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Civil War Ballads: Two Little Boys

American composer Theodore F. Morse and lyricist Edward Madden wrote “Two Little Boys” in 1902 as a music hall song about two brothers who dream of growing up and joining the cavalry. The Country Gentlemen recorded a version for their album Bluegrass at Carnegie Hall (1962). Like “Marching through Georgia,” this song also gained international fame. In 1969, an Australian entertainer named Rolf Harris popularized it on his BBC variety show in the United Kingdom, and today it’s more well-known across the ocean.

Two little boys had two little toys
Each had a wooden horse
Gaily they played each summer’s day
Warriors both of course
One little chap then had a mishap
Broke off his horse’s head
Wept for his toy then cried with joy
As his young playmate said

Did you think I would leave you crying
When there’s room on my horse for two
Climb up here Jack and don’t be crying
I can go just as fast with two
When we grow up we’ll both be soldiers
And our horses will not be toys
And I wonder if we’ll remember
When we were two little boys

Long years had passed, war came so fast
Bravely they marched away
Cannon roared loud, and in the mad crowd
Wounded and dying lay
Up goes a shout, a horse dashes out
Out from the ranks so blue
Gallops away to where Joe lay
Then came a voice he knew

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Shades of Gray: The Lost Regiment

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 old lady smiled as she gingerly poured another round of tea into antique cups. A trio of strangers in their early twenties, two men and one woman, sat across from her. Two heavy, red leather photo albums were laid out on the burgundy coffee table, and drops of tea were spattered perilously close to the yellowed photographs. In one of the photographs, a young girl wrapped in a white cotton dress sat in a porch swing. In the other, a group of uniformed men stood in a field in front of several flowering dogwoods.

Mike, a young man of medium build with light brown hair, glasses, and a distinctive chin, cringed whenever a dab of liquid threatened to overflow onto the table. “Are you sure you don’t need any help with that?” he asked as he watched the old lady’s hands tremble. His companions, an inscrutable young woman with dark brown hair and piercing eyes named Aurelia, and a short man with a pocket-marked complexion named Greg, did not pay the situation any mind.

The old lady did not seem to mind either. “When I was a girl, my mamma used to tell me a story,” she began, “which is why I asked you to come here today.” She paused, and Mike, Greg, and Aurelia leaned closer. In the hallway, a black and white spotted cat’s paw peeked from under a locked door and massaged its trim.

Several tense seconds passed while the old lady poured the last drop of tea. “When I was a girl,” she continued as the teapot clattered back onto the tray, “my mamma used to tell me about Great-Grandpa James Earl Chesterton II. Now, my mamma’s great-grandpa—my grandfather—fought in General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.” She recited the name with great pride. “He fought from the Second Battle of Bull Run all the way to a place called the ‘Wilderness.’ Some folks say he even survived Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, but some folks ‘round here will say anything.”

Mike pinched Aurelia, who had started to nod off. “Go on,” he urged.

The old lady smiled and her eyes twinkled as if she was hearing the story herself for the first time. “My great-grandpa was a dashing officer, but no matter how many fights he was in with Yankees, he fought even harder with his fellow officers. In 1864, during the Battle of the Wilderness, he and his regiment were ordered to escort a wagon through the Wilderness south to Richmond. No one knows exactly what was in that wagon, but it must have been valuable—artillery, ammunition, shoes—maybe even gold or silver bars. I know one thing: no one would have sent that many men to guard some supplies if they weren’t of great importance.”

“What happened to them?” Greg interrupted, suddenly interested.

“No one knows for sure, but my mamma always told me that the regiment caught the cholera in the forest and died, but before the illness took Great-Grandpa James, he managed to haul the loot to his family’s farm and hide it.”

“Where’s the farm?” Mike asked.

The old lady smiled, wryly. “We’re here right now. I wanted to buy this place for years and finally, when my Charles passed away, I did.”

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Civil War Ballads: Marching through Georgia

Henry Clay Work, a Connecticut composer and songwriter, wrote this song in 1865 to commemorate Major General William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea”, near the end of the American Civil War. It became wildly popular and its tune and lyrics were adopted by other countries to celebrate their own military achievements. Its music is even used for two high school anthems in Sydney, Australia!

Bring the good old bugle, boys, we’ll sing another song;
Sing it with a spirit that will start the world along,
Sing it as we used to sing it, fifty thousand strong,
While we were marching through Georgia.

Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the jubilee!
Hurrah! Hurrah! The flag that makes you free!
So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea,
While we were marching through Georgia.

How the darkeys shouted when they heard the joyful sound!
How the turkeys gobbled which our commissary found!
How the sweet potatoes even started from the ground,
While we were marching through Georgia.

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Shades of Gray: Widjigo

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.

It was dusk on the night of April 2, 1865 on the banks of Hatchet’s Run a few miles southwest of Petersburg. Major General Andrew Humphreys of the Army of the Potomac had hurled his II Corps at the remnants of Major General Henry Heth’s once feared Confederate division throughout the day. The Confederates, grimly determined in the midst of the smoke and thunder of battle, fought for every inch of ground. The smoldering orange embers of scattered fires crackled deep inside the breastworks and the timber. Blackened, barren trees sprawled over the land like a sea of twisted thorns, and small shapes scrambled under the cover of sulfuric smoke like mealworms. 10-inch siege mortars thundered in the distance and lit up the horizon with a sickening yellow glow.

In a nearby root cellar, a family whispered around dim candlelight and listened to the sounds of battle crawl near. A goat bellowed in the distance. Its cries were heard between the loud crashes of thunder, and then it was gone. William Gilmore heard it too, and he prayed for the souls of the men and boys who had spewed hot iron and lead at each other in the trenches around nearby Petersburg for almost a year. William had once felt the sting of battle, but now his hair was nearly white, arthritis crippled his hands, and wrinkles cut deep into his skin. Still, he clutched tenaciously to his grandson—as well as to his ancient Springfield flintlock musket—waiting until it was safe to go out.

* * *

The remnants of a battered Confederate infantry company hid in the forest above the farm where they waited for the enemy to come. They had been ordered to cover the retreat of Heth’s Division, and to protect the wagon train from attack, but their dirty and hollowed faces knew it was a useless gesture. The chain of command had disintegrated, and their once formidable force was reduced to fighting in lone pockets with a trickle of supplies and no hope of victory. They faced an ocean of enemies that threatened to wash over them at any moment.

A little more than two dozen of these men, Private Nathaniel Beverley among them, crouched behind makeshift piles of dirt and wood they had hastily thrown up that evening. At any moment, the Army of the Potomac’s II Corps was going to close in on their position, and it was their duty to delay it as long as possible. The group’s self-appointed commander, a middle-aged, grizzled veteran named Dixon, had put Nathaniel on watch that night, so Nathaniel’s eyes were trained on the creek in the valley below. He detected no movement in the growing darkness, but the smoke hovering over the valley did much to obscure his line of sight.

Nathaniel hadn’t slept in days. He was at the point of exhaustion and starving from a sparse diet of hardtack, horsemeat, and rotten potatoes that his unit had taken from the local farmers. They had no fire with which to cook, because the flames would give away their position. Already, the 88-pound mortar shells slammed into the riverbed below. Their report had lost their effect on Nathaniel long ago, and now the strangely rhythmic explosions seduced him to sleep. He struggled to keep his eyes open. It became hard to focus, and his cloudy breath warmed his face just enough to make the soft cradle of his arm inviting.

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Shades of Gray: Nothing Will Keep us Apart

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.

It’s freezing outside, Luke thought as he pulled his windbreaker tighter and walked along an old, empty boulevard west of the Rapidan River in Fredericksburg. His parents and he had moved to the city two days ago, and he thought it would be a good idea to wander the town and get his bearings. It was late in autumn, so the wind blew sharply and bit at his cheeks. The houses on either side of the street were all over a hundred and fifty years old, and emitted a pleasant, aged perfume he could smell even from out on the sidewalk. Grand porches stood empty as though not a soul was home.

The future was on Luke’s mind that afternoon. He would be starting school late into the year, and he had a hard time making friends. His was a military family, and his father had been recently stationed at Fort A.P. Hill, a few miles southeast of town. This was their third move in four years. His mother assured him this would be their last for a while, but he could not help but harbor doubts.

As he walked south past Kenmore Park, he caught a glimpse of a person standing beside an old maple tree. The figure, at first obscured by shade, slowly morphed into a young woman with long brown hair that was tied up in a delicate, black snood. The breeze teased the few strands of unrestrained hair neatly away from her eyes, and as Luke got closer, he noticed she was staring at him. He continued walking, knowing it was rude to return the stare, but he could not shake the feeling that there was something familiar about this mysterious woman. She smiled at him as he passed by. He felt a chill run through his body and he hurried toward Cornell Street.

Luke turned north down Cornell and then continued south on Washington Avenue. After a few yards, thick bushes marked the end of the residential neighborhood and a tall brick fence appeared on the right-hand side of the sidewalk. Beyond it, white, granite headstones peppered the sun-bleached field. The sea of graves stretched south and constituted the Fredericksburg City Cemetery and the much older Confederate Cemetery. Luke felt very alone, but he also felt drawn to the graveyard. As he neared the Confederate section of the cemetery, the strange feeling increased until every part of him tingled with nervous anticipation. Not even an animal seemed to stir. He opened the creaking, rusted gate, and stepped inside the cemetery.

Even the trees appeared dead as their long, barren branches sadly swayed in the autumn breeze. Luke speculated that they must have stood there at least a hundred years. He imagined women in black hoop skirts carrying parasols, and men dressed in top hats and black suits with coat tails, coming to the cemetery to mourn their loved ones. He was transported back in time at this place, and a sense of despair hung over the area, as if the cemetery itself longed for bygone days. All of that was gone now, and Luke stood alone under the chestnut trees among the faded gravestones.

He did not know what caused him to turn around, but when he did he was surprised to see that the young woman from the park was standing right behind him. He had not heard anyone coming, and he wondered how it was possible for her to have gotten there in such a short amount of time. She was wearing a long, white dress that was yellowed with age. Her skin was pale and moistened with sweat, as though it was the month was July instead of November.

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Civil War Ballads: The Fighting 69th

This song is dedicated to the Union Irish Brigade, which consisted of the 63rd New York Infantry, 69th New York Infantry, 28th Massachusetts Infantry, 116th Pennsylvania Infantry, and 88th New York Infantry regiments. It was first commanded by Colonel Michael Corcoran, then Brigadier General Thomas Francis Meagher, and finally Colonel Patrick Kelly. “The Fighting 69th” was recorded by the Dropkick Murphys for their album The Gang’s All Here (1999) and The Wolfe Tones for Across The Broad Atlantic (1993).

Regimental flag of the 69th NY Infantry

Come all you gallant heroes,
And along with me combined
I’ll sing a song, it won’t take long,
Of the Fighting Sixty Ninth
They’re a band of men brave, stout and bold,
From Ireland they came
And they have a leader to the fold,
And Cocoran was his name

It was in the month of April,
When the boys they sailed away
And they made a sight so glorious,
As they marched along Broadway
They marched right down Broadway, me boys,
Until they reached the shore
And from there they went to Washington,
And straight unto the war

So we gave them a hearty cheer, me boys,
It was greeted with a smile
Singing here’s to the boys who feared no noise,
We’re the Fighting Sixty Ninth

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