George W. Kirk hailed from Greene County, Tennessee. He initially enlisted in the Confederate army, but quickly deserted and headed back to the mountains. He served the Union cause, first as a guide in east Tennessee and western North Carolina, aiding deserters and recruiting Unionist guerrillas.
In 1863, Kirk, now a colonel, led raids into western North Carolina, most notably on the towns of Mars Hill and Warm Springs. He quickly became notorious as a partisan guerrilla fighter in the region. By mid-1864, he commanded two small regiments of partisans that were designated the 2nd and 3rd North Carolina Mounted Volunteers. Eventually, their official designation became the Union 2nd and 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry.
Kirk maintained constant pressure on Confederates in western North Carolina throughout the last few years of the war, but some of his operations stood out in terms of their size and destructiveness. In June 1864, Kirk led a raid on Morganton, North Carolina, during which his men burned Camp Vance, a number of train cars, and a significant quantity of Confederate military supplies. In February 1865, Kirk and his men pillaged and partially burned the town of Waynesville, North Carolina. Finally, on May 12, 1865, Kirk accepted the surrender of the last remnants of Thomas' Legion, a Confederate unit made up mostly of Cherokees from western North Carolina.
Kirk returned to North Carolina once more in 1870 to suppress a Ku Klux Klan insurrection in Alamance and Caswell counties.