Posted By:Kevin
Subject:Re: Shelton Laurel Massacre
Post Date:September 11, 2003 at 08:14:42
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Forum:Southern Unionist Forum
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All this is true, but one has to delve deeply into the literature to get any inkling. The area was such a strategic backwater that histories of the great campaigns mention the mountains only as a barrier to military operations, because no one could support an army where there wasnt a railroad or a navigable river. This also means that little of the violence that happened in the mountains could have much effect on the outcome of the war, and the only lasting result seems to have been sorrow and bitterness all around.

The railroad was what gave the Bristol-Knoxville-Chattanooga line through the valley of east Tennessee its strategic value. Like all areas of the mountains in the Confederacy, in every state, there was bitter division, and early on, in the fall of 1861, the 29th NC had its first wartime assignment guarding bridges on the railroad from bridgeburners among the many unionists of east Tennessee, five of whom were hung in one well publicized episode.

The classic description of the divisions generalizes that townspeople, professionals, shopkeepers and the more prosperous were generally Confederates in their sympathies, while the outlying small farmers, who generally had few if any slaves, were for the old flag.

Of course, Andrew Johnson was from Greenville, and Lincoln had an uncle living in Elizabethton and had an intense interest in seeing east Tennessee liberated from the Confederacy, and exerted pressure on the Army to see that it was done.

What's curious, and what I think is the primary reason this is such a little known part of the Civil War, is that people were reluctant to talk about it after the war. I suppose in many instances people from either side lived in the same places, and it was best to let bygones be bygones where possible. An example is a regimental historian in "Clark's Regiments", writing around the year 1900, speaking of the murder of Colonel Walker of the Battalion of Thomas's Legion (80th NC) while he was home on sick leave, who says the perpetrators were "well known" but best left unnamed. Not that all attitudes were completely cordial...Col James M Ray of the 60th NC built a fine home after the war, which still stands. A few years later, after the railroad reached Asheville, the Colonel of a Union regiment, which had actually been opposed to the 60th NC on at least one field, built an even finer home directly across the street from Colonel Ray. Its said they lived opposite one another for more than thirty years and never spoke. And Major Wallace Rollins of the 3rd NC (Union) under Kirk, who was probably the highest ranking man from the 29th NC to not just desert (he was a Confederate captain) but go over to the enemy, and who apparently compounded his sins by turning Republican, was Postmaster of Asheviile for many years after the war, and the object of much frosty opprobrium, to which he remained steadfastly oblivious.....

On the other hand, there were two companies of Thomas's Legion (described in "Clark's" as the 69th and 80th NC) from Blount County, Tennessee, and they were not welcome back home after the war, and many wound up living among their old comrades in western NC.

It seems, that even where names of specific perpetrators of specific acts were known, for whatever reason, it was not publicly discussed, and people were generally reluctant to discuss specific acts. So we have a few well known episodes like the Shelton Laurel Massacre, and Kirk's raids, and Stoneman's cavalry raid, and the murders of prominent persons during the war, which probably represent the tip of the iceberg.

To anyone interested in the subject Id recommend "Cold Mountain", a novel by Charles Frazier, but a novel only in the sense that the author tells his familiy's story using a novelist's devices to recreate the atmosphere of the times. And there was a postwar article, I wish I could recall where (perhaps in Century Magazine), about a sort of underground railroad operated through the mountains of western NC by unionists to help escaping Federal POWs.

Another factor that makes the story of western NC during the war so obscure is that there are practically no surviving copies of any newspapers from the time, anywhere. After the fall of 1862, there are perhaps six or eight copies of any edition of any Asheville paper for the rest of the war years, and very few until 1869, by which time the attitude had set in to leave things lie.

Incidentally, the founder of the paper which started publication in 1869, and which is still with us today, was Randolph Abbott Shotwell, a historian and participant in the war with a Virginia regiment who moved to Asheville after the war, started the paper, was involved in a notorious caning episode with the editor of a rival paper on the public square, and moved on after selling the paper, after about a years stormy residence in town. He had some involvement with starting the Ku Klux Klan subsequently. The newspapers of the day were so closely allied to one political faction or the other, they were generally quite partisan, but to have any would be better than the void with which we are left.