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Map of Wilkes County

After the last Civil War battle in North Carolina took place at White Sulphur Springs between regular units on May 6, 1865, another was fought several weeks later between an irregular band of outlaws and a vigilante group of citizens upon whom the band had preyed. The outlaws, 20 to 30 mountain men who had been members of guerrilla units during the war, were unwilling to give up the life of banditry to which they had become accustomed and began a reign of terror over several western North Carolina counties. Their leader was a Union deserter from a Michigan regiment named Wade. Their hideout was a large two-story log house on a Wilkes County hill that overlooked the Yadkin River and the road that led to the ford below the house. The outlaws named the hideout "Fort Hamby" after the names of the former occupants of the house, reported to have been ladies of ill repute.

From their well armed and loopholed fort, Wade's men had a 360-degree field of fire and sometimes took potshots at travelers along the road to the ford. There was no organized law enforcement, as Confederate forces had been disbanded and Yankees had not yet occupied the area, so citizens of surrounding counties banded together to deal with the outlaws. After two vigilante attempts to bag the gang were repulsed, a larger force of about 40 men was assembled. Wade sent the group a message: "Come on. I am looking for you. I can whip a thousand of you."

The vigilantes surrounded the hideout on the morning of May 24, but the terrific fire from inside the fort kept them at bay until nightfall. Under cover of darkness they drew nearer the house and dug in. At dawn they succeeded in setting fire to an old outbuilding that was close enough for the sparks to set the roof of the fort on fire. Faced with being burned to death, the outlaws marched out with their hands raised. Wade made a wild dash for freedom and miraculously escaped over the river, never to be seen again. The rest of his men were quickly executed by firing squad.