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The Civil War and Moonshine

By 1862 it was clear the Civil War would not be as quick and one-sided as both sides thought it would be. The tax on spirits was created again to help pay for the war. After the end of the Civil War in 1865 the South was devastated economically and socially.  Before the war communities came together to help each other.  After the war many people were in feuds with their neighbors over which side they supported in the war and horrific actions committed by neighbor's and their family during the war.   One example in my family was Joseph Shelton who fought for the South, but came home and killed a local Confederate solider who was involved in the Shelton Laurel Massacre, which was the unauthorized execution of young boys and men from Shelton Laurel in 1862 by Confederate's.  The murder started a long line of revenge killings for many years to come.  The Appalachian Mountain region entered a depression that lasted until the 1970's.  When the great depression hit most could not tell the difference.  The region became secluded and cut off from the rest of the world.  Trying to hold onto their land and feed their families became impossible for many.  After the Civil War many people took on making moonshine as a full time job instead of just a seasonal one.  They had to buy grain from local farmers to make it work.  They paid more for grain to make their moonshine than a farmer could get at market and the farmer didn't have to travel to sell their grain.  Gangs of raiders controlled much on the mountains like the one led by my 2nd great uncle John Bradford and included some notable outlaws I will get into later .  Some gangs protected the moonshiners and delivered the moonshine to buyers keeping hostile neighbors or the law and revenue agents from getting their hands on it.  Lewis Redmond was well known for doing that and became a Robin Hood like folk hero.


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John Bradford

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California John      Wilson


Lewis Redmond

Joseph Shelton

John Bradford and his gang have around 20 warrants that I know of.  They ranged from murder,  to horse theft and even highway robbery and assault of the Sheriff of Yancey County where my family has mainly lived for over 200 years.  Most of the gang members were relatives like Joseph Shelton I mentioned earlier, Easom Bradford, California John Wilson, Sanders Higgins, and later Esau Shelton.  Most of them had signed up to fight for the South in the war, but all deserted and most signed up with the 3rd N.C. Mounted Infantry and participated in Stoneman's Raid, which raided and burnt down a lot of N.C.  This is where they learned a lot of their gorilla warfare tactics.  John Bradford and his brothers, Sam, Thomas, Easom, and William Ervin, as well as their father Sam Bradford Sr. fought for the South until Sam and Thomas were killed and their father was sent home to die.  The remaining three brothers went home and hid out in a cave on the family farm.  They were turned in to the Confederate Homeguard and were captured and sent to hang for deserting the Army.  They were locked up in a barn, but managed to dig under the wall and escape.  They joined the 3rd N.C. Mounted Calvary after that and fought the rest of the war out for the North.  Joseph Shelton a cousin and other gang member killed Joel Holcombe in 1862.  He was convicted around 1870, but took it to the N.C. supreme court and won because soldiers were given amnesty for crimes that happened during the Civil War.  John and Easom went to the man that turned them in, Stephen Edwards, and killed him, then began several years of revenge attacks on people that they felt had wronged them or their family.  Their mother my 3rd great grandmother Elizabeth Bradford and their uncle William Bradford were targeted by the local sheriff and charged with crimes like stealing a hog to feed their family.  By 1868 they went on the run to Tennessee and Kentucky where they were involved with train robberies and moonshine.  John came back over the course of the rest of his life and killed multiple other people that he felt had wronged him in some way including Stephen Edwards son Jim Edwards.  The rest of our family was marked and many followed in their footsteps and became moonshiners and outlaws in general to feed their families and survive.  

     The revenue agents sent to stop the moonshiners were often outlaws themselves.  The idea at the time was it took an outlaw to catch an outlaw.  A lot of these federal agents abused their power and hurt and killed people, sometimes even women and children.  The murder rate in this region was the highest in the country in this time period.  A news article in one graveyard alone near Shelton Laurel there were 48 people buried that were killed over feuds following the Civil War.    

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