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Storm over Stone

Belle Grove Historic Plantation, Northern Shenandoah Valley, Middletown, Virginia. (540) 869-2028

Civil War Ballads: The Fall of Charleston

Eugene T. Johnston wrote this song near the end of the American Civil War to celebrate the capture of Charleston, South Carolina by Union forces in February 1865. Since then, it has been covered many times, including by country and western artist Tennessee Ernie Ford (1919-1991) and Civil War folk singer Bobby Horton.

Oh have you heard the glorious news, is the cry from every mouth,
Charleston is taken, and the rebels put to rout;
And Beauregard the chivalrous, he ran to save his bacon—
When he saw Gen. Sherman’s “Yanks,” and “Charleston is taken!”

With a whack, rowdy-dow,
A hunkey boy is General Sherman,
Whack, rowdy-dow,
Invincible is he!

This South Carolina chivalry, they once did loudly boast;
That the footsteps of a Union man, should ne’er polute their coast.
They’d fight the Yankees two to one, who only fought for booty;—
But when the “udsills” came along it was “Legs do your duty.”

With a whack, rowdy-dow,
Babylon is fallen,
Whack, rowdy-dow,
The end is drawing near!

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Shades of Gray: Apparition at Ghost Alley

The following is an excerpt of a short story from my book Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion, now available exclusively on Amazon Kindle. Order it today for only $2.99.

Dayton Lisafeld had listened attentively to the tour guide all afternoon, despite the unrelenting summer sun beating down on Fort Monroe and Chesapeake Bay. The stone walls of the fort were even hot to the touch, but they had withstood the test of time since Simon Bernard, a former aide to the great Corsican general Napoleon Bonaparte, designed them nearly two centuries ago to be the strongest in North America.

The tour guide was a woman in her early thirties with a pear-shaped body and curly brown hair. She possessed a sunny, even charming, disposition, despite her uncomfortably tight khaki shorts and the rivers of sweat that ran down her forehead. She told the assembled group about how Captain John Smith had built Fort Algernourne in 1609 at the present site of Fort Monroe, and how the current fort, upon completion in 1834, was known as the “Gibraltar of Chesapeake Bay.” She stopped to explain that the name was an allusion to the Rock of Gibraltar, one of the “Pillars of Hercules” in Greek mythology, before moving on to Fort Monroe’s role in the Civil War.

Dayton shifted nervously and waited for the tour to finish. His parents and he were on vacation and had spent the night at the Chamberlin Hotel on Old Point Comfort at the tip of the Virginia Peninsula, just southwest of the base. That night, as his parents were settling down to bed, he decided to go for a walk in the cool night air. Because Fort Monroe was still an active military instillation, he had to be careful as he walked the deserted streets. That’s when he saw it—the thing he desperately wanted to ask his tour guide about, but he was too embarrassed in front of his parents, the Asian couple with the sunglasses, the fourth grade history class and their teacher, and—most importantly—the three girls who were already giggling and pointing at him.

“This was the only fort in the South that never fell into Confederate hands,” the tour guide continued. She could see the fourth graders were getting restless in the heat, so she moved the group closer to the Casemate Museum and the shade. “From here, Major General Benjamin Butler ordered that all slaves who escaped to Union lines would be considered contraband and not returned to their former masters. Can anyone tell me what this order was called?” No one raised their hands. “It was known as the Fort Monroe Doctrine,” the tour guide explained without losing her smile.

Dayton’s mind drifted back to the previous night. He was walking not far from where the tour group was now, on the other side of a cluster of military apartments. It was dark, almost pitch black. The moon was just a sliver and hidden behind wispy, gray clouds. A street lamp buzzed and hummed, and its soft, bluish light barely illuminated the lamp itself. Dayton got a chill, and he stopped. Something in the back of his mind—nothing more than a feeling, really—warned him not to continue down that street.

He looked at the apartment windows. They were all dark. Not a single person was awake. That was strange enough, given that it was only—he looked down at his cell phone. It was already past midnight. When he looked back up at the street, a cool breeze drifted past and he caught a whiff of the ocean. He no longer felt alone. The street was as empty as it had been before, but now that feeling in the back of his mind grew more insistent. That primitive primate’s brain that warned his distant ancestors of a predator’s approach told him to run.

So he did. He ran from the narrow avenue until he was safely back at the hotel.

“Confederate President Jefferson Davis was held prisoner here, in this building, for two years after the war,” the tour guide related. “Now, I’m going to take you into the museum, where you will see a recreation of his cell. The conditions of his imprisonment were terrible. Kids, try to imagine if your bedrooms looked like this!” A few of the adults laughed.

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Civil War Ballads: The Opinions of Paddy Magee

Like “Paddy’s Lamentation,” “The Opinions of Paddy Magee” expresses the opinion of an Irish immigrant during the American Civil War. Unlike Paddy’s Lamentation, however, this song celebrates the contributions United States citizens made during the Irish Potato Famine and suggests Irishmen repay that debt by fighting to preserve the Union. David Kincaid recorded this song for his album The Irish Volunteer (1998).

I’m Paddy Magee, sir, from Ballinahee, sir,
In an illigant ship I come over the say;
Father Donahoe sent me, my passage he lent me–
Sure, only for that, I’d a walked all the way!
He talked of America’s freedom and glory;
“Begorra,” says I, “that’s the counthry for me!”
So, to ind a long story, I’ve now come before ye,
To give the opinions of Paddy Magee.

Whin Ireland was needing, and famine was feeding,
And thousands were dying for something to ate,
‘Twas America’s daughters that sent over the waters
The ships that were loaded with corn and whate:
And Irishmen sure will forever remember,
The vessels that carried the flag of the free;
And the land that befriended, they’ll die to defend it,
And that’s the opinions of Paddy Magee.

John Bull, ye ould divil,
Ye’d betther keep civil!
Remimber the story of ‘Seventy-six,
Whin Washington glorious he slathered the Tories;
Away from Columbia you then cut your sticks.
And if once again you’re inclined to be meddling,
There’s a city that’s called New Orleans, d’ye see,
Where Hickory Jackson he drove off the Saxon–
Now that’s the opinions of Paddy Magee.

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The Deterioration of Lee’s Army

Confederate General Robert E. Lee

As I’ve been visiting battlefields and researching the American Civil War in Virginia, and reconciling that information with my own experiences in the military, it hit me what a massive and difficult endeavor fighting the Civil War actually was. At the height of the war in the Gettysburg Campaign, General Robert E. Lee commanded roughly 75,000 men in the Army of Northern Virginia. To put that into perspective, in 1860 Richmond, Virginia had a population of 37,910. How difficult is it to sustain an army the size of a city?

To sustain any army, it needs food, uniforms (shoes especially), guns and ammunition, access to clean water, sanitation, shelter from bad weather, and some kind of medical care. It’s estimated dysentery alone, brought on by poor sanitation, caused over 95,000 deaths in the Union and Confederate armies. 415,000 soldiers died from disease, accidents, drowning, heat stroke, suicide, murder, and execution, far exceeding battlefield deaths. Those are the soldiers that died–far more were simply incapacitated, bedridden, or unable to fight.

It’s incredible how long these large armies continued to fight without just completely deteriorating from attrition alone.

Beyond basics like food, clothing, shelter, and weapons, soldiers need to have a reason to continue fighting–they must believe in a cause, in eventual victory, and be willing to endure hardship and work together, especially in an army where regular pay is virtually nonexistent. This psychological measure of a soldier’s willingness to fight is called morale. Even the best fed and well-equipped army in the world will disintegrate if its morale is low enough.

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Shades of Gray: Incident at Belle Island

The following is an excerpt of a short story from my book Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion, now available exclusively on Amazon Kindle. Order it today for only $2.99.

The early afternoon sun baked Belle Island, causing the water of the James River to retreat from the bleached boulders in the rapids along the northern edge of the island. From the perspective of the picnickers on the east side of the island, the ruins of a distant hydroelectric plant gleamed white. Summer and Anna May Long, 13 and 12 years old, played with their younger cousin, Humpy Andrews, in an open field. A short distance away, Humpy’s parents were busy trying to light the coals in their portable grill, while his uncle Cooper sat on a nearby picnic table, strumming his favorite acoustic guitar, a Gibson J-45. A dozen other relatives stood and talked, or made themselves busy preparing the picnic tables for dinner.

With the Robert E. Lee Memorial Bridge looming in the background, Anna May tossed Humpy’s favorite baseball cap to Summer, while Humpy jumped to try and catch it. “Humpy! Humpy! Humpy Andrews!” she teased. Anna May was a head taller than her sister. She had long blonde hair that her mother kept saying was a bit too long, but she refused to have it cut.

“Give it back!” Humpy squealed. “I’m telling!”

“Tattle tale!” Summer replied. The cap fell a few feet short of her hands and she scrambled to scoop it up before her cousin could beat her to it. In contrast to Anna May, Summer’s hair was cropped short. She was much more of a tomboy. She wore a light blue t-shirt featuring a character from her favorite cartoon: Meatwad from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. ‘The bun is in your mind’ was stenciled underneath the illustration.

“Hey, Summer!” Anna May shouted. “I bet Humpy is too scared to go in the woods. Humpy, ain’t you a scaredy cat?”

“Am not!”

Summer stuck out her left hand to block Humpy while she hid his baseball cap behind her back with her right. “Didn’t you know these woods are filled with the ghosts of Yankee prisoners? Some of them are still lurking on this island. They don’t know they is dead.”

Humpy struggled to retrieve his cap. “That ain’t true, is it, Anna May?”

“I’m afraid so,” Anna May replied. “But if you don’t want your cap back, then you can just wait out here while we explore that creepy ol’ power plant down yonder.”

“What? That ain’t fair! I wanna come with!”

“You sure, with the ghosts and all?”

Humpy hesitated.

“Let’s go ask Mamma,” Anna May said, and she took off running toward the picnic site while Humpy struggled to catch up. She ran up beside her sister and leaned in close. “When we get to the ruins, you hide and we’ll give Humpy a good scare!”

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