The Norton Family’s Experiences with ‘Kirk’s Raiders’
From April 186l through the spring of 1865, the Civil War exacted a heavy toll on the citizens of Cashiers Valley. The first part of the war saw sons, husbands and fathers joining the Confederacy and marching away to an unknown fate while other families held fast to their strong Union sentiments. The last couple of years of the war brought real physical suffering to the area. While there were no major battles fought there, there were the casualties of divided family loyalties, bushwhacker raids, and near starvation.
Col. George Washington Kirk, a Greene County Tennessee’s Union officer, led a group Union soldiers, following orders to 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. Kirk and his men gained the reputation for being bold, deadly bushwhackers among North Carolinians. Known locally as “Kirk’s Army” or “Kirk’s Raiders,” this group of men, under orders, had to find their own food and all homes in their path were ransacked for flour, sugar, and meat. They always carried branding irons with them so that, if they were lucky enough to discover an able bodied horse, they could brand the newly confiscated animal with “U. S. Army.”
In order to deter the raiders’ from taking their food, local people learned clever means of concealing it. Some civilians took their hams out into rocky fields and covered them with moss so they looked like boulders. Another hiding place was the nearby creek where bags of flour were submerged and covered with rocks. The flour would harden around the edges, but the middle would stay dry.
The William Norton and Susannah Zachary Norton, who had at least eight children, lived in a house that was repeatedly visited by bushwhackers. William Norton, one of the sons of Whiteside Cove founder, Barak Norton, had built his house near the center of Cashiers Valley, along the road that came up from South Carolina. In her book Status Quo, Soyrieta Van Epp gave a description of the house in earlier days:
“It is two-story of notched, grooved and pegged construction, puncheon floors and hand riveted cedar shingles. Originally it had enormous stone fireplaces chinked with clay, as were the pine logs. The windows were small, shuttered, parchment covered openings; they could not afford glass. A long covered dog trot led to the separate kitchen. The massive native stone fireplace stretched across the entire west wall and had a raised hearth and iron cranes that swung out, fitted with hooks on which pots and kettles could be hung. Iron pots, pans, and footed Dutch ovens hung nearby.”
According to Van Epp, the William Norton house was remodeled in 1946. The outbuildings, dog trot and detached kitchen were torn down, but the house remains standing and is in use today. It even has a mail slot from the days that William Norton was the postmaster of Cashiers.
Prior to the first bushwhacker visit, William and Susannah had carefully hidden their supply of cured meat inside the house behind the wall paneling. They instructed their children to never tell anyone, especially the bushwhackers, that the family had any meat. One day, Kirk’s Raiders rode up to the Norton’s home, dismounted, came into the house, and demanded that the family give them any meat they had. William told them that there was no meat to turn over. Suddenly, one of the younger Norton daughters looked at her parents and said, “Don’t you remember? You hid it behind the wall boards!”
During the second visit of Col. George W. Kirk and his men, there was a new demand. Allegedly, Kirk looked William Norton straight in the eye and said, “My men would like to have a square dance this evening, and we need some young ladies to be our partners. If you will allow your daughters to come with us, we will treat them well, and we will return them safely to you. If you won’t let them come with us, we’ll burn your house down.” Off went twenty-year-old Mary Arlissa, sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Alice, and thirteen-year-old Julia M to Kirk’s square dance. Their oldest sister, twenty-two-year-old Sarah Emmalissa, was married, but since her husband was away, she may have been at her parents’ house and also attended the dance. Their youngest sister, eleven-year-old Martha Lou Ellen, was too young for such an event and remained at home.
True to their word, a few hours later, the Union soldiers returned the Norton daughters to their home unharmed.