For the past couple of weeks, I've been poring over the various accounts of the Shelton Laurel event in January 1863.
A little background: in late 1862 and early 1863, there was a band of rogues based in the Laurel community of Madison County. They were rooming the countryside, robbing and shooting at will. On January 8, 1863, they attacked Marshall, then moved back to the Laurel community. Something had to be done. The militia from surrounding counties were mobilized and sent into the area. Then, Henry Heth, commanding the Confederate district East Tennessee, sent Brig. Gen. William Davis to the area with some troops to clean the tories out. Davis set up his headquarters at Warm Springs. With Davis came 200 members of the 64th North Carolina Troops (three companies), a company of cavalry under Capt. Thomas N. Nelson, and thirty Indians from Thomas's Legion mission. Later, William H. Thomas was dispatched to the area with an additional 200 Cherokee to work in Madison, Haywood, and Jackson counties. The three companies of the 64th North Carolina Troops were under the command of Maj. William N. Garrett.
According to the Official Records, the three companies of the 64th North Carolina are not the ones that entered the Laurel community. It is the cavalry, and Nelson is credited with killing 12 tories on his sweep.
Do you know who is never mentioned in the official accounts? Col. Lawrence M. Allan and Lt. Col. James A. Keith. Allen's participation in the events is very suspect. He was undergoing a court-martial in Knoxville at the time. Keith, on the other hand, is largely blamed for the tragedy. THEORY ON MY PART: is it possible that Keith was acting beyond the limits of authority with a small band of picked men? Some of them might have been in the 64th NC; some of them might have been from other regiments.
After the elements of the 64th NC returned to east Tennessee, several officers were called before a board for examining officers. Phillip Paludan, in Victims: A True Story of the Civil War, writes: "As the investigation began, it appeared that the officers of the Sixty-fourth were feeling justice hurrying near. Governor Vance had asked Seddon to begin the investigation in late February, and by the end of the month Captain Deaver of the Sixty-fourth had been relieved of command. By mid-April three more junior officers had appeared before investigatory boards. Two of them offered their resignations; the other was relieved of command. For a time, all four of these men remained in the army awaiting action by their superiors." (104)
Paludan, in a note, gives the names of those men as: A. M. Deaver, William Keith, Thomas Keith, and S. E. Erwin.
So, let's take a look. First, Paludan writes: "For a time, all four of these men remained in the army awaiting action by their superiors." That is actually not unusual. When Lt. Reuben M. Deaver submitted his resignation, it had to go up, through the chain of command, all the way to the Secretary of War, before it was finally approved. I've actually written about this in the past, and you can check it out here. Deaver submitted his resignation on July 15, 1863, and it was accepted on August 6, 1863. I assume that Paludan's A. M. Deaver is Lt. Adolphus E. Deaver, who submitted his resignation also on July 15, 1863, and it was likewise accepted on August 6, 1863. Captain William Keith resigned on April 20, 1863, and it was accepted on May 2, 1863. Lt. Thomas Keith resigned on August 14, 1863, which was accepted on August 29, 1863. Captain Samuel Erwin resigned on July 15, 1863, which was accepted on August 4, 1863. We can infer that Paludan believed these four were involved in the incident on Laurel in some way.
Let's look at Erwin first. He was actually from Washington County, Tennessee, and enlisted in September 1862. His company, Company K, was stationed at Jacksboro in Tennessee, and is not believed to have been involved in the Laurel incident. There is no muster roll record for January and February 1863, so it is not possible to say where he was. In his resignation, Erwin writes that when he appeared before the officer examination board in Knoxville in April 1863, he was "relieved from further attendance before the board and allowed to report to my com'd. for duty whare I have been ever since..." Erwin then adds on odd statement: He considered it "my duty and [in my] interest to have the service rid of all incompetent officers (according) to the [examining] board's opinion."
Company G was one of the three companies sent to Madison County. Two of those mentioned by Paludan, who supposedly lost their positions due to the Laurel incident, do not appear to have been with Company G at the time. Adolphus Deaver was originally a private in the 16th North Carolina Troops, but did desert in August 1862. He does not reappear until he is appointed a lieutenant in the 64th NC in March 1863. Deaver resigned July 15, 1863, which was accepted on August 6, 1863. He stated in his resignation letter: that like Erwin, he had to go before the examination board. While there, he was "relieved from further attendance before the Board and was allowed to report to my Co for duty where I have been ever since. On Yesterday, July 14th I received a copy of Special Order No 71, suspending me from command... feeling it my duty as a friend to the cause to vacate the position I hold (if not competent to discharge the duties of the Office) I .... most respectfully tender my resignation..."
The case is likewise with Thomas W. Keith, a 2nd lieutenant. He was also with the 16th NC, until he deserted in September 1862. He was appointed a lieutenant in the 64th in April 1864. And he also resigned on August 14, 1864, because he had failed the examination before the officer examination board and was "unprepared to take it a second time."
Lastly, Capt. William M. Keith. He resigned on April 24, 1863, stating he really did not feel confident in taking the test whom Paludan singled out, we can't actually place three of them in Madison County as a part of the Laurel incident. It is entirely possible that they truly were not qualified to be Confederate officers, hence their resignations. And William Keith refused to even stand for the examination. Or, maybe all four were on Laurel Creek in late January 1863, and were given the opportunity to resign, under the context of being incompetent. We'll probably never know.