Developing the Shelton Laurel Story, with Help
by Rob Neufeld
Dan Slagle, a local expert on Shelton Laurel history, wrote the Citizen-Times, Mar. 10, adding invaluable information to my Mar. 4 piece about the much-discussed Shelton Laurel Massacre in Madison County, 1863.
I had written that, as far as I could discover, there were no known Madison County enlistments in the Union Army until two years into the war; and Slagle noted that “a short search through records of soldiers in the 1st TN Cavalry/4th TN Infantry” reveals that at least seven residents, whom he names, had joined the Union Army in Nov. 1861.
For my statement, I drew upon the research of Terrell Garren, who had checked several Tennessee regiments, but not the 1st Cavalry/4th Infantry, for his book, “Mountain Myth.” In his study, he allowed for about 200 omissions from his count, based on the huge number (2.3 million) of Union troops that would need to be examined.
Recently, Garren traveled to Nashville to look at more enlistments one by one. He found a total of 12 Madison County men in the 1st Cavalry/4th Infantry—the seven Slagle named plus Stephen Griffin, William Hall, Amos and Frances E. Hensley, and William Sinard.
These are the first 12 Western North Carolina men that Garren has found to have enlisted in the Union Army before 1863. That makes Madison County distinctive. Still, as far as total enlistments tell, the county was over 90% Confederate; and about 97% early on.
Slagle cautions about my use of Phillip Paludan’s book, “Victims,” as a source, particularly in connection with the reasons for Col. Lawrence Allen’s absence from command of his regiment (64th NC); and regarding the guerilla tactics of acting commander, Lt. Col. James Keith.
Slagle is right again. Paludan’s book, which John Inscoe and Gordon McKinney (authors of “The Heart of Confederate Appalachia”) calls “excellent” and “the fullest account,” is nevertheless controversial; and other accounts have emerged.
Paludan’s attribution of Allen’s absence from the Shelton Laurel action to suspension based on “crime and drunkenness” is a little bit of a leap, though documented by Gov. Zebulon Vance’s letters and a contemporary Memphis newspaper account. Allen is owed a fuller look, if he were to be the main subject of a story.
Paludan called Keith a guerilla fighter in an attempt to explain his actions (executing 13 men and boys on suspicion without trial), violated orders and enraged Confederate leaders.
The massacre, Inscoe and McKinney write, represented “escalating tensions between lower-ranking troops and civilians, as guerilla warfare blurred the lines between combatants and non-combatants.”
The elusiveness of historical truth even pertains to the date of the massacre. Slagle stated that it happened on Jan. 19 rather than Jan. 18, 1863, as I had said. Most sources say “on or about January 18.” I am researching the reasons why and the significance of the order of events.
In my article, I also wanted to highlight some larger truths. Even with the accounting of 12 Madison County men in the 1st/4th TN Union, the county registers more than 90% Confederate, putting notions of widespread Unionism in doubt.
Furthermore, Garren’s and my investigation of the 13 Shelton Laurel victims, revealed that two teens shot for being Unionist had volunteered in the Confederate Army, May 1862. Not only does this highlight the tragedy, it raises questions about generational divides within communities and maybe even families.
I need to find a way to follow Slagle’s research. I do follow State Archivist Bill Brown at http://civilwar150nc.wordpress.com; and consult Garren, who has a blog on The Read on WNC at TheReadonWNC.ning.com.
Garren’s recent book, “Measured in Blood,” took research into Civil War enlistments to a new level, examining every Henderson County soldier’s record and following up with examination of census records and official war reports.
He also developed a system by which he could measure the nature of a soldiers involvement, distinguishing, for instance, between a “Confederate deserter, who goes over to the Union May 5, 1865,” and “volunteers from the North who charged The Stone Wall at Fredricksburg.”
Garren would like to see his research method picked up by others and applied to additional counties.
Thanks for the additional discussion and kind comments on Shelton Laurel, Rob. I'll never claim to be an expert on the subject, but maybe have done more research than anyone around. We'll never know the full truth about the Laurel killings, but more is known now than a few years ago. Primary source documents are key, and they are becoming more available now.
More and more we read that the killing took place on January 18, 1863. I'm convinced that is a modern day error. The widows' pension bill in Congress says their husbands were killed January 19, 1863. (By the way, Augustus Merrimon did not introduce the original bill.) Solicitor Merrimon's letter to Governor Vance, dated February 24, 1863 says, "The prisoners were captured on one Friday and killed the next Monday." The calendar of 1863 shows a Friday, January 16, and the next Monday, January 19.
Another great find, Dan. I depend on researchers like you, and am always happy to shine lights on others; and just try to write some compelling stories. I imagine you're working toward reaching a point where you'll want to compile all your research into a book.