ASHEVILLE, N. C., February 16, 1863.
Governor Z. B. VANCE, Raleigh, N. C.
GOVERNOR: Your letter of the 9th instant is just received. I beg to assure you that I shall at the next term of the court prosecute vigorously such of the prisoners to whom you direct my attention as may be turned over to the civil authorities. The late expedition to Laurel sent only four prisoners to jail and one of them was admitted to bail on yesterday by Judge Bailey. I understand there are no more to send. I have no knowledge of my own touching the shooting of several prisoners on Laurel. I have learned, however, from a most reliable source that thirteen of them were killed; that some of them were not taken in arms but at their homes; that of all the men shot thirteen if not more were prisoners at the time they were shot; that they were taken off to a secluded cover or gorge in the mountains and then made to kneel down and were thus shot. One man was badly and mortally shot in the bowels and while he was writhing in agony and praying to God for mercy a soldier mercilessly and brutally shot him in the head with his pistol. Several women were whipped.
This I learn from one who got his information from some of the guilty parties. I learn that all this was done by order of Lieutenant Colonel James A. Keith. I know not what you intend doing with the guilty parties, but I suggest they are all guilty of murder. I do not suppose they had any order to do so barbarous a deed, but if they had the order was void absolutely, no matter by whom issued. Such savage and barbarous cruelty is without a parallel in this State and I hope in every other. I am gratified that you intend to take the matter in hand. I will make such investigation as I can, but I have no means of compelling any one to disclose facts to me. It will not be difficult I learn to prove that the prisoners were killed. I assure you that I will prosecute all persons who have committed criminal offenses in this circuit at the next term of the court and in the meantime I will do all in my power to suppress crime and violence. These are fearfully on the increase in this section of the State. A report might be made that would astonish you. I have done all I could in reference to the complaints made to you from Jackson and Cherokee Counties.
I am, &c., yours, truly,
A. S. MERRIMON.
ADJT. AND INSP. GENERAL'S OFFICE, Numbers 49.
Richmond, February 27, 1863.
VIII. Captain W. H. Hatch, assistant adjutant-general, will proceed without delay to Tuallahoma, Tenn., on business in connection with the exchange of prisoners. He will report to Colonel Robert Ould in this city for instructions. Having discharged these duties he will report at the office of the Adjutant and Inspector General in this city.
By command of the Secretary of War: