Historic America

Civil War Ballads: Lone Pine Hill

Justin Townes Earle wrote and recorded “Lone Pine Hill” for his debut studio album The Good Life, released in 2008 on Bloodshot Records. Earle was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee and is known for a unique blend of folk, blues, and country music. “Lone Pine Hill” is about a Confederate soldier from what was then trans-Allegheny Virginia who becomes disillusioned in the waning days of the war and longs to return home to his sweetheart.

James M. Keller (right), 12th West Virginia Infantry, enlisted in Aug 1862 and fought (for the Union) until the end of the war.

I swear I see her in my dreams sometimes
Held up in the middle of the night
Shakin’ like a pistol in a young man’s hand
There in the pale moonlight

Standin’ up the top of that lonely hill
Spared by the company mines
Is my blue-eyed baby with her best dress on
In the shadow of a lonely pine

It was back before the war
When the company came
These hills grew wild and free
Me and baby we’d hide in the hollers low
Away from the cruel sun’s heat

But then they knocked down the timber
And burned off the brush
To get to the riches below
And when they pulled out
They left a cold black ground
And one pine standing lone

So take me home…
Lone Pine Hill

I signed up back in ’61
I’m an Army of Virginia man
I’ve been from Manassas to Monocacy
All the way to Sailor’s Creek fighting
For my homeland

After four years gone and all hope lost
And Richmond under siege
And we’re diggin’ out Five Forks
And waitin’ in the rain
For Sheridan to bring us to our knees

So take me home…
Lone Pine Hill

There’s a strange moon hangin’ overhead tonight
And if the rain keeps comin’ then the creek’s gonna rise
With the good Lord’s grace
I’ll make it outta this place
I’ll be in her arms come the morning light I swear…

So God grant me speed and grant me forgiveness
And carry me on through the night
Take me through the hills and over your rivers
Away from this awful fight

Cause I ain’t never known a man that’s ever owned another
Ain’t never owned nothin’ of my own
And after four long years I just can’t tell you
What the hell I’ve been fighting for…

So take me home…
Lone Pine Hill
Take me home…
Lone Pine Hill

Western Virginia, which was part of Appalachia, had strong Unionist sentiment before and during the American Civil War. This led West Virginia to break away and vote to become its own state in 1861 (formally admitted to the Union in June 1863). Most white Appalachians, including those in western North Carolina, were not slave owners and did not want to fight for the wealthy planter class. Justin Townes Earle speaks to this when he sings, “Cause I ain’t never known a man that’s ever owned another; Ain’t never owned nothin’ of my own.”

Still, plenty of young men from this region fought for the Confederacy. There is an interesting theory that West Virginia broke away primarily out of fear it would be immediately overrun by Union armies. Volunteers from West Virginia could easily have joined Virginia regiments.

The song mentions several battles, including Manassas, Monocacy, Sailor’s Creek, and Five Forks. Sailor’s Creek and Five Forks were two of the last battles of the war. Five Forks was fought on April 1, 1865 as a rear guard action to protect General Robert E. Lee’s supply lines as he evacuated Petersburg, Virginia. Union Major General Philip Sheridan (also mentioned in the song) overwhelmed the Confederates and inflicted heavy casualties. Sailor’s Creek, April 6, 1865, was the largest battle on the road to Appomattox Courthouse and the Confederate Army’s eventual surrender three days later. Interestingly, the 2nd Regiment, West Virginia Cavalry did fight at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek, but for the Union.

One inaccuracy is when the narrator states, “I’m an Army of Virginia man.” Lee’s army was called the Army of Northern Virginia. There was a short-lived Union army, commanded by Maj. Gen. John Pope, called the Army of Virginia. It was destroyed at the Battle of Second Manassas in 1862.

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