Probably the best source is the book "Victims" by Philip Paludan, which is about the massacre. He contends that verbal orders from Henry Heth, then commanding the department of East Tennessee and western North Carolina, might have created the impression that he wanted the "salt rioters" dealt with summarily. In any event he was soon gone through the revolving door of the east Tennessee command, and within a few months he and his Division, in A. P. Hill's corps of Lee's Army, precipitated the Battle of Gettysburg. Heth (pronounced heath) was the only General whom General Lee usually addressed by his first name....so he wasnt likely to come in for much censure...... Paludan also noted that Col Allen, the commander of the 64th NC, was from Marshall, and that the salt rioters had enteretd his home there during the riots, where his two small children were dying of scarlet fever. The rioters stole things from the Colonel's home, perhaps even the clothes and bedcoverings of the sick children, who shortlty threafter died. Paludan believes this might have been one of the inflammatory events that incited some members of the 64th NC to the violence in the massacre.
Vance was outraged by the massacre, and so was the NC Attorney General Merrimon, also from western NC. They did what they could to try to punish the responsible parties. Such events were disasters for the Confederacy. Details are practically nonexistent but two lengthy courts-martial were held in Asheville during the first nine months of 1864, in the old Asheville Military Academy, where the Confederate Military Courts did their business (where William Randolph School is now on Montford Avenue) and indications are that they had some connection to the massacre. Vance's elder brother General Robert B Vance was commanding in western NC then, and surely did all things possible to get to the responsible persons.
Keith, the chief wrongdoer - the Lt Col of the 64th - was indicted after the war for the massacre, but he was pardoned along with practically everybody else for what they had done during the war by Andrew Johnson's blanket pardon of 1868. In any case Madison was in severe turmoil for long after the War. In 1866 a former sheriff killed the incumbent in a gunfight on main street in front of the courthouse, in broad daylight, and prosecution was difficult, due to the politics associated with different factions during the war
The 13 men killed in the massacre were held over night in a corn crib. There were 14 in there, but one young boy was able to hide in the morning, and it is from his account that we know how they died. The victims were taken out, in two groups, forced to kneel, and shot in the back of the head. Theyre still in a common grave, which people on Shelton Laurel Creek can show you.
At least one of the men murdered was a deserter from the Confederate Army - "Stob Rod" Shelton had enlisted in the 29th NC in 1861 but soon deserted and returned home.
It should not be forgotten that the Confederate Armies at the time were dealing pretty severely, from time to time, with deserters, particularly Braxton Bragg, who is noted for the large numbers of his own men he had executed. It was a brutal time, and even if one wanted to stay out of it all, that wasnt always possible. Itd be hard to think of many more remote place than Shelton Laurel.
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