Category Archives: History

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

Read the rest of this entry

Civil War Ballads: Kelly’s Irish Brigade

Songs singing tribute to Irish soldiers are popular, and since nearly 200,000 Irish immigrants fought in the American Civil War, it’s no surprise so many versions of songs like “Paddy’s Lamentation” and “Kelly’s Irish Brigade” have been recorded. Research suggests “Kelly’s Irish Brigade” was written early in the war, and that there is a Northern and Southern version. The following lyrics are decidedly pro-Southern, and this version was recorded by David Kincaid for his album The Irish-American’s Song (2006).

Colonel Joseph M. Kelly’s Washington Blues regiment was considered the Confederacy’s “Irish brigade”

Listen all ye that hold communion
With southern Confederates bold
While I tell you of some men who for the Union
In the northern ranks were enrolled;
They came to Missouri in their “glory,”
And thought, at their might, we’d be dismayed;
But they soon made them tell a different story

When they met Kelly’s Irish Brigade, me boys
When they met Kelly’s Irish Brigade
Didn’t those cowardly Lincoln-ites tremble
When they met with the Irish brigade?

They have called us rebels and traitors
But themselves have thrown off the name of late
They were called it by the English invaders
At home in the eve of ninety-eight
The name to us is not a new one though
Tis’ one that shall never degrade
And each blue-hearted Irishman
In the ranks of Kelly’s Irish Brigade

Read the rest of this entry

The Great Cat Massacre and other Episodes in French Cultural History

In The Great Cat Massacre: and other Episodes in French Cultural History (1984), historian Robert Darton attempted to reconstruct and understand the mental world of early modern French peasants through their folktales. He began with the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” as told around firesides in peasant cottages during long winter evenings in eighteenth-century France. It’s a little different than the version you may have been told. The story went as follows:

A young girl was instructed to bring some milk and bread to her grandmother’s house. While walking down a path through the woods, a wolf stopped her and asked her where she was going. She told him, and the wolf took off down a second path. The wolf, “arrived first at the house. He killed grandmother, poured her blood into a bottle, and sliced her flesh onto a platter. Then he got into her nightclothes and waited in bed…”

When the young girl arrived, the wolf (disguised as her grandmother) offered her meat and wine from the pantry. “So the little girl ate what she was offered; and as she did, a little cat said, ‘Slut! To eat the flesh and drink the blood of your grandmother!’ Then the wolf said, ‘Undress and get into bed with me.’”

After a prolonged scene in which the young girl is instructed to undress and toss her clothes into the fire, the conclusion proceeds in the now familiar manner until, at the very end, the wolf eats the girl. No hunter comes to her rescue in the original version.

The version as we know it today, according to Darton, was taken by the Grimm brothers from Charles Perrault, a popular writer at the turn of the seventeenth century, who changed the stories to suit the tastes of the Paris elites. The ending we are familiar with, in which the hunter rescues Little Red and kills the wolf, was added by Jeannette Hassenpflug, the Grimm’s neighbor, from a popular German story “The Wolf and the Kids.”

Through an examination of folktales like “Little Red Riding Hood”, Darton hoped to unlock the mentalité of the French peasant during that time period. “Folktales are historical documents,” he argued. “They have evolved over many centuries and have taken different turns in different cultural traditions… they suggest that mentalités themselves have changed. We can appreciate the distance between our mental world and that of our ancestors if we imagine lulling a child of our own to sleep with the primitive peasant version of ‘Little Red Riding Hood.’”

Read the rest of this entry

Civil War Ballads: Carry the Colours

David Matthews wrote and recorded this song for 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. The song beautifully captures the devotion Civil War soldiers had for their regimental colours. Regiments used colours, standards, or guidons to mark their position on the battlefield and serve as a rallying point.

At the head of the army, in front of the boys
On a long pole of hickory she flies
Yes I speak for my colors and I give her my love
Just to hold her so many have died
Just to hold her so many have died

And if you think you’re worthy and your heart is so pure
If your love and devotion do shine
Then death will pay tribute to the soldier and guidon
Just to carry the colors in line
Just to carry the colors in line

It’s a rare lad of courage, few chosen, few live
It’s a curse and a blessing, you see
It’s the brave and courageous who reach out their hand
To carry the colors for you and for me
To carry the colors for you and for me

Read the rest of this entry

Second Battle of Sackets Harbor

At the outbreak of the War of 1812, the United States had only one warship in Lake Ontario, so it had to repurpose civilian vessels for military use. Sackets Harbor, New York became a principal port and shipbuilding yard for the upper St. Lawrence River Valley and Lake Ontario. The U.S. built several forts to protect the harbor, including forts Tompkins, Pike, Volunteer, Kentucky, Virginia, and Chauncey. In the First Battle of Sackets Harbor, July 19, 1812, American cannons on shore chased away five British ships pursuing a merchant vessel, severely damaging the British flagship Royal George.

In late May 1813, the American fleet was preoccupied at Fort George, near the mouth of the Niagara River. The British took advantage of its absence and attempted to seize and destroy the shipyard and supplies at Sackets Harbor. Captain James Lucas Yeo took six ships (with a total of 700 crew and 98 cannon) and approximately 870 men, consisting of a grenadier company from the 100th Regiment, two companies of the 8th Regiment of Foot, four companies of the 104th Regiment, one company of the Glengarry Light Infantry, two companies of the Canadian Voltigeurs, and a detachment of Royal Artillery with two 6-pounder guns, and sailed south. Approximately 37-40 American Indian warriors accompanied them.

On May 28, the British intercepted 12 small boats carrying reinforcements from the 9th and 21st U.S. Regiments from Oswego to Sackets Harbor in Henderson Bay. They landed at a rocky outcropping called Stoney Point and fled into the wilderness, only to be overtaken by hostile American Indians. The 9th and 21st were virtually destroyed, losing 35 men. The remaining 115 surrendered. Only seven men escaped and made it back to Sackets Harbor.

By that time, Lieutenant Colonel Electus Backus of the 1st Regiment of Light Dragoons assembled 400 regulars, 250 Albany Volunteers, and 550 local militia, led by Brigadier General Jacob Brown, to oppose the British invasion.

Read the rest of this entry

Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site

Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site is located in northwestern New York on Black Harbor Bay, Lake Ontario, in the town of Sackets Harbor. It was the scene of two battles in the War of 1812. You can tour the battlefield, or check out a restored 1850s Navy Yard and Commandant’s House. The park is open to the public year-round, but the museum and gift shop operate seasonally, from May 21 until Labor Day (Sept 5). Their website says there’s a small admission fee ($3), but I’ve never seen anyone collecting money.

The buildings at the historic site were not present at the time of the battles in 1813. The site offices, exhibits, and gift shop are located in the Lieutenant’s House, which was built in 1847-48. Directly behind it are the Stable and Ice House, also built in the mid-1800s. The stable contains interesting and informative exhibits on early 19th century American naval history.

There was a functioning naval base at Sackets Harbor until 1955, though the original forts and structures were long since leveled. Today, an empty field is all that remains of Fort Tompkins, the principal fort during the 1813 battle. This gives the historic site a park-like atmosphere. You can enjoy a sunset stroll along a bluff overlooking Lake Ontario, or sit on park benches and take in the view.

Read the rest of this entry