Thursday, July 28, 2016

More on the Laurel War

Last week, I posted excerpts from a letter that appeared in the Semi-Weekly Standard on April 17, 1863, dealing with events between Shelton Laurel in Madison County, and Greenville, Tennessee. The yet-to-be identified author was complaining of the "independent thieves, robbers and tories of Laurel." He lays out several events that took place over a period of 12-months:

1. "They shot and killed one man in his own house, stole and killed horses, robbed the Southern citizens of guns, bacon, meal, clothes, and everything they could lay their hands on." In response, the militia was called out. Some of the loyalists turned themselves in, and others were captured. Some joined the Confederate army.

2. After this event, one of the leaders of the Shelton Laurel band "shot a man down for acting as a guide for some of the forces that were marched into that settlement."

3. Those that had enlisted in the Confederate army eventually deserted, "and brought off their guns and ammunition..." A Federal officer arrived and organized the men into a company.

4. The company then commenced "robbing and plundering private houses in a settlement called 'Flag Pond,' in Washington county, Tennessee, taking money, guns, clothes, meat, and everything they could carry away, making women and children strip off their shoes, socks and clothes..."

5. Then came the raid on Marshall, "where they not only took salt, but they broke open store houses and dwelling houses, and carried off every thing that they could take away."

6. That same night, they robbed the Farnsworth home of "beds, furniture, and clothes..."

A year later, a new article appeared in the Asheville News (June 30, 1864). It was signed "Marshall" and included details about other activities centered in and around Madison County.  The "citizens of this section have suffered enormously, within the last twelve months, at the hands of the 'Laurel Tories," writes the author. "Scarcely a week has passed that has not witnessed the robbery of some poor soldier's family, or the murder of a good soldier or citizen." Some were on the verge of starvation; others had chosen to pick up and move. Like "Elbert's" account, the report of  "Madison" goes on to lay out some individual events.

1.  "Old Bill Shelton" led the group into Washington County where they killed a "landlord and his son, robbed the family of everything valuable... even stripped the clothing from the backs of children...."

2. To combat the Shelton gang, J. A. Keith, former lieutenant colonel of the 64th North Carolina Troops, organized a group known as "Keith's Detail." [It will be remembered that Keith was forced out of the 64th NC after the Shelton Laurel event in January 1863.]

3. Keith's men, serving without pay, were able to kill "two of the worst men living... Russ Franklin and Wiley Gosnell."

4. Keith was also able to catch "Old Bill Shelton," whom they hanged.
The author adds at the end that he could "name various other important duties performed by 'Keith's Detail,' but this article is already too long." Maybe "Madison" wrote the newspaper again about local events. Unfortunately, copies of the Asheville News are sparse after this date.

I don't copy these items trying to justify the actions of Keith. I do draw attention to these events to illustrate this point: there is a whole other war going on in the mountains of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee.  It is a conflict waged beyond the limits imposed by the Articles of War and later, the Lieber Code. It is a very personal war.

1 comment:

Savez said...

I love to fly fish in those mountains. Sometimes I find some old cemetery out in the woods. I am drawn to East Tennesse and Western North Carolina. Thier is something haunting about those mountains. Thanks for sharing.