More On the Shelton Laurel Massacre - TribPapers

More On the Shelton Laurel Massacre

Photo by Clint Parker

Madison County – A week or so ago, the Tribune published an article on the Shelton Laurel massacre (SLM), just one of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of tragedies and atrocities that happened during the Civil War.

The article caught the eye of one Madison County native, Dan Slagle, who has researched the massacre since he learned about it after returning home from a stint in the Navy in the 1980s. “Growing up in Madison County, I never heard that story until I got home out of the Navy, and I read about it in a book,” Slagle told us.

While Slagle had praise for the article as far as it went, as you can imagine, with decades of researching the incident, he had more, and we thought it would be good to glean some of that information Slagle had found out about the massacre and pass more depth of the story on to our readers. Slagle had much more information than we could fit into one story, but here is additional insight into the tragedy.

Asked about errors or omissions our story may have had, Slagle said, “Well, it’s a complicated story…you did a good article from the information you had, but it boils down to sources,” he replied. ” I can share what I’ve found over the years.”

Slagle said that the date of the massacre “a lot of places have that that happen January 18, 1863. I have documentation from three or four sources of the time that that killing occurred on January 19, 1863. While there is only a one-day difference, Slagle said details are essential.

He said a lot of information that’s out there on the massacre comes from a book by Phillip Shaw Paludan called “Victims: A True Story Of the Civil War.” Paludan was a professor at a college in the Midwest. Slage says of Paludan’s work, “I guess it’s the best information out there to date that’s been published, as far as book form, but golly, he got so much stuff wrong that it’s not funny.” The January 18 date is part of that incorrect information. “It really makes no difference than a hill of beans, I guess…I’m real picky about details because sometimes you start adding up all those details, and you start getting a different story,” he added.

“I was happy to see you said the force that did this, the killing, was under the command of Lawrence Allen. In most places, we read that ‘no, no, Allen was not even there. He was under suspension for doing something. He was back in Tennessee.” Who else would have been blamed for the massacre? Lieutenant-Colonel James A. Keith is who some credit command of the men.

Indeed, a newspaper from “The New York Times” quoting the Memphis Bulletin said Allen was “suspended for six months for crime and drunkenness.” However, Slagle said of newspapers, “This is a Union newspaper article – not to be confused with “history.” Both South and North used newspapers as propaganda tools. There are many “facts” in this article that are just not so…I have documentation that he was there from two or three different sources of the time.”

He did say Keith wrote a 12-page letter in which he denied being a part of the killings or being in command. He also said that the last he saw of “the prisoners, they road off with Col. Allen and Capt. Nelson.” “I’m not sure I believe that story either, but at least it’s coming from a primary source,” said Slagle.

He also took umbrage with the phrase used in the article that “the 64th had a fierce loyalty to the Confederate cause.” “I’m not so sure that was true. Some of the officers may have felt that way, but by the time the 64th was formed, I’m guessing most of those guys were not enrolled by volunteering in the 64th. The conscription act had come along by then, and they [the men] didn’t have much choice,” explained Slagle.

Slage had much more to say about the SLM, but in the long story short, check your sources and compare accounts of the story.