Civil War Ballads: Muleshoe

David Matthews (no, not that one) wrote and recorded this song for Classic Images’ Civil War 125th Anniversary Series VHS (1987) on the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. It also appeared on his 1994 album Shades of Blue & Gray: Songs From The Civil War, released by Delta, and re-released on various alternatively-titled albums over the years. “Muleshoe” refers to a salient in the Confederate breastworks at the Battle of Spotsylvania.

As Yankees fixed their bayonets to charge the Muleshoe
they laid their knapsacks and their bedding down
With death so close beside them they weren’t goin’ very far
In a moment there’d be life’s blood on the ground

Carved in blood-red soil rebels built their fortress well
Like a lion with its pride they vowed to fight
And their earthen scar would prove to be a grave for Yankee blue
Raw courage was their armor inside the Muleshoe

Place the ring upon your finger and the laurel on your head
And the golden star upon your crisp lapel
If only for a moment just inside the Muleshoe
The price was paid for glory by the gray and by the blue

Like a dagger poised in darkness Federals waited for the call
To slash into the rebels in their way
Like a ninety-nine pound hammer Yankees charged down at the pines
And the searing flames of rifles sent the rebels to their graves

Battle of Spottsylvania by Thure de Thulstrup

Standing tall among the dying Georgians made their final stand
Their courage was their weapon in their hand
Impaled upon the breastworks in their screaming agony
And price was paid for glory by the gray and by the blue
To stand for just a moment in the deadly Muleshoe

Place the ring upon your finger and the laurel on your head
And the golden star upon your crisp lapel
If only for a moment just inside the Muleshoe
The price was paid for glory by the gray and by the blue

As darkness fell the battle slowly spent its angry rage
And the rebel band played ‘Nearer my God to Thee’
And the Yankees proudly answered with a song by Francis Key
Entwined their mournful music rose like smoke among the tree

Place the ring upon your finger and the laurel on your head
And the golden star upon your crisp lapel
If only for a moment just inside the Muleshoe
The price was paid for glory by the gray and by the blue

And so it was that sunny spring upon Virginia soil
That General Grant was clearly heard to say
‘If it takes a hundred thousand boys, then take them if you will,
for the rebels are too strong to wish away.’

Place the ring upon your finger and the laurel on your head
And the golden star upon your crisp lapel
If only for a moment just inside the Muleshoe
The price was paid for glory by the gray and by the blue

Place the ring upon your finger and the laurel on your head
And the golden star upon your crisp lapel
If only for a moment just inside the Muleshoe
The price was paid for glory by the gray and by the blue
The price was paid for glory by the gray and by the blue

The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House was fought in Spotsylvania County, Virginia from May 8 to 20, 1864, between the Army of Northern Virginia led by Robert E. Lee and the Army of the Potomac and the IX Corps led by Ulysses S. Grant, George G. Meade, and Ambrose Burnside. 4,240 men were killed and 18,830 wounded in over a week of fighting.

By the night of May 8, the Confederates had constructed earthworks that extended into a salient over a mile from the main line. The Union Army recognized this weakness, and Col. Emory Upton led a group of 12 regiments, roughly 5,000 men, in a narrow, deep battle formation in an attack on the salient. Although eventually pushed back, the attack was successful enough to impress General Grant.

That night, a Confederate band played the hymn “Nearer My God to Thee,” touching off a battle of the bands that stirred the hearts of soldiers of both armies. As the song says, “And the Yankees proudly answered with a song by Francis Key,” i.e., “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Grant ordered a similar attack on May 12 using Major General Winfield S. Hancock’s II Corps. Fighting at what became known as the “Bloody Angle” was some of the most brutal of the war. Again, the Union Army broke through, but again, the Confederates were able to halt their advance and stabilize the line.

I haven’t been able to verify the quote attributed to General Grant in this song, but it is a characteristic portrayal of Grant as being indifferent to the horrific casualties his army sustained in its Overland Campaign against Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. In fact, Grant may have simply been a realist about what it would take to overcome the Confederacy. President Lincoln himself noted that despite the uneven casualties sustained in the Battle of Fredericksburg, several such battles would destroy Lee’s army, while the Union Army would remain. In Grant, he finally found a general who understood this terrible calculation.

Advertisements

About Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and freelance columnist. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He lives in Rockford, Illinois, where he was the 2013 Republican candidate for mayor.

Posted on May 25, 2017, in History, Music and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: