Madison County won a little poll that I put up a couple of weeks ago as the county that I would write about next in our survey of the Civil War and counties across the state. This is really only the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to the war and Madison County. Maybe some of my readers will contribute more information.
Madison County was created in 1851 from portions of Yancey and Buncombe Counties, and was named for President James Madison. The county seat, incorporated in 1863, was originally called Lapland, but was renamed Marshall in honor of Chief Justice John Marshall.
In 1860, Madison County had a population of 5,908 people, including 213 slaves and 2 free persons of color. The returns from the 1860 presidential election were thrown out. In February 1861, 345 Madison County men voted in favor of calling a convention while 532 voted against the idea. In May 1861, when the convention was held, Madison County’s representative was Dr. Joseph A. McDowell. McDowell later served as colonel of the 60th North Carolina Troops, and also owned the Warm Springs Hotel.
Madison County furnished men to the Confederate army that served in Company , 2nd North Carolina Battalion; Company B, 16th North Carolina Troops; Company D, 29th North Carolina Troops; Companies B and I, 60th North Carolina Troops; Companies A, B, D, F, G, I and L, 64th North Carolina Troops; Company I, 6th North Carolina Cavalry; and, Company D, 7th North Carolina Cavalry. Also, many Madison County men joined the 2nd and 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry (US). Terrell Garren, in his book Mountain Myth, believes that there were 1,969 Confederate soldiers from Madison County, and 135 Federal soldiers.
William Trotter described Madison County as the “most disputed and fought-over part of the mountains” during the war. So, we have much to talk about. A riot, followed by a shootout, broke out in May 1861 during the vote to electe McDowell to the secession convention. The sheriff, who was probably intoxicated, stood in the center of town shouting “Hurra[h] for Jeff Davis and the Southern Confederacy.” A Unionist in the crowd answered with a cheer for George Washington and the Union. The sheriff accused them of being “a set of Damd Black republicans and lincolnites,” drew his pistol, and fired into the crowd, wounding a young boy. The Sheriff was chased into a building, and was later shot and killed by the boy’s father. The father escaped and later joined a Kentucky regiment.
In January 1863, a band of Unionists and deserters raided Marshall, plundering houses and shooting local citizens. Also in January, there was a skirmish between militia and deserters in the Laurel Valley area. This led to the return of the 64th North Carolina, which were assailed from all sides as soon as they entered the county. A couple of skirmishes were fought in Shelton Laurel itself. When the Confederates could find no men in the area, they started interrogating and torturing the local women. Eventually, fifteen men, some old, others young, were captured. Two escaped before the column set out for Knoxville. Around January 13, the other 13 and the Confederates set out. At a pre-selected spot, the prisoners were halted, lined up, and executed. The commander of the 64th NCT, Col. James A. Keith, was arrested after the war, and spent two years in prison awaiting trial before escaping. This is known as the Shelton Laurel Massacre, and is the subject of a book by Phillip Paludan called Victims: A True Story of the Civil War.
Later that same month, Thomas’s Legion was in Madison County looking for deserters.
In mid 1863, Confederate forces commandeered portions of Mars Hill College and used it as a base and staging area for the rest of the war. Later in 1863, men from the 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry (US) attacked a meeting of the local Baptist Association not far from Mars Hill College, killing two men and wounding another.
There was a skirmish in October 1863 in Warm Springs (now Hot Springs). Federal forces captured the town and the resort. A few days later Maj. John W. Woodfin led his cavalry battalion into the area in an attempt to recapture it. He was shot from his horse. Brig. Gen. Robert B. Vance (the governor’s brother), then led several attacks to regain the area, and the Federals pulled out late in the month.
In April 1864, George Wiley Grooms and his brother Henry Grooms, along with Henry’s brother-in-law, Mitchell Caldwell, were captured while out working a field. They were marched across Mt. Sterling, on the Cataloochie side. As the family story goes, either Henry or George was forced to play the fiddle before being executed. George was a private in the 11th Tennessee Cavalry (US). All three are buried in a common grave in the Sutton Cemetery #1.
In March 1865, some men reportedly belonging to the 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry (US) burned the buildings at Mars Hill College.
On April 3, 1865, an expedition led by Col. Isaac M. Kirby of the 101st Ohio moved through Warm Springs (now Hot Springs) and Marshall, towards Asheville, with 1,100 men. This resulted in the battle of Asheville on April 6, and with the retreat of Kirby’s force back through Madison County.
There is going to be a program on Madison County and the regiments from the area at Mars Hill College on April 5. You can learn more here. If you would like more information on the events at Shelton Laurel, click here.