Friday Five: Songs About the Civil War
As 2011 nears an end, also does the National Parks Service 150 Year Anniversary Celebration of the Civil War. Up and down the East Coast, Civil War battlefield sites have been holding special sesquicentennial commemorations and displays honoring the good, the bad and the ugly of America’s most tragic war. Over 600,000 Americans perished over a span of just four years.
In 1999, a Broadway musical opened up appropriately named The Civil War. It starred Larry Gatlin, John Schneider and BeBe Winans. It also featured two young actors, Royal Reed and Chris Roberts, who would go on to form 2/3 of the country trio One Flew South. That show spawned an album of country music contemporaries singing songs from the musical. It opens up with Charlie Daniels reading the following powerful statement to open the record (If you don’t own this record, track one down- it’s fantastic.):
On the twelfth of April, 1861
Confederate guns opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor
Thus beginning the bloodiest conflict in American History
620,000 dead, more than all other American wars combined
The Civil War remains this nation’s single most defining experience
Ultimately giving new meaning to the word freedom
Walt Whitman, a young newspaperman
Destined to become America’s greatest poet wrote
Future years will never know the seething hell
And the black infernal background of this war
And it is best they should not
The real war will never get in the books
Before this anniversary ends, Engine 145 would like to honor those that have passed with a tribute in sound. We present to you this week’s Friday Five: songs about The Civil War. There are numerous songs about the war, and, of course, songs dating back to the war that are still played and recorded today: what are your favorites?
5. Lefty Frizzell – “Ballad of the Blue and Grey”
Brothers Jimmy and Billy take up different sides of the battle. They meet at Gettysburg and Jim finds his brother after a fateful charge. Frizzell calls it, “a battle that both sides had to lose no matter which one won.”
4. Johnny Horton – “Johnny Reb”
The term Johnny Reb was the name that the Confederates gave themselves as a national personification of the Southern states of the United States. The Union countered with Billy Yank.
3. Johnny Cash – “The Big Battle”
“For see over there where we fought them, it’s quiet for they’ve all gone away
All left is the dead and the dying, the Blue laying long side the Gray
So you think the battle is over and you even lay down your gun
You carelessly rise from your cover for you think the battle is done
Now, boy, hit the dirt, listen to me, for I’m still the one in command
Get flat on the ground here beside me and lay your ear hard to the sand
Can you hear the deafening rumble can you feel the trembling ground
It’s not just the horses and wagons that make such a deafening sound
For every shot fired had an echo and every man killed wanted life
There lies your friend, Jim McKenney, can you take the news to his wife?”
2. Charlie Moore – “The Legend of the Rebel Soldier”
As a Confederate soldier lays dying in a Union prison, he asks the preacher if his soul is going to pass through “Old Virginia Grand” before he goes.
1. Waylon Jennings – “The Ghost of Robert E. Lee”
Sixty miles from Richmond, a Confederate division digs in and prepares for a Union assault. Jennings sings, “Sure as hell that sundown came a hundred thousand men/And it sure did shock me, Lord, kin killing kin/The cannonballs were heavy filled with iron and steel and lead/And the James River water ran a bloody red.”
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