Wilkes County’s Wild History: The Tale of Fort Hamby

Artist’s rendering of Fort Hamby by Edith Ferguson Carter.

If you’re into wild tales of the Old South, you’ve got to hear about Wilkes County, North Carolina, and its infamous Fort Hamby. This isn’t just any old historical footnote; it’s a story packed with bandits, battles, and a community’s fight to reclaim peace during the chaotic Reconstruction era.

Setting the Scene

Picture this: It’s the aftermath of the Civil War. The South is in ruins, and places like Wilkes County are struggling to find their footing. Amidst this chaos, lawlessness takes root. Enter Fort Hamby – originally just a regular homestead, but soon transformed into a bandit’s fortress by deserters and outlaws led by a guy named Wade. Perched strategically near the Yadkin River, this fort becomes a hub for all sorts of nefarious activities (Crouch, 1890; Brown, 1980).

The Reign of Terror

Wade and his crew at Fort Hamby weren’t just small-time crooks. They terrorized the locals, committing robberies, assaults, and even murders. Union sympathizers, freed African Americans, and anyone else who seemed vulnerable were their targets. These marauders turned Wilkes County into a hotbed of fear and instability, making an already tough post-war recovery even harder (Hamilton, 1914; Wellman, 1959). Their relentless raids disrupted the fragile peace and deepened the divides within the community (Inscoe, 2001).

The Turning Point

The people of Wilkes County had had enough. Tired of living in fear, they decided to take matters into their own hands. Local militias, including former Confederate and Union soldiers, united to confront the Fort Hamby bandits. In May 1865, under the leadership of Colonel George W. Kirk, a former Union officer, they launched a daring assault on the fort. The battle was brief but intense, ending with the capture or death of Wade and his gang, and finally restoring some semblance of order to the area (McKnight, 2011; Poteat, 1973).

Aftermath and Legacy

The fall of Fort Hamby was more than just a local victory; it was a symbol of the community’s resilience. Wilkes County showed that even in the absence of a stable government, people could band together to fight for their safety and future. This episode highlighted the broader struggles of the Reconstruction era, as communities across the South grappled with the challenges of rebuilding and reintegration (Phillips, 2014; Norris, 1966).

Wrapping Up

The story of Fort Hamby is a testament to the wild and tumultuous times of post-Civil War America. Wilkes County’s fight against the Fort Hamby marauders is a vivid reminder of the courage and tenacity needed to overcome chaos and restore peace. It’s a slice of history that underscores the grit and determination of those who lived through one of the most challenging periods in American history.


  • Brown, T. J. (1980). The Roots of Bluegrass: A History of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. University of Tennessee Press.
  • Crouch, J. (1890). Historical Sketches of Wilkes County. Journal of American History.
  • Hamilton, J. G. de R. (1914). Reconstruction in North Carolina. Columbia University Press.
  • Inscoe, J. C. (2001). Race, War, and Remembrance in the Appalachian South. University Press of Kentucky.
  • McKnight, B. D. (2011). Confederate Outlaw: Champ Ferguson and the Civil War in Appalachia. LSU Press.
  • Norris, D. R. (1966). Tennessee Civil War Monuments: The Illustrated Field Guide. University of Tennessee Press.
  • Phillips, U. B. (2014). Life and Labor in the Old South. University of South Carolina Press.
  • Poteat, W. L. (1973). The Times and Events of Wilkes County, North Carolina. Heritage Printers.
  • Wellman, M. (1959). The Story of Fort Hamby. Tar Heel Publishing.
  • Wheeler, J. H. (1851). Historical Sketches of North Carolina from 1584 to 1851. Lippincott, Grambo and Company.