Reading Matters

Shelton Laurel Massacre subject for new novel

Do you know about the Shelton Laurel Massacre on an icy January day in 1863 in Madison County?

That’s when 13 Union sympathizers from Madison County, men and boys, ages 13 to 60 – seven from the Shelton family – were told to kneel, then shot at point-blank range.

The killings earned the county the dubious nickname of “Bloody Madison.”

Charles Frazier’s 1997 novel, “Cold Mountain,” and Ron Rash’s 2007 novel, “The World Made Straight,” both draw on the massacre and its legacy.

The pro-Unionism of these men had less to do with any anti-slavery sentiment than with their resentment of the secessionist slave owners, who they believed were out to destroy the way of life of the hard-working, common folks.

Terry Roberts of Asheville, with deep roots in Madison County, sensed the massacre would make a central subject for a novel. And he was right. “That Bright Land” is out this week, and Roberts will talk about the history behind the book at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road, Park Road Shopping Center.

Roberts’s own great-great grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Freeman, deserted the Confederacy to join the Union Army. “He’d gotten tired of taking orders,” Roberts tells me by phone from Asheville. “There were a lot of men like that.”

But Roberts’s hero is the fictional Jacob Ballard, a former Union soldier and spy, dispatched by the War Department to investigate disability claims of former soldiers in the North Carolina mountains. His real mission, however, is to find the man who killed several Union veterans.

Civil War buffs: You don’t want to miss this one.

Dannye: dpowell@charlotteobserver.com

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