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Shades of Gray: The Deserter

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.

A tranquil pond rested near to a cluster of four thick willow trees behind the white, three-story Victorian house. The house was accentuated by dark green trim that lined the edges of every window, door, and trellis. Its black shingles were deceptively well arranged in neat rows on the roof, and the paint peeled on the wood siding. Most of the green, clapboard shutters were drawn, allowing the afternoon light to penetrate the narrow windows. A few yards away, beyond the small grove of willows and the pond, lay a thick wood that had been on the property for several centuries.

The pond’s only confidant, a young woman dressed in a plain blue dress, sat beside its stone edge. The tender breeze blew softly against her long black hair while she reclined in the bushy lawn. Her fate was to be the only child in a family that seemed to have everything. Her family had moved to the outskirts of the prosperous city of Lynchburg after her father had inherited her grandfather’s mining company. Her only friends growing up had been her tutor and the playmates she imagined into existence.

But that was many years ago.

The young woman sighed and stared at her reflection in the cool water. Her face looked tired, and the black rings under her eyes contrasted with her porcelain skin. Her eyes stared back at her from just below the surface of the pond―green, jade green that seemed to cut into the otherwise clear water. She watched a school of goldfish dart playfully and wished she was among them, but then one appeared to stare back at her. She smiled at it before tapping the water with her finger. Ripples distorted her reflection, and the fish vanished behind the rocks and shadows.

“Abigail!” a distant call sounded.

The young woman’s eyes fell downward and her shoulders sunk lower.

“Abby!” the cheery voice sang again.

“Coming, Mother!” Abigail shouted with notable agitation. She rose slowly and headed toward the house. The shadows from the willow trees covered her as she glided past. A rusted swing set creaked in the wind, and the willow’s long, rope-like branches swayed towards her as she went by, gently brushing up against the fabric of her dress.

The white, wooden porch loomed. Its pillars rose high in the air, touching the slate overhang far above. Directly above that was the rounded window, shutters drawn, which looked out upon the yard from her bedroom.

Abigail placed her hand on the wooden railing, which was festooned with ivy, and her shoes clicked with each step on the stone as she pulled herself towards the door. The curtains danced from the inside of the open windows, waving at her as she reached for the iron door handles. She swung one of the two doors wide open, revealing the lavish parlor.

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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

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Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion

Spirits lurk among the faded monuments and deserted battlefields of Virginia, from the fabled streets of Fredericksburg to the shipyards of Hampton Roads. From beyond the grave, they beg us to remember. In Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion, their stories are told. Twelve spine-tingling tales take you to where this world meets the next. History has never felt so unreal.

Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion is a collection of short ghost stories from the Civil War battlefields of Virginia. It was originally published in print by Quixote Press in 2011, but not available digitally until now.

Some stories are campy and fun, some are classic Gothic romance, and others are modern horror. In one tale, the ghost of a Union prisoner of war helps a boy named Humpy Andrews get revenge on his teasing cousins. In another, a grieving widow returns from the grave to reach out to her reincarnated love.

In some sense, this book was years in the making. It had its origins in a family vacation to Virginia when I was thirteen years old. Already a Civil War buff and amateur historian, I could not wait to explore all the towns and battlefields I read so much about.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I was more familiar with the geography of northern Virginia than I was with my own hometown, Des Plaines, Illinois. From the heights overlooking Fredericksburg to the old diner in Richmond where the waitress took our order on a pink ticket right out of the 1960s, being in Virginia felt like I was living in history. It was an enthralling experience.

Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion is now available exclusively on Amazon Kindle. Order it today for only $2.99.

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

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Civil War Ballads: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

Robbie Robertson, lead guitarist and primary songwriter of The Band, wrote “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” for their second album, The Band (1969). Since then, the song has been covered by dozens of artists, notably Johnny Cash, John Denver, and the Allman Brothers Band. American folk singer Joan Baez recorded my favorite version in 1971. The song speaks to the economic and social loss experienced by Southerners during the last year of the Civil War.

The Lost Cause by Henry Mosler depicts a Confederate soldier returning to a devastated homestead after the war.

Virgil Caine is the name
and I served on the Danville train
‘Till Stoneman’s cavalry came
and tore up the tracks again

In the winter of ’65
we were hungry, just barely alive
By May the 10th, Richmond had fell
it’s a time I remember, oh so well

The night they drove old Dixie down
and the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down
and the people were singing
They went, “Na, na, la, na, na, na”

Back with my wife in Tennessee
when one day she called to me
Said “Virgil, quick, come see
There goes the Robert E. Lee!”

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