By Catherine Pritchard
Long before paratroopers floated from planes onto training areas on Fort Bragg, people roamed across the land.
Thousands of years ago, nomadic families of hunters and gatherers roamed through these piney sandhills, stopping to camp briefly and forage for food.
In the 18th century, the land was home to Native Americans, Highland Scots who had emigrated to America and to African-Americans, most of whom were enslaved.
In 1865, the area was the site of one of the final battles of the Civil War.
A few decades later, members of some of the nation’s wealthiest families would build country retreats on portions of the land.
All of this history and more is collected by the Cultural Resources Management Program at Fort Bragg, which is charged with promoting stewardship and preservation of the post’s non-renewable cultural resources to share with today’s public and future generations.
Recently, three archaeologists who work in that program talked about the post’s history at a lecture at Fayetteville Technical Community College. The lecture, open to the public, was the first of several being planned by the college’s history department on Community History. Future lectures may cover such topics as the Marquis de Lafayette, World War I and Blackbeard and his ship the Queen Anne’s Revenge, said Dr. Daniel P. Stewart, a history and humanities instructor at FTCC.
The history of the land now occupied by Fort Bragg was a natural first subject, though, because of Stewart’s familiarity with the Civil War battle known as Monroe’s Crossroads. Stewart, a retired master sergeant, wrote his master’s thesis about the impact on Fayetteville of Gen. William T. Sherman and his Army back in 1865. During his research, Stewart was helped by the Cultural Resources office at Fort Bragg.
But the lecture led off with information that predated that battle by several thousand years.
Dr. Joseph Herbert described the prehistory of the area – times before written records.
That information is deduced through studying excavated sites and analysis of artifacts and other physical remains – the essence of archaeology. “It’s how we know what we know,” Herbert said.
Through these studies, Herbert said, it’s possible to know that humans arrived in the Sandhills about 12,000 years ago, during the Stone Age. When Fort Bragg sought to establish a new ammunition supply point on the post, the Cultural Resources office first had to study the site. Remarkably, excavations turned up evidence of a campsite and stone tools, indications that humans had camped there briefly about 12,000 years ago.
“It’s a time capsule,” said Herbert, who showed photos of spear points, pottery and other artifacts known to have been made by prehistoric peoples at different times and locations based on factors such as their design and composition.
Dr. Linda F. Carnes-McNaughton talked about the historic settlement of the Sandhills, predominately by three ethnic groups – Native Americans, immigrant Highland Scots and African-Americans.
Early settlers were subsistence farmers and many made a living off the cash crop of the time – forests of longleaf pines, which were used to produce tar, pitch and turpentine – all critical naval stores. The practice eventually exhausted huge numbers of the trees, which were then used for lumber or otherwise cut down to clear land.
But artifacts, including old tools, help tell the tale of the area. So do other remains.
Still standing on Fort Bragg are Long Street Presbyterian Church, founded in 1765, and Sandy Grove Presbyterian Church, built in 1854 to serve Long Street Presbyterian families who were tired of trekking an additional 16 miles by horse or buggy. Both church buildings are preserved by Fort Bragg, and tours can be arranged through the post’s Cultural Resources office.
Behind the churches are two of the 26 historical cemeteries on Fort Bragg and Camp Mackall, another Army training area just west of Fort Bragg.
The cemeteries provide plenty of information, Carnes-McNaughton said – not just the names of the people who lived and died here, but evidence of epidemics, the difficulties of childbirth and life in general, as well as biographical information. At one time, many headstones were doubtlessly inscribed in Gaelic, the mother tongue of the Highland Scots. One remains legible behind Long Street Presbyterian. Others bear the inscription “Born in Scotland.”
The cemetery at Long Street Presbyterian includes a mass grave of Confederate soldiers killed at the nearby Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads on March 10, 1865.
Jonathan Schleier, another archaeologist with the Cultural Resources office, related the tale of that battle and the fateful actions – and inactions – that led to it. Union cavalry troops camped at the crossroads on their way to Fayetteville and a bridge over the Cape Fear River but failed to set guards at their rear perimeter. Confederate forces made a surprise attack, caught the Union troops sleeping and unprepared, and took the whole area.
Then, though, order broke down as the hungry and ill-equipped Confederates started looting Union supplies. Union forces reorganized, returned for a counterattack and won the day – though Confederate troops still beat them to Fayetteville and prevented their easy passage over the Cape Fear River by blowing up a bridge. It did nothing to change the fate of the Confederacy. Less than a month later, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered.
“Fort Bragg’s history and the sites that retain it are resources of value that enrich not only our lives but all those who come to know them,” Herbert said later.
He said the staff of the Cultural Resources Management Program has worked diligently over 30 years to preserve these resources and is pleased to share its knowledge with the public.
For information about the program at Fort Bragg, call 910-396-6680. For information about future lectures at FTCC about local community history, check the college’s website – www.faytechcc.edu – and social media sites.