Raid on Morganton banner



[Source: Atlas Editions; Civil War Cards]

On June 13, 1864, Union Col. George W. Kirk set out from Morristown, Tennessee, with a partisan band of 130 men for a daring raid into the mountains of North Carolina. His primary objective was to capture Camp Vance, A Confederate training camp at Morganton. Besides raiding 75 miles behind the Rebel lines, however, Kirk also had a second daring objective: knowing that Morganton was the end of the rail line on the eastern side of the mountains, Kirk wanted to capture a locomotive, run down the tracks to Salisbury, liberate Union soldiers in the prison there, and then carry them back to Union lines.

Kirk's men rode swiftly through the mountains, arriving undetected on the outskirts of Morganton on the morning of June 28. The training camp contained only about 277 conscripts; the senior officer on duty was a lieutenant named Bullock. Kirk boldly walked up to the camp and demanded from Bullock an immediate surrender. Most accounts of the incident say there was no resistance, but as 11 Rebels were killed, some fighting must have occurred before Kirk took over the camp. After torching the camp, Kirk's men rode into Morganton, where they destroyed a locomotive and four cars, along with 1,200 weapons and other military supplies.

Learning that other detachments of Rebel soldiers were converging on Morganton, Kirk decided against the Salisbury rescue plan and started back over the mountains. About 14 miles from Morganton, a detachment of 65 Rebel soldiers caught up with the raiders, and Kirk had to turn and make a stand. He positioned about 20 of his prisoners in front of his line as a shield; two of them were shot before the Yankees pulled out and continued westward. Forced to stop again near Piedmont Springs, Kirk's men easily repulsed a Home Guard unit before continuing their trek to Knoxville.

The raiders, who had lost two men killed and five wounded and had captured 132 prisoners and 48 horses and mules, were greeted as heroes in Knoxville. General William T. Sherman sent his congratulations for a job well done.

Forty of the Confederate conscripts that Kirk captured opted to join his unit as Union soldiers rather than go to a Northern prison.