Deep River Cotton Factories in the Civil War

[First draft of copy for the Franklinville Civil War Trails marker– far too long, but including citations and background.]

Franklinville tells the story of Deep River’s unique place in Civil War history, with sites representing Randolph County’s anti-slavery and anti-war sentiment as well as North Carolina’s military and industrial support for the confederate cause.  The Franklinville Manufacturing Company, to your right, was built in 1838 by a group of Quaker abolitionists and is the oldest standing water-powered textile mill in North Carolina. Within two miles east (downstream) stood the 1846 Island Ford factory and the 1850 Columbia factory, both now destroyed. Further upstream on Deep River were the Union Factory (1848, at Randleman), and Freeman’s Mill and Oakdale Mill (1861, Jamestown), in Guilford County.

Two miles upstream stands Franklinville’s war-time corporate partner, the 1846 Cedar Falls Manufacturing Company. Two of the chief stockholders in the combined “Cedar Falls Company” were State Treasurer (later Governor) Jonathan Worth, and his brother Milton (the state Salt Commissioner).   From 1861 to 1865 the Franklinville/ Cedar Falls mills combined to spin cotton yarn and weave sheeting which was cut and sewn by local seamstresses into “shirts and drawers” (long underwear worn under the woolen uniforms). Bales of these were shipped by ox cart to the North Carolina Railroad in High Point, then distributed to troops by the quartermaster from warehouses in Raleigh. The Cedar Falls Company was the largest single supplier of these goods to the quartermaster during the war.

The corporation organized a company of volunteer troops from the Cedar Falls and Franklinsville area (Company M, 22nd N.C. Regiment, known as the “Randolph Hornets”), with the factory paying all expenses for uniforms and equipment.  The Hornets were mustered into service and were drilled and outfitted at Middleton Academy, a college preparatory school located between Cedar Falls and Franklinsville.  Both mills declared a holiday to see the men march off to war on July 10, 1861.i

The economic embargo was hard on southern factories, with special materials required for textile manufacture becoming increasingly difficult to find.  Early in the war goods such as lubricating oil, spare parts and card clothing were obtained from England via blockade runner.  By war’s end the factories were trying to make do with inferior substitutes which caused frequent breakdowns and loss of production. Skilled employees also became hard to find. With the loss of military-age males, the factories increasingly turned to women and children for labor, and working hours were extended into the evening hours.ii

From the beginning of the war the Deep River factories were seen as an economic target. Troops were stationed at each factory to protect it from damage or destruction by roving gangs of deserters and anti-Confederate saboteurs. In June, 1861 Franklinville factory stockholders organized the county’s first Home Guard unit to protect the factories from “the Abolitionist and Lincolnite among us”. Units of Mallett’s Battalion of the Raleigh Guards were camped in Franklinville throughout the fall of 1863, and on August 15, 1864, four members of a “Senior Reserves” unit were ambushed and killed on the road from Franklinville to Asheboro.

Many other North Carolina factories fell victim to military operations.  The Great Falls cotton mill in Rockingham was burned by Sherman’s advance forces on March 7, 1865.  Seven of the eight Fayetteville factories were burned by Sherman on March 12th.iii The Patterson woolen factory near Lenoir was burned by Stoneman’s Raiders on March 28, and the Elkin woolen factory on April 1.iv On April 10 Stoneman burned cotton storehouses and railroad bridges in High Point and Jamestown before turning west toward Salisbury, where cotton factories were burned on April 12th.v On entering Raleigh on April 14, Sherman issued orders that his army would next move to Asheborough on its way to Salisbury and Charlotte.  If General Johnston had not surrendered at Bentonville on April 18th, the Deep River factories would certainly have been destroyed by the federal “total war” against Confederate manufacturing.vi

More than two dozen buildings in Franklinville date from the antebellum period, including “underground railroad” activist Elisha Coffin’svii home (1835), the factory (1838/1851), Hanks Masonic Lodge (1850), and the homes of workers and mill supervisors.  The sites of the Bush Creek Iron Works, Middleton Academy and the Cedar Falls factory are a short walk up the riverside rail trail.  The grave of Lt. Elisha C. Horney, Elisha Coffin’s grandson killed at Gettysburg, can be found in the hilltop Methodist cemetery, among those of other veterans.

[SIDEBAR: North Carolina under Governor Zebulon Vance was the most successful of all southern states in supplying the needs of its soldiers.viii Vance held exclusive control of several textile mills and purchased one-third of the production of the remainder of the state’s forty-six factories.ix In return, certain vital technical employees were exempt from military service.x In March 1863, the state Clothing Bureau reported the annual production of 75,000 uniforms from purchase of “four hundred thousand yards wool cloth, and seven hundred thousand yards sheeting and osnaburgs.”xi An 1864 production census revealed that North Carolina’s factories produced the annual equivalent of 9 million yards of cloth, more than half of the total production of all the Lower South states.xii]

SIDEBAR: Not far from Middleton Academy was the Bush Creek Iron Works, the only iron foundry or “bloomery” operating in the county during the war.  Ore mined at Iron Mountain, about 2 miles southwest, was cast into “pigs” in a charcoal-fired furnace, and processed into bar iron on forges with water-powered trip hammers.  The quality of the iron produced there was so high that it was reserved for special projects such as the propeller shafts and drive trains of the ironclads built on the NC coast during the war.  The total output of the iron works was small, however, and it never filled all of its contracts with the Confederate Nitre and Mining Bureau.

i Wilson 43

ii Wilson 151.

iii Wilson 217

iv Wilson 224

v Wilson 226

vi Wilson, id.

viiLevi Coffin: Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, The Reputed President of the Underground Railroad,” Cincinnati, 1876. p. 34.

viii Each winter a North Carolina soldier was given two uniforms, two shirts, and two pairs of “drawers.” In September, 1862, that required a state outlay of $500,000. Wilson, p. 53.

ix Wilson, pp. 101,118 and 123.

x Wilson 109

xi Wilson, 111, from “Letters Received by CMG,” NCDAH.

xii Wilson 118


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