Civil War Trails in Madison County, NC
Many of the stories about Madison County’s part in the Civil War involve divided families and loyalties because of our geographical location. A special ceremony was held in February 2007 to dedicate the three markers in Madison County commemorating events of importance. The stories included for the towns of Hot Springs and Marshall are somewhat connected and occurred in 1863. The story for the town of Mars Hill was in the last months of the war. The markers on the North Carolina Civil War Trails battle route mirror those installed along the multi-state program Civil War trail systems in the rest of North Carolina as well as Virginia and Maryland and are part of a heritage tourism program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Trail Marker in Hot Springs NC: Warm Springs Hotel, Brother Against Brother
GPS: 35° 53.759′ N, 82° 49.513′ W. The marker is on River Road, on the right when traveling north on US Highway 25 just over the French Broad River when entering the town of Hot Springs.
A Union regiment made up largely of Confederate deserters and Union-supporting area citizens captured and briefly held Warm Springs Hotel in the fall of 1863. The hotel was Union headquarters until the Northerners were expelled in late October. The engagements at Warm Springs were unusual because local Southern Unionists and local Southern Confederates, both serving in regularly enlisted units, fought each other on their home soil, brother against brother.
On October 17, 1863, Union Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside reported from Knoxville, Tennessee, that “a regiment of North Carolina troops we are now organizing here yesterday captured Warm Springs, N.C., and now hold Paint Rock Gap.” This regiment, the 2nd North Carolina Mounted Infantry, included Confederate army deserters and more than 70 men recruited at Shelton Laurel, a community northeast of here. At Shelton Laurel the previous January, Confederate troops executed prisoners “suspected of Unionism” and of raiding the town of Marshall. (See the Marker for the town of Marshall below) The 2nd North Carolina was the first of two Union regiments raised nearby in the mountains of Western North Carolina and East Tennessee. In capturing Warm Springs, the regiment overran a detachment of the 25th North Carolina Infantry (C.S.A.) on October 16 and then established its headquarters here on the grounds of the Warm Springs Hotel.
Within a few days, part of Confederate Maj. John W. Woodfin’s Cavalry Battalion advanced down the road along the French Broad River from Marshall to attack the Federals. Woodfin was shot from his horse and killed just across the river from here, and cavalryman Jake Davis was wounded and later died. Gen. Robert B. Vance, brother of Gov. Zebulon B. Vance, led further attacks on the Union troops here in several engagements, October 20-26, 1863. Each side suffered casualties, and by November 1, the 2nd North Carolina Mounted Infantry was back in East Tennessee recruiting.
The natural mineral springs were first discovered by the Native Americans and eventually became a tourist draw in the early 1800s with the Warm Springs Hotel. When it burned later in the century, it was replaced by the Mountain Park Hotel (which also burned in the mid 1900s). The Mountain Park Hotel established the first organized golf club in the southeast with a nine-hole course. The Hot Springs Resort and Spa now operates on the grounds and continues to be a tourist draw for those wishing to experience the reputedly healing waters.
Trail Marker in Mars Hill: Mars Hill College
Strategic Location, Divided Loyalties
GPS: 35° 49.623′ N, 82° 32.968′ W. Marker is on College Street at the south end of the Mars Hill University quad right off of Main Street in Mars Hill.
This small institution found itself in the middle of some nasty business as local folks divided between North and South. A small Confederate detachment held the strategic crossroads town early, but lost support as Union sympathies grew. When local Union troops entered town at the end of the war, they burned several of the college buildings. A Union League had been organized to protect returning Union soldiers and freed slaves. In response, the Confederate contingent organized the KKK to protect returning Confederate soldiers. Kirk’s Union soldiers burned 2 wooden college buildings constituting 40% of the campus at the time. There were even affidavits from citizens attesting to the fact that they witnessed the Union soldiers burning the college buildings, but nothing came of it.
Baptist farm families here established Mars Hills College in 1856. The four-acre college campus had three structures by 1861: a two-story brick classroom building, a frame dormitory for boys, and a frame teachers’ residence. They stood about 75 yards in front of you.
During the war, neighbors, families and even brothers here were divided in their loyalties to the Southern cause, but many joined the Confederate army during the first two years. Mars Hill was a strategic location, a crossroads for north-south and east-west travel. A hundred-man detachment from the 64th North Carolina Infantry – called “Keith’s Detail” – was posted here, the first of several Confederate units at Mars Hill during the war. The college was closed during the last two years of the conflict as conditions in mountain communities deteriorated and supported for the Confederacy waned.
Home Guard commander Gen. John W. McElroy had his headquarters here after July 1863. He wrote to North Carolina Governor Zebulon B. Vance in April 1864, “I have 100 men at this place to guard against [Union Col. George W.] Kirk, of Laurel, and cannot reduce the force….In fact, it seems to me that there is a determination of the people in this country generally to do no more service in the cause.”
Confederate troops left Mars Hill to forage in March 1865, just before Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender in Virginia, Kirk led his 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry (U.S.) into the village and burned the college dormitory and teachers’ residence. Mars Hill College survived the war’s depredations, but it took forty years to replace what had been destroyed.
Mars Hill College began as one building in 1856. There was no town; only four families living in the area. The land on which it was founded was four acres of a cornfield. The town of Mars Hill was founded later and the center is marked by a stone nearby from which a circle was drawn to mark the town limits. When it opened in the fall of 1856 as the French Broad Baptist Institute, it was founded by families in the area who wanted to provide a quality education for their students within a framework of Baptist beliefs. Twenty-three “founding families” have been identified of those Western North Carolina mountaineers who contributed funds, land, and labor to build the original building that became Mars Hill College. Although most of the work was done by voluntary labor, some was performed by an Asheville contractor. When an amount of $1100 was not paid, the sheriff from Buncombe County took Joe Anderson, a slave, as collateral and put him in jail until the families could raise the money to free him from jail. Joe Anderson is now listed as one of those founding families. Joe’s great-great-granddaughter, Oralene Graves (now Simmons) became the first African-American student admitted to the college in 1961. Her admittance made Mars Hill one of the first residential colleges in North Carolina to admit black students.
Trail Marker in Marshall NC: Col. Allen House, Divided Loyalties
GPS: 35°47.802′ N, 82° 40.928′ W. The marker is on Main Street in downtown Marshall –39 South Main.
Divided loyalties boiled over early here when a local election in May 1861 resulted in gunfire and death. In January 1863 a band of Union soldiers and citizen sympathizers from the Shelton Laurel community raided Marshall, burning and looting buildings. Confederate troops executing 13 prisoners. The event became known as the “Shelton Laurel Massacre.”
On May 13, 1861, voters gathered here in Marshall, the Madison County seat, to elect a delegate for the Secession Convention to be held in Raleigh. The citizens were divided in their loyalties. Sheriff Ransom P. Merrill and others were later described as “husawing for Jeff Davis & the confederacy,” while men of different opinions were shouting for “Washington and the Union.” One witness later noted that “a good Deel of Liquor had been drank that day.” When a dispute broke out between some Unionists and the sheriff, Merrill drew his pistol and shot and wounded Elisha Tweed, Elisha’s father and former clerk of the superior court, then shot Merrill with a double-barreled shotgun and killed him. The Tweeds later joined the 4th Tennessee Infantry (U.S.), but Neely died of fever in 1862. The voters elected secessionist J. A. McDowell to the state convention.
The local “war within a war” had escalated in the mountains by January 1863, when Unionists from the county’s Shelton Laurel community were deprived of salt. A band of 50 or 60 Union soldiers and civilians raided Marshall, taking salt and other provisions and wounding Confederate Capt. John Peek. The raiders also ransacked the house in front of you, the home of Col. Lawrence M. Allen, 64th North Carolina Infantry. Two of Allen’s children, who were lying in the house desperately ill at the time, afterward died.
Confederate troops marched on Shelton Laurel to “put down the insurrection” and recover property taken from Marshall. Meeting resistance, the Confederates summarily executed at least 13 prisoners, men and boys, in what became known as the “Shelton Laurel Massacre.”