In my last post, I copied a few lines from a scribe who simply signed his letter "ELBERT." Who was he? What interest did he have in the war going on in between Laurel Valley in Madison County and Flag Pond, then in Greene County? How was he trying to influence public opinion?
In the 19th century, authors were not required to sign their letters to newspapers. This might give an author an opportunity to be more honest, writing without fear of retaliation. One of the most famous cases in United States history of a newspaper correspondent not using his real name would be Benjamin Franklin's Silence Dogood letters. But while Franklin was simply adopting a persona that allowed him to express rather shocking and thought-provoking sentiments without getting personally involved, others had less lofty reasons for using pseudonyms; such anonymity could allow a person to libel someone else without fear of retaliation. Since newspapers were not yet subject to legal punishment for such defamation, wronged parties might instead attack those they felt had impugned their characters.
After posting pieces of the article, I went back and looked for other letters from "ELBERT." Using newspapers.com, I found none. I also looked through volume 2 of the papers of Zeb Vance, but I found none signed "ELBERT." Maybe one day we can find his identity.
There are, of course, some who would totally discount the claims that ELBERT made, that the citizens of Flag Pond and Shelton Laurel were truly innocent victims, and not also perpetrators in an ever-escalating cycle of crime and violence. A reading into the history of the area quickly shows that the Laurel Valley area was one of the most lawless communities during the war. To quote the editor of the Asheville New in May 1862: "To say that the late difficulties in Madison were 'more imaginary than real,' is to write down the authorities of the counties of Madison and Buncombe, with Gen. Erwin as their head, a set of asses." While that editor could, himself, be just as biased as ELBERT, these accounts do add further complexity and layers to an ugly chapter of history.