Monday, September 06, 2010

The Shelton Laurel Massacre.

There has been so much written about the Shelton Laurel Massacre, that I don’t thank I could add any thing new, but I still wanted to do this page. I wanted to make a page that was interesting and enjoyable to read I hope I have accomplish it?

The Shelton Laurel Massacre refers to the execution of 13 accused Union sympathizers on or about January 18, 1863 by a Confederate regiment in the Shelton Laurel Valley of Madison County, North Carolina at the height of the American Civil War. The event sparked outrage among North Carolina Governor Zebulon B. Vance and Solicitor Augustus Merrimon (the latter of whom investigated the event), and was published in numerous newspapers in northern states and as far away as Europe. While the massacre destroyed the military career and reputation of Lieutenant-colonel James A. Keith, the adjunct commander who ordered the executions, he was never brought to justice for the incident.

The events leading up to the massacre began in January 1863 when an armed band of Madison County Unionists ransacked salt stores in Marshall and looted the home of Confederate Colonel Lawrence Allen, commander of the 64th North Carolina Regiment. In response, General William Davis, stationed at nearby Warm Springs (now Hot Springs), dispatched the 64th under Lieutenant-colonel Keith (Allen was ill at the time) to the Shelton Laurel Valley to pursue the looters (Keith, like much of the 64th, was a native Madison Countian). In the skirmish that followed, 12 of the looters were killed and several were captured. Upon hearing of the events, Governor Vance (who grew up in nearby Weaverville) sent orders not to harm the captured Unionists and dispatched Solicitor Merrimon to monitor the situation.

In spite of the governor's orders, Keith, believing a rumor that the Unionist force was much larger than in reality, began frantically combing the valley for Union supporters. Realizing that the locals were unlikely to volunteer information, Keith rounded up several Shelton Laurel women and began torturing them in hopes of forcing them to give up their sons' and husbands' whereabouts. After several days of rounding up alleged supporters, Keith began marching the captives toward East Tennessee, which at the time was occupied by a substantial Confederate army. However, after two of the captives escaped, Keith ordered the remaining 13 captives into the woods, and had them shot execution style. Their bodies were dumped into a nearby trench. Among the executed were three boys, ages 13, 14, and 17.

Merrimon, stunned by the incident, reported it to Governor Vance shortly thereafter. The governor wrote that the affair was “shocking and outrageous in the extreme,” and ordered a full investigation. Family members of the slain (mostly Sheltons) moved the bodies to a new cemetery east of the massacre site and swore revenge against the perpetrators. Keith was ultimately tried for the massacre in civilian court after the war. After spending 2 years in jail awaiting trial, he escaped just days before a state supreme court decision would have provided him with vindication. He was never apprehended, and after two years the state dropped its prosecution.

The following is taken from a book by Phillip Shaw Paludan, called “Victims”, A true story of the civil war.

They were moving towards Knoxville when suddenly the prisoners were stopped. The place-was open, near the creek where observers could see what was happened to “bushwhackers and Tories.” There was no warning, no explanation. Five of them were ordered to kneel down. Ten paces away a file of soldiers stood, their guns ready. Then the prisoners know what was going to happen. Sixty-year-old Joe Woods cried out, “For God sake, men, you are not going to shoot us? If you are going to murder us at lest give us time to pray.” Someone begged Keith to remember his promise of a trial. He ignored both statements. He ordered his soldiers to fire. The prisoners put their hands over their faces and begged for mercy. The soldiers hesitated. Despite what they had suffered, some refused to obey the command. “Fire or you will take their place,” Keith told them. The soldiers raised their guns, the victims shuddered, the word to fire was given, and four of the men died instantly. A fifth had only been wounded. Writhing in agony from a wound in the stomach, he bagged for mercy. One of the soldiers finished the job by shooting the prisoner in the head.

Five more prisoners were ordered to kneel down. Among this group was David Shelton, age thirteen. He pleaded with the soldiers not to kill him. “You have killed my father and brothers,” he said. “You have shot my father in the face; do not shoot me in the face.” The soldiers fired. Five victims fell, but again one remained. It was David Shelton. He moved to an officer, pleading, “You have killed my old father and my three brothers; you have shot me in both arms I forgive you all this I can get well. Let me go home to my mother and sisters.” They dragged him back to the execution spot and shot him dead. The remaining three men took their turn and died. The killing was finished.

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