Col. George Washington Kirk: That ‘Scalawag, Bushwhacker Man’
A few decades ago, I was asked by an elderly cousin if I knew anything about the ‘scalawag, bushwhacker man named Kirk’ who terrorized the Cashiers Valley area during the Civil War. She said stories about him had been passed down to her by her grandparents, and they called his group “Kirk’s Army” or “Kirk’s Raiders.” I started my research with William R. Trotter’s Bushwhackers, the Civil War in North Carolina, The Mountains, and Trotter’s definition of ‘bushwhacker’ was any man, either Union or Confederate, who attacked from concealment. I learned that my cousin was referring to Col. George Washington Kirk, a Union officer from Greene County, Tennessee, who believed strongly in the Union. Kirk had orders to organize his men, advance through Cashiers Valley, which had less than one hundred residents at that time, and “live off the land” while recruiting men to the Union cause and rounding up all the horses and livestock possible. “Living off the land” meant stealing food and provisions from the civilian population. Kirk quickly gained the reputation for being a bold, deadly bushwhacker among the North Carolinians.
In addition, I read his Union Army Pension File, which documented his life until his death. Kirk’s grave is in Gilroy, California. On Kirk’s grave there is a marker that reads “3rd Regiment of North Carolina Mounted Infantry, Union Army.”