POST-BATTLE PERIOD, 1776-1897
Despite the significance of the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge, the battleground was virtually forgotten after the Revolutionary War. In 1791, the land was granted by patent to John Jones, the first private owner of the site. The battleground's importance remained unrecognized until the Fayetteville Observer printed an article deploring the site's neglect in 1856. Inspired by this article, a group of citizen from several New Hanover County communities met at Long Creek on February 9, 1856, and planned a picnic for the eightieth anniversary of the battle. On February 27, fifteen hundred people attended the celebration at the battleground.
On January 10, 1857, another group met in Wilmington and appointed committees from New Hanover, Duplin, Lenoir, Wayne, Cumberland, Bladen, Columbus, and Brunswick Counties to solicit funds for a monument to Grady and the other Patriots who fought at the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge. The Patriot Monument, or Grady Monument, was initiated with the laying of a cornerstone during the second anniversary celebration on February 27. Interest in these commemorative efforts declined in subsequent years; the next celebration was not held until 1876 during the Revolutionary War centennial.
THE MOORES CREEK MONUMENTAL ASSOCIATION, 1897-1926
Although commemorative efforts at the Moores Creek battleground had begun in the 1850s, four decades passed before the site became a public park. In 1897, the State of North Carolina acquired two tracts of land that totaled ten acres and included the traces of Lillington's earthworks on the east side of Moores Creek. Since the state was not prepared to administer the battleground, the Moores Creek Monumental Association (MCMA) was chartered in March 1899 as a private organization of Pender County residents funded in part by state appropriations. Sponsored by Gibson James, a local representative in the North Carolina General Assembly, the act to create the MCMA authorized the organization to improve the battleground, protect the site, and "do such other things as tend to inspire among our people state and national pride and a higher appreciation of patriotic manhood."
The efforts of the state and the MCMA were part of a larger atmosphere of patriotism throughout the nation in the late nineteenth century. The centennial of the Revolutionary War during the 1870s and 1880s fueled this sentiment. In addition to numerous private efforts to mark this event through celebrations and the erection of memorials, the U. S. Congress commissioned a study of Revolutionary War battlefields and provided funds for eight battle monuments. In the South, patriotism was heightened by the Lost Cause, the commemoration by white southerners of the Confederate effort during the Civil War.
Within the context of patriotic commemoration, the MCMA was inspired by the efforts of the Guilford Battle Ground Company in the state's Piedmont region. This private company was chartered in 1887 to acquire and preserve part of the Guilford Courthouse battleground as a public park. Rather than attempt a restoration of the battleground as a historical site, the Guilford Battle Ground Company created a commemorative park for recreational use by the residents of nearby Greensboro. This park eventually included numerous monuments, ornamental plantings, an artificial lake, a restaurant, and other visitor facilities. The company's development and use of the Guilford Courthouse battleground were virtually duplicated by the MCMA on a smaller scale in eastern North Carolina.
At its first meeting on July 4, 1899, the MCMA elected officers and a board of directors, including James F. Moore as president. More importantly, the association set the tone for its development and use of the Moores Creek battleground. The MCMA resolved to hold a celebration at the site the following month and authorized the initial development of the park as a commemorative and recreational area. The inaugural celebration attracted five thousand people to the battleground, and subsequent celebrations of the battle's anniversary became the primary use of the park during its management by the MCMA. The site was developed accordingly with recreational facilities for the celebrations and picnics. After a residence was built at the battleground in 1907, the association hired a caretaker to maintain and protect the site.
Funding for the MCMA's activities came primarily from annual state appropriations and concession fees at the annual celebrations. Between 1900 and 1913, North Carolina senators and congressmen introduced a total of seventeen bills in the U. S. Congress authorizing federal appropriations for work at the battleground. However, none of these efforts were successful. The association did not raise funds for battleground improvements or activities beyond the state appropriations and concession fees. Due to limited funds available, the association did not hold the annual celebrations during some years.
The physical development of the Moores Creek battleground was guided by the MCMA's vision of the site as a commemorative park for annual celebrations and other recreational uses. The ten-acre tract was expanded in 1907 with the purchase of twenty acres. While preserving traces of the historic road causeway and earthworks at the site, the MCMA superimposed a formal park landscape that included straight roads, lawns, ornamental plantings, and monuments with iron fencing. The MCMA began erecting recreational facilities in 1899 with the construction of a large pavilion for use during the celebrations. However, the main period of development occurred between 1907 and 1908 with the construction of a second pavilion, two concession stands, two artesian wells, a keeper's residence, a jail, a stable, and fencing around the park. The original pavilion burned in 1919, giving way to construction of a floored pavilion in 1922 along with two latrines and two well gazebos. Besides these facilities, the MCMA's development of the site included additional monuments such as the 1907 Heroic Women of the Lower Cape Fear Monument in memory of Mary Slocumb, the 1909 Loyalist Monument, the 1911 Stage Road Monument, and the 1913 Moore Monument in memory of the association's first president. In 1909, two Civil War cannon with carriages were donated by the U. S. Congress to the association for use at the battleground.
The MCMA, renamed the Moores Creek Battleground Association (MCBA) in 1915, managed the battleground as a commemorative and recreational site for nearly three decades. By the 1920s, the association was pursuing federal designation of the battleground as a national military park.
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF MOORES CREEK NATIONAL MILITARY PARK
At the MCBA's August 1923 meeting, U. S. Congressman Charles L. Abernethy agreed to spearhead the effort to designate the Moores Creek battleground as a national military park. In May 1924, he introduced a bill authorizing its establishment, but the bill saw no activity during the session. On the battle's anniversary in 1925, the North Carolina General Assembly passed two resolutions concerning the battleground--one calling for the creation of a national military park and the other authorizing the donation of the site to the federal government for that purpose. With support from the state, Abernethy again introduced the bill as House Resolution (HR) 3796 in December 1925, while Senator Lee Slater Overman introduced companion legislation in the Senate. Supporters of the bill received endorsements from several sources. The Army War College issued a report detailing the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge; the reference section of the Library of Congress prepared a similar document. A resolution in support of a national military park at Moores Creek was passed by the North Carolina State Conference of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and endorsed by the National Society of the DAR at a Washington meeting in April 1926.
HR 3796 received a public hearing before the House Military Affairs Committee on April 20 and 21, 1926. Speakers included Abernethy and a delegation of North Carolina DAR members. Abernethy discussed the resolutions of the North Carolina General Assembly, the Army War College report, and the resolution of the National Society of the DAR in arguing for the creation of a national military park. DAR members testified before the committee as to the significance of the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge. They described the battle as the South's Lexington and compared Mary Slocumb's ride to that of Paul Revere. In addition to the battleground's historical significance, arguments on behalf of the legislation reflected some of the prevailing concerns over the nation's growing immigrant population. One DAR member stated "I feel that in this day, with the coming of so much flotsam and jetsam from foreign countries, it is of the very highest importance to preserve as national monuments places of such historical importance as Moores Creek battle field." On May 6, the committee reported to the House with a recommendation that the bill be approved.
With the favorable committee report, the House passed HR 3796 on May 12, 1926. The following day, the bill was referred to the Senate Library Committee and received a recommendation for approval. Overman directed the bill through this committee rather than the Senate Military Affairs Committee due to concern that the latter body would be less supportive. After passage by the Senate on May 20, HR 3796 was signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge on June 2.  The State of North Carolina deeded the thirty-acre battleground to the United States on July 8, and the War Department officially accepted responsibility for operating Moores Creek National Military Park (NMP) on August 23.
Had Congress not passed the Moores Creek legislation in 1926, the national military park may have never been established. The number of bills for new national military parks skyrocketed during the 1920s due to patriotic fervor following the nation's victory in World War I, a booming economy, and increased automobile travel. Congress was overwhelmed by the number of proposals and the potential costs of developing and maintaining additional parks. Nine days after Coolidge signed the Moores Creek legislation into law, Congress passed a bill commissioning the War Department to study the significance of the nation's battlegrounds and recommend appropriate strategies for commemoration. Conducted from 1926 to 1932 with periodic reports to Congress, the study classified the battlegrounds into three categories. Class I battlefields were deemed worthy of national military park status; Class IIA battlefields required extensive interpretive marker schemes; and Class IIB battlefields required a single tablet, marker, or monument on a tract of minimal size. Although the War Department classified Moores Creek as a Class IIB battlefield, a park at the battleground site had already been authorized by Congress.
Moores Creek became the ninth federal battlefield park created by Congress. The legislation passed during a fiscally conservative time when Congress felt overwhelmed by numerous proposals for national military parks, including ones commemorating battles arguably more significant than Moores Creek. Congress approved the legislation for Moores Creek while rejecting other proposals for several reasons. First, the state and the MCMA had already developed the battleground as a park. Second, the battleground was a small site that required minimal maintenance costs. Third, the state agreed to donate the property to the federal government. Fourth, Congress passed the legislation prior to the adoption of a systematic approach to creating national military parks. In the end, the relatively small scale of the Moores Creek proposal seemed more reasonable to Congress than other proposals for larger parks with greater costs.
WAR DEPARTMENT ADMINISTRATION, 1926-1933
After assuming control of Moores Creek NMP, the War Department appointed George J. Moore, the second president of the MCBA, as superintendent. In 1928, he received approval for a caretaker position and hired his son, Charles P. Moore. Essentially, the staff's duties were to maintain the orderly appearance of the grounds and assist in the coordination of occasional celebrations by the association. These gatherings continued to be the only significant use of the park for several years after its establishment.
Like the MCBA, the War Department managed Moores Creek as a commemorative park for recreational use. No attempt was made to recreate the battle-period landscape, as staff routinely mowed the grounds and annually burned the swamp. Areas around the monuments and along the roads were sodded and planted with formal flowers and shrubbery, New facilities included a barn and a stable to house the park's horse and mower.
Figures 5 and 6. The War Department Monument and the reconstructed bridge, 1938.
Beyond formal landscaping, the War Department's development activities at the park consisted mainly of erecting several commemorative and interpretive structures. Perhaps the most interesting of these additions were the graves of Mary and Ezekiel Slocumb at the base of the Heroic Women Monument. In 1927, Abernethy and the DAR's Stamp Defiance Chapter in Wilmington suggested that the remains of the Slocumbs be relocated from Mount Olive, North Carolina, to further commemorate Mary Slocumb's ride. After delays due to a 1928 flood, reinterment took place in September 1929. In addition, the War Department undertook the first significant effort to interpret the actual events of the battle-a significant change from the MCBA's commemorative focus. Inscribed with a text prepared by the Army War College, the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge Monument was erected in 1931. During the same year, the battle-period bridge was reconstructed at the historic creek crossing, although the design was based solely on conjecture rather than authenticating research.
The final development action by the War Department at Moores Creek was the installation of entrance gates in 1932. On August 10, 1933, the War Department's administration of the park ended as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Executive Orders 6166 and 6228 transferred federal battlefields to the National Park Service (NPS) within the Department of the Interior.
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