Civil War trails come to Wayne County
By Matt Shaw
Published in News on April 3, 2005 9:55 AM
One hundred and forty years ago, General William T. Sherman and 60,000 U.S. Army troops cut a swath across North Carolina as they pushed to bring an end to the Civil War. In the process, they destroyed an arsenal in Fayetteville and fought at Bentonville before encamping and refortifying outside Goldsboro.
Beginning this summer, car- and busloads of Civil War enthusiasts will be conducting their own eastern North Carolina campaigns. And hopes are high that they will also eat, sleep and resupply in Wayne County.
Four county sites are featured on the new North Carolina Civil War Trail. "Carolinas Campaign: End of the War" was unveiled two weeks ago as a map and on websites, and local hoteliers are already getting calls. One has booked a tour group that's following the trail.
"Geographically, we're in an ideal location. This is just a natural stopping place," said Marlise Taylor, Goldsboro's tourism and travel director.
Interest in the Civil War seems to grow each year. The April issue of National Geographic magazine features a story on saving battlefields from development, and contains a pull-out map of significant sites.
Goldsboro, or Goldsborough as it was spelled at the time, is prominent, as is nearby Bentonville.
The new North Carolina map features more than 100 locations with Civil War significance. They range as far west as a military prison near Salisbury; as far north as the Roanoke Canal Museum in Roanoke Rapids, commemorating a Confederate supply route; as far east as Freedman's Colony on Roanoke Island, where escaped slaves sought federal protection; and as far south as Fort Fisher, "the Gibraltar of the South."
But many of the attractions are between Durham and Morehead City and either along, or a short distance from, U.S. 70. Besides having four attractions, which include two battlefields, Wayne County is in the center of the map.
"You guys are right in the middle of everything and, I think, stand to benefit from all of this," said Don Pierce, the publisher of CivilWarTraveler.com.
Pierce's website has more than 1,500 visitors a day, or more than 500,000 per year, looking for information on Civil War sites, events and battle re-creations from South Carolina to Pennsylvania. In the two weeks since the new map was posted, hundreds of people have downloaded it, he said Monday.
The N.C. Division of Tourism has printed a million paper copies of the map brochure, which are being distributed at the state's welcome centers on Interstate 95 and other highways; in local chambers of commerce and visitor bureaus; at hotels; and via mail. They will also be given out at Civil War sites in other states.
The N.C. Civil War Heritage Trails is funded by a $1.1 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration and is based on the successful programs in Virginia, Maryland and at Gettysburg, Penn., and at Harper's Ferry, W.Va.
"They may have more battlefields, but we have plenty of Civil War history too," said Teresa Watts, the state's director of heritage tourism. "We have incredible stories about ordinary people living in the most extraordinary and difficult circumstances. You just have to know where to look for them."
The grant helped the state pay for signs, most of which have been installed. The remaining ones will be up before summer.
Each attraction will have a historical marker, most including photos and maps, that explain its significance. Many will describe in detail how the war affected everyday life, even when the battles were far away, Ms. Watts said. The state depended on local historians, like Randy Sauls of Goldsboro, to develop the text for the signs.
Those markers cost around $5,500 each, including a $1,100 local match.
The state will also be putting up signs to lead people from the highways to the attractions. The Civil War trail programs in Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina all use white directional signs with red stripes, red bugles and blue bands with white stars.
"People who are looking for them learn to spot them," she said.
This is just a first step for the state. A second Civil War map will be produced within a year to promote western locations in the western part of the state.
Also, at the urging of state Sen. John Kerr, the General Assembly created two new positions in the state Department of Cultural Resources to work exclusively on promoting Civil War tourism in eastern North Carolina.
Those new employees will work out of the visitor's center at the Waynesborough Historical Village and are expected to begin this month.
Kerr believes that this part of the state could attract many tourists once the new section of U.S. 117 is completed next year. Many people are expected to view the new road as a shortcut from I-95 to I-40.
"We have a real opportunity to do some advertising," Kerr has said.
Copies of the map are available at the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce, 308 N. William St., and the Mount Olive Chamber of Commerce, 123 N. Center St.
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