both a considerable population of native-born Vietnamese and one of the highest concentrations of Vietnam Veterans in the United States. Fort Bragg was also one of the largest points of deployment for hundreds of thousands of soldiers during the Vietnam War.
Today, Fort Bragg is the world’s largest airborne facility with more than 45,000 military personnel. It is permanent home to the 82nd Airborne Division and the 18th Airborne Corps, as well as dozens of supporting units. It is also home to the ’tip of the spear’ forces known as Special Operations, the fabled "Green Berets," as well as Psychological Operations Command, the super-secret Delta Force, and the colorful "Golden Knights" of the U.S. Army Parachute Team Fort Bragg and neighboring Pope Air Force Base form one of the largest military complexes in the world.
Soldiers at Fort Bragg undergo a division review during All-American Week.
A ceremony honoring the flags of all 50 states is conducted during Operation Celebrate Freedom, a 2007 Southeast Tourism Society top-20-award-winning event.
The military heritage of Fayetteville and Fort Bragg is told in museums and outdoor displays. At Fort Bragg, post museums are dedicated to the history of 82nd Airborne Division and to the Green Berets. An airplane park at Pope displays aircraft from the base’s many missions. In downtown Fayetteville, the world-class Airborne and Special Operations Museum features displays from World War II through the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The FILI Museum displays uniforms and weapons going back to the War of 1812. The Cape Fear Museum and Arsenal Complex offers events featuring uniformed re-enactors and live-fire artillery demonstrations.
One of North Carolina's Top 20 public attractions and AAA-GEM-rated, the Airborne & Special Operations Museum is located in the heart of downtown Fayetteville.
Two museums on Fort Bragg: the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum and the JFK Special Warfare Museum, offer insights into modern military history in greater Fayetteville.