The Civil War in the Southern Highlands: The Shelton Laurel Massacre, A Human Perspective

This documentary film was produced by the Rural Heritage Museum to accompany its recent exhibition entitled " The Civil War in the Southern Highlands: A Human Perspective". It presents an account, using rare original letters and newly-discovered documents, of the personal struggles of the people living in the Southern Highlands, particularly Madison County, NC, during the middle of the 19th century

The film asks many questions about the role of women, conscription, brother against brother, starvation, bushwhacking and the act of changing sides and loyalties in the war.

For many families in Madison County, NC, each January has marked a sordid anniversary that’s difficult to forget, even more than 150 years later. As the snow lay thick across the mountains and valleys in January, 1863, Confederate soldiers summarily arrested then executed 13 prisoners -- mostly old men and boys -- in the remote Shelton Laurel valley. These individuals were like many of the Unionists in the mountains. They were descendants of those who fought to establish the Union and were thus loyal to it, even in the South.

The focus of the film, the “Shelton Laurel Massacre,” as it became known to posterity, drove a deep wound into the rural communities of Madison County that lingers to this day. In many ways, the events of January, 1863, have become emblematic of the Civil War as fought in the mountains: confused and complicated, often conducted outside the “rules” of war by individuals with changeable loyalties, looking only to survive. The resulting consequences were often brutal for the women, children, and former African-American slaves left to tend to the homes and farms left behind. YouTube