Organization and Early Service

Western North Carolina was the most fertile portion of the state in Union sympathies. Shepherd N. Dugger told of a night in August, 1861, when he, as a six year old boy, saw eight young men from Banner Elk slip away into the darkness headed for service in the Union army. 1 The number of men like Dugger's friends who fled over the mountains to Northern service is unknown, but the figure could be as high as four thousand. 2 It is also believed that slightly over one hundred eighty were killed attempting to escape to Union lines. 3 It was men of this sort who made their way to Knoxville and on October 6, 1863, were mustered into Companies A, B, and C of the Second North Carolina Mounted Infantry. Company E was created four days later in the same town. Companies F and H were also mustered in on October 6 at Walker's Ford, Tennessee. Company D was the last filled, being organized also at Walker's Ford on December 9, 1863. 4

The Second was originally called the First North Carolina Mounted Infantry. 5 Apparently someone got the word that there was already a First North Carolina Infantry on the east coast and changed its designation to the Second Mounted. When the Second Infantry was organized at New Bern, one month after the Knoxville muster, the Western North Carolinians were either overlooked or ignored.

On October 16, 1863, General Ambrose E. Burnside, then commanding the Army of the Ohio, ordered the Second Mounted to Greenville. 6 In November a Confederate raiding party appeared in the area collecting stock. Approached by Union soldiers of the Ninth Michigan and the Second North Carolina, they abandoned the animals which wore driven in by the Second, while the Michigan troops gave chase to the rebels. 7

Otherwise the Second created little attention in 1863. The close of the year found them near Maynardville under Captain Andrew J. Bahney, as part of General Orlando B. Wilcox's Left Wing Forces in the Army of the Ohio. This army was now commanded by Major General John J. Foster, a man who seemed to appear in some capacity wherever North Carolina Union soldiers traveled. 8

In January 1864, Brigadier General T. T. Garrard who commanded the District of the Clinch at Cumberland Gap, in which the Second was included, found that his cavalry was in need of horses and turned a greedy eye upon the Second North Carolina Mounted, which was mostly dismounted anyway. 9 The regiment probably numbered about two-hundred twenty men at this time 10 and Garrard estimated that they had about thirty horses. Because "a few mounted men in a regiment tend to demoralize the remainder, create confusion, and cause straggling," the General decided to turn their horses over to his cavalry. 11

One company of the Second (dismounted) Mounted celebrated Washington's birthday in the custody of the Confederate Army. This company and the Eleventh Tennessee (Union) Cavalry were "stationed at Wyerman's Mill," some "five miles east" of Cumberland Gap when they arose from their sleep completely surrounded. All were carted away to prison except for seven men from the Second who escaped. 12

By March 15 Garrard was again out of horses, there being only two in his whole command. The North Carolinians were still dismounted. Garrard had other difficulties to which the Second contributed. They and what remained of the Eleventh Tennessee Cavalry were "without discipline, especially the latter regiment and, with their present organization, of little value." 13

It was unfortunate for any group of soldiers to be "of little value" in the spring of 1864. Sherman was about to begin his march through Georgia and, as a part of his hoards, the Army of the Ohio, now commanded by General John H. Schofield, was expected to make a contribution. Perhaps with this in mind the First Brigade (Garrard's) of the Fourth Division 14 received a strict directive. The First Brigade would occupy Cumberland Gap, and keep open its line of communication with its depot of supplies in Kentucky. The Eleventh Tennessee Cavalry and the Second North Carolina Mounted Infantry, [would] be remounted as soon as horses [could be acquired and there was enough forage to feed them. These mounted units would] then protect the communication with Knoxville, and scout as far as practicable in front of Cumberland Gap, keeping inferior forces of the enemy at a distance and gaining early and accurate information of the movements of any superior force. Schofield added that, "Cumberland Gap must be held obstinately, and raids into Kentucky or Middle Tennessee prevented as far as possible with the troops of the First Brigade.'' 15

This was a fairly important assignment, but the original North Carolina mountain regiment was about to be placed in the shadows. In February Major George W. Kirk of the Second Mounted, was given authority "to raise a regiment of troops in the eastern front of Tennessee and western part of North Carolina." Kirk was "authorized to mount his regiment, or such portion of it as may from time to time be necessary, upon private or captured horses. This regiment will be known as the Third Regiment of North Carolina Mounted Infantry." 16 The number of recruiting officers who had been present for some time in the North Carolina mountains increased as the year 1864 progressed 17 and by June Kirk had enough men in Knoxville to organize his regiment. From that time onward the regiment did not stop growing until about three months before it was mustered out at the end of the war. 18 This can be explained by the new optimism which prevailed among North Carolina Unionists in 1864-1865 and by Confederate deserters who changed sides. 19

Company A was mustered in at Knoxville on June 11. Companies B, C, D, E and F were filled between May and late October at Knoxville and Bulls Gap, Tennessee. Company G was mustered in From June 11, 1864, to February 16, 1865, at the same two locations. February 16 must have brought a windfall, for all of Company H was also organized that day at Knoxville. Company I appeared between March 6 and sixteenth and K from May 13 to sixteenth; both at Knoxville. 20

In Cumberland Gap and North Carolina
(June, 1864 - January, 1865)

It was perhaps with the men just enlisted in his regiment that Kirk set out from Morrison, Tennessee, on June 13, 1864. With about one hundred thirty men he was supposed to destroy a railroad bridge over the Yadkin River. He failed in this objective but accomplished much in his failure. Marching by way of Bulls Gap and Greenville, 21 Kirk continued through Washington and into Carter County, where he picked up North Carolina Unionist Joseph V. Franklin to guide him on the other side of the mountains. 22 Crossing into North Carolina, he forded the Linville River near Pineola. On June 28 with the rising sun, Kirk stood outside Camp Vance, a base for training newly conscripted Confederates. A truce flag was sent in and its bearer demanded the surrender of the camp. 23 The Confederates capitulated giving Kirk two hundred seventy-seven prisoners. Some wore paroled and some were lost along the way, but one hundred thirty-two were taken to Knoxville. 24 Whatever else he was, and the mountain Confederates called him many things, George W. Kirk was also daring. After burning the camp it had been his intention to commandeer a train at the end of the tracks near Morganton and with it move his command to Salisbury, where he hoped to capture the prison and release the Union soldiers incarcerated there. 25 This became impossible as the news of his presence became known. The train and depot were captured and destroyed nevertheless. Also destroyed at Camp Vance were "commissary buildings, 1,200 small arms with ammunition, and 3,000 bushels of grain." In addition to the prisoners Kirk took with him "32 Negroes and 48 horses and mules." He also picked up forty men for his regiment. Kirk left the state in a leisurely manner, crossing the Catawba River and camping near it that night. The next morning, the twenty-ninth, the Federals were attacked at Brown Mountain about "fourteen miles from Morganton." Taking cover Kirk and his men placed their prisoners as human shields before them. In this manner, one prisoner was killed and one wounded before the Confederates withdrew. Kirk then continued on his way over the mountains, making camp at Ripshin Ridge. On the following morning the Confederates tried again. On this occasion "Kirk took twenty-five men" and retraced his steps a short distance. In this affair Colonel Waightstill Avery and an elderly Morganton man received mortal wounds. Without Avery the Confederates withdrew and Kirk returned to Tennessee without further opposition. 26 When he completed his journey, his command had suffered one man killed and six wounded. 27

Word of Kirk's successful raid reached General Sherman Campaigning near Atlanta. To Schofield he wrote, "Please convey to Colonel G. L. Kirk the assurances of my appreciation of the services rendered by him in his late expedition." But Sherman was not entirely happy with Kirk. In the same message he added, "you may encourage him all you can, more in organizing the element in North Carolina hostile to Jeff Davis rather than in undertaking those hazardous expeditions." 28

Hazardous though it was, Kirk's raid may have been more important than Sherman or Schofield realized. The mountain people were becoming daily more disenchanted with the Confederacy, and now it was obvious that the government could not protect them. 29 If Kirk could march all the way to Morganton undetected, what, they may have wondered, was to stop a large army from coming over and staying?

In October, Confederate Brigadier General John C. Vaughn crossed into East Tennessee from Abingdon, Virginia. On the eleventh he decided to attack the Federals at Bulls Gap, where he believed there was only "Kirk's battalion of cavalry and some one hundred day's men." Perhaps Kirk and friends retreated before the Confederates advance, for in later reports Vaughn said that he victoriously fought Yankees, on the twelfth, at Blue Springs and Greenville. 30 If Kirk did withdraw, he was back in Bulls Gap with an estimated four hundred men on the eighteenth. 31

In November of 1864 General George Stoneman communicated to Schofield a plan which he had to drive the Confederates out of East Tennessee and open a path into North Carolina or Virginia, by which route Stoneman already dreamed of taking his cavalry to Salisbury and elsewhere according to circumstances. Schofield was receptive to Stoneman's driving the Confederates as far into Virginia as he could, destroying the saltworks at Saltville and cutting the railroad which ran from Bristol to Wythville. 32 The rest would have to wait "until affairs here, [Nashville] take more definite shape." 33

Stoneman set out, and the Third North Carolina Mounted played a role in his operation. Then in Knoxville it was sent to Point of Rocks by way of Sevierville and assigned the task of holding the mountain passes into North Carolina until the rebels were driven out of East Tennessee. Kirk was also to comb the hills clearing it of Confederates. Stoneman was successful in his southwestern Virginia raid and, the last of December, was ready for other things. 34

While the Third Regiment was riding about in North Carolina, the Second Mounted was still at work in Cumberland Gap. On January 28, 1865, Lieutenant Colonel W. C. Bartlett, commanding the Second, reported to Brigadier General Tillson commanding the Fourth Division, Twenty-third Army Corps, that a party from his regiment had just returned from an expedition. Led by Lieutenant J. N. Jennings this group had killed twelve Confederate guerrillas, wounded several, and brought back ten others captured. They also brought in forty horses which were probably used by the men of the Second Mounted.

After sending his first report, Bartlett later on the same day sent another on the subject of the expedition. The number of guerrillas killed had grown from twelve to "between 20 and 25." Bartlett then added what may be a significant statement, "my orders are to shoot a guerrilla wherever and whenever (he) is found, and not to take prisoners on any account." 35

** Go to Part V **


1 Shepherd M. Dugger, War Trails of the Blue Ridge (Banner Elk: Shepherd M. Dugger, 1932), p. 203.

2 W. D. Cotton, "Appalachian North Carolina" (Ph. D. dissertation, University of North Carolina, 1954), p. 126.

3 Ibid.

4 Manarin, Guide, Sec. 3, p. 1.

5 OR, I, 52, pt. 1, 473.

6 Ibid.

7 OR, I, 31, pt. 3, p. 111.

8 Ibid., p. 563.

9 OR, I, 32, pt. 2, p. 233.

10 OR, I, 32, pt. 3 p. 74.

11 OR, I, 32, pt. 2, p. 233.

12 OR, I, 32, pt. 1, p. 411.

13 OR, I, 32, pt. 3, p. 74.

14 Ibid., p. 321.

15 Ibid., p. 338.

16 OR, I, 52, pt. 1, p. 517.

17 John Preston Arthur, A History of Watauga County (Richmond: Everett Waddey Co., 1915), p. 162.

18 Manarin, Guide, Sec. 3, p. 2.

19 OR, I, 49, pt. 1, pp. 1034-1035.

20 Manarin, Guide, Sec. 3, p. 2.

21 OR, I, 39, pt. 1, p 233.

22 John Preston Arthur, Western North Carolina: A History (Asheville, 1914), p. 605.

23 Ibid., p. 601.

24 OR, I, 39, pt. 1, p. 234.

25 Arthur, Western North Carolina, p, 606.

26 Ibid., p. 606-608.

27 OR, I, 39, pt. 1, p. 233.

28 Ibid.

29 Arthur, Watauga County, p. 162.

30 OR, I, 39, pt. 1, p. 565.

31 Ibid., p. 852.

32 Ina Westemeyer Van Noppen, Stoneman's Last Raid (Raleigh: North Carolina State College Print Shop, 1961), p. 3.

33 OR, I, 35, pt. 1, pp. 808-810.

34 Ibid.

35 OR, I, 49, pt. 1, p. 9.

Copyright 1998

Return to Regimental Histories Page

Return to NCUV Home Page