Thursday, February 17, 2011

Blue and gray in the blood red clay

War is not glorious--it is a hideous waste. Historians would do well to stop trying to give "meaning" to war. DGF and Ed Ayers are doing their part to strip war of romance. The fan club's collection of Civil War songs supports their efforts. We do not include anthems or marching songs: no "Dixie, " no "Battle Hymn."

Our collection is about death and regret, longing and loss. More than half a million boys and men died in the war, the equivalent of six million souls in terms of today's population of the U.S. Any Southerner who spends time on ancestry dot com sees death dates in the 1860s of great great great grandfathers, uncles, and male cousins many times removed. It is a wonder any of us are here at all.

People are still writing Civil War songs. Here is perhaps the newest, one that silenced an entire mini-van of DGF fans when it came on the radio a few weeks ago. It is by Shawn Mullins, a Georgia man whose work usually takes on subjects like Tinsel Town, dying auto towns, and lost love. He grew up near Catoosa County, and he channels a soldier destroyed by the killing he has done in a battle there. We don't know if he wore Blue or Gray, and we don't care.

Catoosa County

I turned 17 spring of 1861, and I killed 20 men before I turned 21
20 holes in 20 men 20 holes they’s buried in
buried where they lay in the cold red clay of Catoosa County.

I can hear the screaming I can smell black powder burning
Cannon balls flying and Gatling guns a turning
A thousand souls a thousand men a thousand holes they’s buried in
shallow graves in the cold hard clay of Catoosa County.

And the blue and the gray paint the colors of the lie
And the old men find a way to send the young men off to die
If I could I would place a hundred billion dollar bounty
On the hate that makes a war that digs the graves of Catoosa County.

Night falling on the hills and the cold moon comes up shining
And I can hear the whippoorwill and the coyotes go to whining
And all the souls of all the men roll in the holes they’s buried in
Blue and gray in the blood red clay of Catoosa County

And the blue and the gray are the colors of the lies
And it’s true you can pray but even God ain’t saying why
If I could I would place a hundred billion dollar bounty
On the hate that makes the wars that digs the graves of Catoosa County.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The power of song

To commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the fan club has been collecting songs about the War and dusting off our fiddles, guitars, mandolins, and upright bass. (No we did not allow one member to contribute instead a washtub bass. We have our standards.)
We focus on music that laments the waste of war, in keeping with DGF's most recent book, The Republic of Death. Drew has urged writers about war to acknowledge the ability of war to provide meaning and sense of agency to ordinary life. In recognizing that power we might begin to over come it, she has said more eloquently.
What better song to start with than Blue-Eyed Boston Boy. It tells a story has surely happened countless ways too many times over, in this war and in others. The author is unknown and the imagery rich: "the Rebels with shot and shell Plowed furrows of death in the toiling ranks..."

He was just a blue eyed Boston boy his voice was low with pain
I'll do your bidding, comrade mine if you will do the same
But if you ride on and I should fall you'll do as much for me
My mother at home is awaiting the news so write to her tenderly
She's waiting at home like a patient saint her pale face filled with woe
Her heart will be broken when I am dead I'll see her face no more
Just then the order came to charge for a moment hand touched hand
They answered aye and on they rode that brave and devoted band
Straight way was the course to the top of the hill and the Rebels with shot and shell
Plowed furrows of death in the toiling ranks and guarded them as they fell
There soon came a horrible dying sound from the heights they could not gain
And those that doom and death had spared rode slowly back again
But among the dead at the top of the hill lay the boy with the golden hair
And the tall dark man who rode by his side lay still beside him there
There was none to write to his blue-eyed girl the words her lover had said
While a mother at home is awaiting her son she'll only find he's dead
While mother at home is awaiting her son she'll only find he's dead

This is the best version, if you ignore the ambient noise and walking around. Looks kind of like the fan club band only different!