CROSSNORE — Strewn across the landscape of Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee, historical markers dot the landscape, sharing short vignettes of this region’s connections to Civil War history.
In his new book “Kirk’s Civil War Raids along the Blue Ridge,” Avery County historian and author Michael Hardy explores some of the defining moments of the Civil War in the Southern Appalachians. Focusing on more than a dozen counties in close proximity to the North Carolina/Tennessee border, Hardy’s book illustrates in detail the bitter and often-violent division prevalent in this region with regards to secession.
“The ‘brother against brother’ is more real here in the mountains than just about any other place,” Hardy said.
Drawing on more than 200 sources, Hardy’s account provides perhaps the most complete picture of Civil War history in this region to date. Two decades of researching newspaper articles, family histories, court cases and other secondary sources come together in this volume to tell a story laden with locations and names local readers will recognize.
“We pass through a lot of these places every day,” Hardy said. “Just here in Avery County, we can go to Cranberry and the war happened there. We can go to Linville Falls and the war happened there. I think that it’s important to remember that every place we go is so deep in that history.”
Following the escapades of Union officer George W. Kirk across communities in both North Carolina and Tennessee, Hardy’s narrative uses the movements of that commander as a springboard to explore contemporaneous happenings in the surrounding area.
“At the beginning of the war, George Kirk was a nobody,” Hardy said. “About midway through the war, he officially joins a Union regiment, and in 1863, there are several folks who place Kirk in charge of a raid at Warm Springs in Madison County. From there on out, Kirk has got this notorious reputation for raids and brutality.”
In many instances, the fighting Hardy describes in his book is distinctive from the great battles at places such as Gettysburg and Antietam. Rather than lines of men and cavalry facing off across an open field, fighting in this region more often took the form of skirmishes and raids.
“There are all kinds of stories of ambushes that took place,” Hardy said. “There are stories of raids, where guerrillas would show up, empty a bed sack and take everything you owned. That happened time and time again here in the mountains. And then there’s outright meanness. They would shoot you for absolutely no reason. It was just the worst of humanity going on here during those four years.”
While loyalties fell on both sides of the conflict, in some cases, these roguish actions were not motivated by ideology, but by opportunism. In addition to the movements of soldiers, Hardy also touches on those who were motivated by greed and meanness.
“You have pro-Confederate people here and pro-Union people here,” Hardy said. “And then you have a third group that nobody really talks about. You’ve got people who are perpetuating family feuds or bands of deserters or outliers who were riding around robbing, stealing and shooting people. They’re not really connected to the North or the South or the ideas we have these days of what the war was about.”
For any student of Civil War history, this well-researched volume will make a fine addition to the enthusiast’s library. On a broader scale, this book will also have appeal to those interested in learning more about the history of this area. For those wanting to go beyond the highway markers, “Kirk’s Civil War Raids along the Blue Ridge” is an excellent place to start.
The book hits shelves on March 5, and will be available on major retail sites such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Hardy will hold a discussion and book signing at the Avery County Library in Newland at 7 p.m. on March 13. For more information on Hardy and his works, click to www.michaelchardy.com.