George W. Kirk

(Photo)

Men in East Tennessee meeting
swear allegiance to the Union



[Source: Atlas Editions; Civil War Cards]



Born in Greene County, Tennessee, George W. Kirk enlisted in the Confederate army but deserted at his first opportunity. Kirk began his service to the Union along the western North Carolina and Tennessee border as a guide for Unionist mountaineers and escaped prisoners of war who were looking for the Yankee lines. Kirk also found safe houses for refugees, and he recruited men to be part-time guerrillas and guides.

In 1863 the 25 year old colonel personally led or ordered many raids into North Carolina. Intended to gather intelligence and steal horses, his raids often resulted in gratuitous violence. Considered a bold and efficient partisan raider by Unionists, Kirk was feared by others living in western North Carolina as a ruthless guerrilla commander. One of Kirk's raids in 1863 was against the men at the annual meeting of the French Broad Baptist Association held at a church near Mars Hill. In October Kirk boldly led 600 to 800 men into Warm Springs, North Carolina.

By mid 1864 Kirk commanded two small regiments of mounted partisans; the 2nd and 3rd North Carolina Mounted Volunteers. Deserters, renegade Cherokees, and "Home Yankees" from the region, they all served only when needed. Kirk provided his men with stolen horses, and with proceeds from stolen goods, he bought them Spencer repeating rifles. In June 1864 Kirk burned first Camp Vance and then train cars and military supplies in Morganton; he then used prisoners from Morganton as a human shield when a Confederate militia unit attacked. After the Morganton raid, Kirk returned to Knoxville, Tennessee, a hero with 40 new recruits, 132 prisoners and 48 mules and horses.

In February 1865 Kirk led 600 men into Waynesville, North Carolina, where they pillaged the town, stole some 150 horses, killed 20 defenders and captured 20 more. In Waynesville Kirk burned down the home of Colonel Robert Love, a local Revolutionary War hereo. On their way back to Tennessee, Kirk and his men would have been wiped out if the Rebels who had them pinned down in the mountains had not run out of bullets. Kirk continued his reign of terror until the war ended.



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