Shelton Laurel is in a remote corner of our county -- beautiful wide flat fields lying between wooded mountains. "Some call this hallowed ground," David Shelton told me when I visited him Monday in search of more information on the Civil War atrocity that is the central event of the novel I'm working on.
Some of Shelton's ancestors were among the victims of what is called the Massacre and, as I've already interviewed a descendent of Col. Allen who led the soldiers that killed the Shelton Laurel unionists, I thought I should hear the stories that have come down on the other side. The books that deal with the Massacre and even some of the early sources are contradictory.
Of course I'm writing fiction, but it's real people and real events and I'm trying to exercise due diligence.
At this remove of time, I'm not expecting to find incontrovertible proof of anything -- what I'm writing about deals with the eternal problem of Good and Evil and all the shades in between. I'm exploring Man's inhumanity to Man and trying to see all the sides in the story.
I picked up some interesting tidbits -- some of which are at odds with the accounts I've read other places. The Confederate higher ups did condemn the massacre but there is no way of knowing how accurate the various reports were -- from either side.
Not unlike today. We are at the mercy of the various media and governmental agencies. Who knows what truth is?
But it was a fascinating visit. Mr. Shelton is a charmer and a talented guitarist. After he'd answered my questions, he played for us. And he had some good stories -- when I told him how my son, whose last name is Skemp, had been the only one in his high school homeroom (the students were assigned alphabetically) not named Shelton, he told us about the door to door salesman.
"Down at Glendora‘s store, there was a salesman came through and he’d been making the rounds on Shelton Laurel. He wanted to know why almost every mail box read Shelton.
‘Well,” one of the fellers loafering around told him, 'after the Civil War most all the men up here was dead and there weren’t but three old men left and all of em Sheltons. Well, sir, those old men just went from house to house, visiting the widders and the young women whose sweethearts was dead in the war -- and looks like ever one of them women caught.'"