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Laurel Creek Massacre

by Paul E. Kuhl, 2006

In April 1864 a Union brigade from Tennessee, commanded by Col. George Washington Kirk, entered Madison County to recruit "home Yankees" for the 2nd and 3rd North Carolina Mounted Volunteers, defeat Confederate forces, and chastise Confederate sympathizers. Kirk's Brigade arrived unopposed and scoured the Laurel Valley, where Shelton Laurel Creek flows into Big Laurel Creek. Madison County was defended only by Home Guard units from Yancey County under Brig. Gen. John W. McElroy, who was ensconced at Mars Hill bracing himself for an attack.

Kirk's Mounted Volunteers encountered the home of a 40-year-old widow, Nance "Granny" Franklin. They characterized Granny Franklin's four sons as Confederate sympathizers who had fought alongside Confederate forces and bushwhacked Union troops moving through the area. Only three sons were present that day, George Franklin being away. When troops surrounded the house, Granny Franklin urged her sons to defend themselves. Balus, James, and Josiah emerged from the cabin shooting. A return volley killed Balus and James. Fifteen-year-old Josiah crawled under the house and killed two soldiers who tried to capture him. Granny Franklin was trying to prevent the soldiers from burning the cabin when one of them shot off a lock of her hair. On emerging from under the burning building, Josiah was killed immediately. As Kirk's Brigade left Granny Franklin with her three dead sons, they rode off shouting, "Bloody Madison!"

This and the earlier Shelton Laurel Massacre were the most notorious incidents of western North Carolina's own civil war within the Civil War.


James O. Hall, "The Shelton Laurel Massacre: Murder in the North Carolina Mountains," Blue & Gray (February 1991).

Phillip Shaw Paludan, Victims: A True Story of the Civil War (repr., 2004).

Manly Wade Wellman, The Kingdom of Madison: A Southern Mountain Fastness and Its People (1973).

Additional Resources:

Trotter, William R. "The Sons of Granny Franklin." Bushwackers! The Civil War in North Carolina: The Mountains." p. 135-136. Winston-Salem, N.C.: John F. Blair. 1988. (accessed September 24, 2012).

Shelton, Arthur Paul. The Families of James Shelton of McMinn County, Tennessee  and His Father Roderick Shelton  of Buncombe County, North Carolina  and Their Antecedents. Knoxville, Tenn.: Arthur Paul Shelton. 1987. p. 160-161. (accessed September 24, 2012).

Origin - location: 



My grandfather Simon Harrell born in North Carolina and lived most of his life in Tennessee, born in 1889 told me about the divisions of families during the Civil War. He said some family members were for the south and some for the north which caused for a dangerous situation. His family really didn't want to fight and tried to stay neutral but after his uncle was killed by Confederate soldiers they were prone more toward the Union.


A fine example of you can't believe everything you read. George, Balus, James, and Josiah were not Franklins. They were Nortons. They were not Confederate sympathizers. They were Union troops. They were not killed by Kirk's men. They WERE Kirk's men - killed by Confederate forces. This twisted version of history began with Wellman's book, which was based on oral tradition. The other references cite Wellman and each other. No primary sources here. It would be a good idea to check out Nancy Franklin's pension file.


Dear Dan,

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A few of the best primary sources would be:
1. National Archives and Records Administration pension file of Nancy Franklin.
2. NARA Record Group 94, Microfilm M401, rolls 16 and 22 (compiled Union service records for Balis, James, Josiah, and George Norton Jr.).
3. Clark, Walter, editor. Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War, 1861-1865 Volume 4, page 113-114 (reference to Major Charles M. Roberts who was mortally wounded in engagement).
4. The Charlotte Democrat newspaper, October 11, 1864 (death of Major Roberts).
5. The Daily Progress newspaper, October 6, 1864 (death of Major Roberts).

This engagement between the Norton boys of the 2nd and 3rd North Carolina Mounted Infantry (Union) and troops of the 14th North Carolina Battalion (Confederate) took place on September 27, 1864.

Thanks for the opportunity to respond!

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