Madison County Atrocity a Measure of the War’s Extremes

The NC Highway Historical Marker designating the site of the Shelton Laurel Massacre

The NC Highway Historical Marker designating the site of the Shelton Laurel Massacre

On January 18, 1863, a Civil War tragedy that has come to be known as the Shelton Laurel Massacre took place.

The incident grew out of a series of raids on the town of Marshall by Unionists claiming that Confederate authorities had denied them provisions. Under the command of Brigidier General Harry HethLieutenant Colonel James A. Keith and his men went into the Shelton Laurel area and marched three boys, ages 13 and 17, and 10 men, 20 to 56, out from their homes and into the woods.

The group, suspected of being Unionists, were ordered to kneel. Hesitating on the first command to shoot the 13, the troops complied with the second. In addition, several women were severely whipped and ropes were tied around their necks. No one was prosecuted as a result of the incident.

Within days of the killings, Governor Zebulon B. Vance wrote that the affair was “shocking and outrageous in the extreme.” A writer in 1955 observed that:

"nowhere is there a microcosm more chill and revealing than this episode of war at its heart and core."

In 1968, William and Bud Shelton placed new granite stones at the graves of family members slain in 1863. Six of the 13 men killed were members of the Shelton family.

The State Archives now holds a letter  letter written to Governor Vance from some of the women from Madison County after the Shelton Laurel Incidentasking for money to compensate them for losing their men and property.

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