During March and April of 1865, troops under command of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston fought General William T. Sherman’s 60,000-man force as it marched north through the Carolinas during the final weeks of the Civil War. On March 11, Sherman captured the town of Fayetteville, North Carolina, and promptly destroyed the Fayetteville arsenal.
Prior to Sherman’s arrival many Southern women worked at the Fayetteville Arsenal, turning out the .58 caliber lead ball cartridges called “minnies” as well as rockets and shells. Approximately 900,000 rounds of small arms munitions were manufactured at the Fayetteville Arsenal over a seven-month period in 1864. Much of the arsenal’s machinery was manufactured at Harper’s Ferry prior to the war.
During the Civil War, women were active on both home fronts. In Fayetteville, women formed groups like the Soldier’s Aid Society, the Sick Soldier’s Relief Society, and the North Carolina Soldier’s Benevolent Society. In Richmond, Mrs. Robert E. Lee and others made bandages for the wounded. Women North and South scraped cotton to make lint for packing wounds, and knit socks to keep their soldier’s feet warm and dry. A few, Louisa May Alcott among them, braved the battlefront as nurses.
In a 1939 interview, Moina Belle Michael placed her grandmother’s story within the context of a popular new novel:
Oh, what a time people had in those days, I think it was remarkable how my grandmother carried on after her father died…she was only eighteen…she took the plantation over and managed it successfully. He was a large land owner and had many slaves. But Sherman’s March…changed all that. I think that the things in Margaret Mitchell’s book ‘Gone With The Wind’ were true…When I was a child and saw those stately men and women so noble and fine it never occurred to me a bad person ever lived.
[“The Poppy Lady”]. Moina Belle Michael, interviewee; Athens, Georgia, February 8-9, 1939. American Life Histories: Manscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division