Civil War in Western North Carolina

Civil War in Western North Carolina

Before the Civil War began in 1861, most people here were opposed to secession. After the attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, however, opinion turned to support of the Southern cause, and many men volunteered for military service. But as the war dragged on for four long and brutal years, it took a terrible toll on the Southern mountains. The war brought social chaos and personal suffering. Lawless groups known as “bushwhackers” terrorized the population. Basic commodities such as salt became so scarce that people were driven to desperate measures simply to survive.

The economic strain on the communities of western North Carolina was severe but unequal. The local landed and commercial elite suffered losses of revenue. A number of wealthy lowland families who had summer homes in the mountains relocated to the Asheville area to ride out the war. They brought their own provisions and their own slaves with them. But the majority of the population — small farm owners who did not own slaves – suffered the effects of an economic “perfect storm.” Small farmers who relied on surplus crops to trade for other necessities saw these surpluses go to supply troops. With male members of families in the military many farm fields went unplanted. Consequently, an act of nature such as a cold winter, a drought, a death in the family, a cholera epidemic among the hog population, could spell disaster. In addition most communities lost the services of their most valuable tradesmen, as blacksmiths, millers, tanners, doctors, and shoemakers went to the war effort. There were no railroads in the mountains and the existing roads quickly fell into disrepair.


In December of 1859 in response to the raid on Harper’s Ferry, W.W. McDowell organized a local volunteer company known as the Buncombe Riflemen. With McDowell as its captain it left Asheville in 1861 and as Company E of the North Carolina First Volunteer Infantry participated in the Battle of Big Bethel on June 10, 1861. This was the first major land battle of the Civil War.


After his early service to the Confederacy in 1861, W.W. McDowell fell ill and was forced to return home. He went back to the war the next year to serve as a major in the North Carolina 60th Infantry Regiment and participated in the Chickamauga and Bentonville campaigns.


Cavalry Saber from the Civil War



This is the saber W.W. McDowell carried in the Civil War. 1860 Model with Scabbard N.P. Ames Company, 1861


Both Union and Confederate sides faced increasing difficulty in raising both troops and funds as the war continued for four years. By 1864 W.W. McDowell had returned to Asheville to serve as a Confederate Treasury officer for the sale of war bonds. This bond receipt bears his signature.