It today’s anti-Civil War craze, it is nice to see a good quality exhibit on local aspects of the troubles of the 1860s. Mars Hill University has done just that, putting together exhibits and material on the War in the mountains.
Madison County is a prime place to explore the topic. From early war violence, when the sheriff took a shot at a local Unionist, and was then killed, to the numerous raids into and out of the Shelton Laurel, the area had more than its fair share of conflict. Except in places like Bentonville or Fort Fisher, where large-scale battles took place, Madison County just might be the bloodiest ground in the state.
Much of the exhibit focuses on the life of James Keith, lieutenant colonel of the 64th North Carolina Troops. Some of his regiment were the men sent into the Laurel area to deal with the dissidents after the January 1863 salt raid into Madison. In the course of the exhibit and the accompanying video, a different theory is advanced that just maybe, Keith was not responsible for the thirteen killed that cold January morning.
There are plenty of texts and documents to peruse, along with several artifacts from the area.
I do wish the documentary and exhibit had gone a little further in their explanations. There are many period letters and newspaper pieces stating that gangs of men and boys were coming out of the Laurel area of Madison County and robbing people in the surrounding environs blind. A mention or two of those accounts would have carried the conversation even further.
“The Civil War in the Southern Highlands: A Human Perspective,” at the Rural Heritage Museum is well worth your time, and admission is free. It is always great to be on the campus of Mars Hill University. The exhibit runs through March 4, 2018.