The American Civil War was a tumultuous time. In the North Carolina mountains, in particular, the war offered opportunities for mountaineers to be unjustifiably violent. In some high country places, civility ended, outlaws ruled, and cruelty prevailed. The Fort Hamby Gang of Wilkes County provides an example.
After Union General George Stoneman’s devastating raid in Wilkes County, the Fort Hamby Gang bullied people in the area. Even after the war had ended, the twenty-five to –thirty men, stationed out of the Hamby widow’s house and led by a defected Union soldier, “Major Wade,” targeted prominent families in neighboring counties and seem to do so for the sheer sake of violence.
There were several unsuccessful attempts to stop the vandalism and terrorism. Caldwell citizens (home guard) crossed county lines to attack the Hamby Gang at their base of operations, the Hamby house in Wilkes County. The home guard had the element of surprise and the upper hand in battle, until Major Wade tricked them. When a cease-fire was agreed upon, Wade and his men emerged from their fort with guns blazing.
Another attempt was successful at disbanding the group of thugs. Several former Confederate soldiers put Major Wade and gang in their sights. After an initial siege failed to dislodge the encamped outlaws in the Hamby house, the home guard started to burn outbuildings and then the house itself. The Hamby gang, no doubt coughing smoke out of their lungs and wiping their burning eyes, emerged from the house. Some surrendered. Some fled. Some were shot, and some captured and quickly executed. Major Wade, however, escaped.