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Re: Shelton Laurel Massacre
Posted by: Kevin (ID *****7656) Date: September 11, 2003 at 05:08:47
In Reply to: Re: Shelton Laurel Massacre by Kevin of 780

As for the men of the 64th NC Infantry Regiment... This was one of the last NC Confederate units formed, one of the "1862" regiments, which were authorized and in which enlistment was stimulated as a result of the Confederate draft law of April 1862. Lawrence M. Allen of Marshall, Madison County, was commissioned a Colonel on July 20, 1862, and set out to raise a "Legion". The Legion was a (unusually modern) Confederate idea, whereby one unit would combine infantry, artillery and cavalry. In practice, when these units joined a field army, they were broken up, with the infantry serving in line with the rest of the infantry, the horsemen with the cavalry brigades, and so on. Some earlier Legions still went by the name "Legion", like Hampton's Legion from SC or Cobb's Georgia Legion. Probably the last one raised was "Thomas's Legion", including Cherokee Indian Companies, which was the subject of "Storm in the Mountains", a book mentioned by another respondent to this post. There were originally 13 companies raised for "Allen's Legion", but by the latter half of 1862 the Legion concept was out of favor, so the unit was trimmed to ten companies and made an Infantry Regiment.

Col Allen, Lt Col Keith, and Major Garrett, the original "Field Officers" of the regiment, were all from Madison County. Six of the ten companies were also from Madison County, with one from Henderson, one from Polk, and two from east Tennessee, just over the hill from Shelton Laurel. The Regimental historian states that these companies originally totaled 1110 men.

So at the time of the massacre, the unit was still basically new, and had seen no action. When the state of NC published "Clark's Regiments" around 1900, the highest ranking former member of the 64th who could be found and prevailed upon to write a regimental history of the 64th for inclusion, was a captain of Company A (one of the six companies from Madison County). Of Col Allen, he says he "was not an attractive man - rather otherwise - but was chosen leader because he was known to be brave and fearless. Fighting was expected, and his men had the utmost confidence in him."

Of Lt Col Keith, the historian says he was "intrepid and fearless. He had bitter enemies among the enemies of his country. He did severely punish some of the enemies of his country - some say far too severely, and his resignation was demanded in the spring of 1863 by the authorities. It is well known that the "Shelton Laurel" section of Madison County, bordering on east Tennessee, was infested with bushwhackers of such fierce audacity and viciousness that only severe and caustic measures would suppress them. In addition to the native disloyal element, scores and hundreds fled from conscription in Tennessee, and when hunted in those mountain fastnesses they fought back, retaliated and did many outrageous things. Colonel Keith caught some of these and punished them severly - perhaps cruelly. His resignation was called for at the instance of Governor Vance for shooting certain parties accused of having looted the town of Marshall."

Along these lines the historina mentions that the father of Major Garrett of the 64th, who lived near Hot Springs in Madison County was "brutally murdered, shot down on his own doorstep in the very arms of his wife and daughters", and also mentions other instances of Confederate officers or members of their families murdered at home in western NC, presumably by those with Union sympahies, such as Col Walker of the 80th NC, taken from his home in Cherokee County, and half a dozen others.....

The regimental historian says that, after organization in the late summer and fall of 1862, the "regiment was first stationed at Greenville TN (the Tennessee county which adjoins Madison County NC) for a short time, and was moved to Knoxville, where they were drilled and used on guard duty for the city and as scouts for the surrounding country for about three months. About two hundred of the regiment were then sent to Shelton Laurel, in Madison County NC, under the command of J. A. Keith, Lieutenant-Colonel of the regiment, and were kept there until the spring of 1863, when they joined the regiment at Clinton, Tenn."

Presumably it was this detachment of 200 men which did the massacre.

The actual operation into Shelton Laurel was well done. Part of the Confederates took what had to be a rough hike, from the Tennessee side, to gain the top of the mountains above the headwaters of Shelton Laurel Creek, while the rest of hte command entered the Valley from the lower end, thus squeezing all persons in the Valley in between the two groups. The party proceeding up from below was fired on several times from ambush as they went in, and then came to the home where they strung the old lady up by her neck in an effort to make her talk.

Part of the problem with bringing anyone to justice, from the perspective of Vance and other NC authorities, was that this area of western NC was under the command of the east Tennessee department, none of the many commanders of which were men from this part of the country, and all of whom were gone quickly, and none of whom probably cared too much about the massacre, and who had what they considered to be larger more pressing problems in any case. The headquarters of this command was in east Tennessee, and the regular courts were often not operating, as martial law prevailed in many places.

So by the spring of 1863, as the story was coming out and the full dimensions of what had happened clarified for the leaders in Raleigh, Keith's resignation was demanded, but Keith was not where the NC authorities could get to him, and then events of the war took precedence....

The 64th NC and their neighbors from the 62nd NC were sent to be part of the garrison at Cumberland Gap. When Burnside began to move against Knoxville in early September 1863, he went by way of Cumberland Gap. The commander there, General Frazer, surrendered the garrison without a shot being fired. The men were bitterly opposed to surrender, and were still extremely angry about it writing more than 35 years after the War was over. The officer commanding the 62nd NC led about 600 men of various commands, including the 62nd and 64th NC, out from the Gap and thus escaped captivity.

On Dec 26, 1863 there were 288 enlisted men from the 64th NC in Camp Douglas in Chicago. How many of them lived to get home is not known. Every one has heard of Andersonville, but it is a little remarked fact that more Confederate soldiers died in Yankee captivity than vice versa. While the Confederacy was so inefficient as to be unable to feed even its armies, the Union adopted the deliberate policy of locating POW camps in the most miserable and inhospitable locations which could be found, and then deliberately withholding food and medical supplies and clothing. Winter in this camp on the shores of Lake Michigan, like the winters at Sandusky Ohio, were deadly. Its either Grant or Lincoln Park, I cant recall which -but its the park where most of the protestors at the 1968 Democratic Convention in the City of Chicago spent the night - is actually the cemetery of those who died at Camp Douglas, with no grave marked. Perhaps the "guilty" parties of the Shelton Laurel Massacre met a rough justice there, but no one can say for certain now, I dont believe.

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