Tag Archives: First Wednesdays

First Wednesdays – “…so dark a crime…”

[This is a cross-posting of a post by Bill Brown on our NC Civil War 150 blog.]

By the winter of 1863, the burden of the conflict was taking its toll on the population of North Carolina. The First Conscription Act removed the majority of the white male population between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, and effectively undercut the agriculture production within the Piedmont and Western North Carolina. Conscription also had the reverse effect in destroying the support for the war within the state. The very population needed to harvest crops in the fields was now called upon to fight in bloody engagements in Tennessee and Virginia. The stress of the war coupled with shortages of basic commodities needed for food and clothing served only to inflame the discontent within the state. Despite apparent successes on the battlefield, the war was being lost on the home front.

This internal stress was turning the home front into a battlefield for the survival of the Confederacy. With their families suffering, men were refusing to join the Confederate Army, and were resisting any attempt to force their enrollment. Confederate officials now faced the need to employ force to fill ranks of depleted regiments, and assert the authority of the new nation within areas in open rebellion against it. This collision of desires led to the spilling of blood within the communities throughout the state.

Within Madison County, North Carolina, pre-war political and social strife led to open warfare. Men began to leave their communities to hide from Conscription officers and to steal from stores that refused to sell them the basic goods needed to preserve their harvest. In addition, bands of Unionists began to use Madison County, specifically the Shelton Laurel area, to conduct military operations against Confederate forces and governmental offices in Western North Carolina and East Tennessee. To counter that threat, the Sixty-fourth North Carolina Troops was organized to patrol the community and reassert Confederate authority.

In January 1863, a group of men raided Marshall, the county seat of Madison County, to obtain supplies for their families, that was previously refused to them. During the raid, these men also broke into a number of houses, including those belonging to governmental officials and officers of the Sixty-fourth North Carolina Troops. Governor Zebulon Vance appealed to Confederate Brigadier General Henry Heth, the departmental commander, to send troops to suppress this lawlessness. General Heth ordered Lieutenant Colonel James A. Keith to mount an operation in the Shelton Laurel area to break up these roving bands of Unionists and to reassert Confederate authority. Lt. Colonel Keith’s regiment had lost a number of men to desertion, and it was believed that these deserters were hiding out in the Shelton Laurel area. After intimidating a number of families, Lt. Colonel Keith captured a group of men and boys ranging from the ages of 13 to 56, and started to move them toward the Confederate authorities in East Tennessee. After several prisoners escaped during the night, Lt. Colonel Keith ordered the remaining prisoners, thirteen in number, to be shot and buried in the Shelton Laurel community.

News of the massacre slowly began to seep out of Western North Carolina to Governor Vance. In a letter dated January 31, 1863, Solicitor for the Eighth District, Augustus Merrimon, wrote to Governor Vance concerning the end of the “Laurel expedition,” and informed him that “a number of prisoners were shot” and that he hoped that these rumors were untrue. Merrimon confirmed that the rumors were true in his second letter to Governor Vance dated February 16, 1863. As solicitor of the region, Merrimon interviewed sources to confirm the killings to Governor Vance, and requested to prosecute Lt. Colonel Keith and others of his command for murder. Vance had reason to believe Merrimon, since he was a personal friend and former law partner in Asheville, North Carolina. Vance appealed to Confederate Brigadier General Heth over the atrocity committed in North Carolina, and vowed to prosecute those responsible. By April 1863, Lt. Colonel Keith resigned from the Confederate Army claiming that his ability to command was being compromised by his fellow officers. Keith later claimed that he acted on the verbal orders of Confederate Brigadier General Heth to not take any prisoners from insurgents in the county.

By 1864, further events in the war soon overshadowed the massacre that occurred in Madison County. Brigadier General Heth ended the war as a divisional commander in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Lt. Colonel Keith went into hiding after his resignation, and was arrested after the war for murder, but escaped the Buncombe County jail on February 21, 1869. Keith was proclaimed innocent by the North Carolina Supreme Court, due to the application of U.S. President Andrew Johnson’s Amnesty Act of 1868. He later escaped to Arkansas, and no longer took an active role in public life. As U.S. Senator, Augustus Merrimon attempted to obtain pensions for the surviving widows of the victims, but his efforts were defeated in committee. To this day, descendents of the men and boys killed in January 1863 still live in the area in and around Shelton Laurel.

Please attend our free “Second Mondays” lecture pertaining to the Shelton Laurel Massacre on Monday, February 11, 2013 from 10:30 am to 11:30 am in the Auditorium of the Archives & History Building at 109 East Jones Street, Raleigh, NC.

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Good Friday Hours, YouTube Videos, the 1940 Census, and a Civil War Update

A lot has been happening at 109 E. Jones St. in the past few weeks, so here’s a summary blog post to catch you up.

First of all, please remember that the State Archives will be closed April 6-8, 2012 for the Good Friday holiday. The Search Room will be open to the public for its regularly scheduled hours on Tuesday, April 10th. If you ever need to know what our hours are, what holidays we close for, or how to find parking near the building, please visit the Hours and Parking page on our website.

There is a new set of videos available on our YouTube channel; the five tutorials deal with social media in state government and give guidance on: how North Carolina state government agencies can utilize social media sites to reach citizens in new ways; acceptable use of social media; security concerns; and records retention of public records created on social media sites as well as the preservation of those public records. More tutorials and guidelines on these subjects are available on the Government Records Branch website. Also please remember that you can find video tutorials on how to use our online catalog MARS on our YouTube channel as well.

If you weren’t able to attend the 1940 Census Release Party hosted by the State Library, you can get a good idea of the excitement generated at the event by watching this video from Raleigh’s WRAL. In connection with the release of the 1940 Census, the News and Observer published an article about the North Carolina Digital Collections (NCDC), a joint project of both the State Archives and the State Library and something that I’ve mentioned on this blog often. The NCDC is the home for our Treasures, Christmas materials, Civil War items, WPA cemetery surveys and Bible Records, World War I photographs, and so many other items from our collections, so it was wonderful to see the site get some recognition.

Speaking of the Civil War, there are new posts on our Civil War 150 blog and several of my coworkers have persistently reminded me that I need to pass that information on to all of our readers here. So, here is a quick list (with links) of what’s new on that site:

Finally, there is an updated version of the Guide to Newspapers on Microfilm in the North Carolina State Archives available in PDF format from our website. If you have questions about these or any other topics, you can always ask it in the comments on the blog or email us at: archives@ncdcr.gov. And if you want to keep up to date on the latest news from the State Archives, you can always follow us on Twitter.

The State Archives on TV and Civil War 150 News

I’ve got a couple of updates for you:

If you were watching the TV show “Who Do You Think You Are” on Friday night you may have been surprised to see the State Archives of North Carolina on the episode in which Reba McEntire explores her family history. I know our staff members were thrilled to be involved in the taping of this episode. If you missed it, the video for the episode is available on the NBC website until 9/16/2012. The Cultural Resources press release about the film crew’s visit is available, as is a short News and Observer article about the show.

The first part of 2012 is a busy time for North Carolina Civil War 150 news due to the Burnside Expedition’s activities in the eastern part of the state during 1862. As a result, there’s been a flurry of activity on our Civil War blog, including:

And if you’d like to listen to Chris talk about the Burnside Expedition, he was interviewed about it by WOUB, an NPR affiliate in Ohio.

Holiday Reminder, NC Digital Collections, and Civil War Update

I have a few bits of news to pass along today. First, the North Carolina State Archives will be closed Monday, January 16th for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. If you ever want to know which state holidays we’re closed for, you can always consult the Hours page on our website.

Second, December was a very busy month for the Information Management Branch, the unit responsible for scanning, websites, social media and metadata here at the State Archives. On top of the WPA Cemetery Survey Records (which you may have read about earlier this week), we added Christmas cards, photos of Raleigh’s Jolly’s Jewelers, and a new Civil War diary to the North Carolina Digital Collections, our joint project with the State Library of North Carolina. January is turning out to be just as busy; here are some of the NC Digital Collections projects that are underway this month:

    • Letters and other items from the Williams-Womble Papers are the newest addition to our online Civil War materials;
    • I am working on the metadata for a group of United States Army Signal Corps photographs that Tiffanie scanned in late 2011. A few of those items are already available in the World War I Collection; look for all of the photographs to be online probably around March 2012. These materials will be added to a couple of small groups of correspondence that are already available in the World War I Collection, including the letters of James W. Alston, an African-American 1st Lieutenant who served in the 372nd Infantry, and Arthur Bluethenthal, who served in the American Ambulance Field Service.

And finally, it’s been a while since I updated the readers of History For All the People on the First Wednesday series that our Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee has been writing. In fact, the last Civil War Round Up on this blog was in June and since then:

Civil War 150 Round-up

There’s been a lot of activity over on our Civil War 150 blog recently. I thought I’d mention a few of the highlights here, since I suspect that not all of the readers of this blog follow the other blog on a regular basis.

There have been new additions to our First Wednesdays project:

  1. February: the Peace Conference and Fort Caswell
  2. March: the Arkansas Resolutions and Hardship
  3. April: Gov. Ellis reply and the Faison Letter
  4. May: Secession
  5. June: Henry Lawson Wyatt

Video from parts of the symposium “Contested Past: Memories and Legacies of the Civil War: A Conference to Commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War in North Carolina” (the first of three North Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial conferences) is now available. See this blog post for a list of YouTube videos available via the Dept. of Cultural Resources.

In “The Presentation, the newspaper, and the TV show” blog posts,  my coworker Chris writes about tracking down the H. A. Sledge testament – see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

New Items Added to NC Digital Collections

We are constantly adding new materials to the North Carolina Digital Collections, but two recently added items are worthy of special attention.

First, Tiffanie and I just added these materials to the Treasures of the State Archives online exhibit:

Resolutions of the General Assembly submitted to the Senate and/or referred to Senate committee in early January 1861.

One resolution states that “unless by the 4th day of March next the lust of exclusive Northern sectional domination shall be quenched and a reaction in public sentiment at the North upon the subject of slavery shall have taken place…it will be the duty of North Carolina, making common cause with her sister states of the South, to seek safety out of the Union…”

Read more on the Treasures site or see the resolutions themselves in the North Carolina Digital Collections.

Second, as a part of our monthly First Wednesdays project, we have added the reply from Governor Ellis to a request by the United States Secretary of War for troops from North Carolina (April 14, 1861); that document, like our Civil War letters and other First Wednesdays documents, is now part of the Civil War Collection in the North Carolina Digital Collections. You can read more about the Ellis letter in a blog post that Chris has written on our Civil War 150 blog.

February Edition of First Wednesdays

The February First Wednesdays article is now posted on the North Carolina Civil War 150 blog. This time around Chris is writing about the North Carolina delegates to the 1861 Peace Conference.

If you want to know more about the First Wednesdays project, here is the introductory blog post.

If you want to see all the First Wednesday posts listed together, they can be found here.