Sunday, August 21, 2011

Engine Made by a Prisoner

"Engine made and invented by a prisoner, whilst confined at this prison." Proto steam punk, a.k.a. "steam." Graphite, ink, and watercolor drawing by John Jacob Omenhausser, Confederate prisoner at Point Lookout Prison Camp, Maryland, 1864.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Archaeologists Unearth Camp Lawton, Civil War Prison Camp

Archaeologists comb newly-found Civil War POW camp

Associated Press

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — When word reached Camp Lawton that the enemy army of Gen. William T. Sherman was approaching, the prison camp's Confederate officers rounded up their thousands of Union army POWs for a swift evacuation — leaving behind rings, buckles, coins and other keepsakes that would remain undisturbed for nearly 150 years.
Archaeologists are still discovering unusual, and sometimes stunningly personal, artifacts a year after state officials revealed that a graduate student had pinpointed the location of the massive but short-lived Civil War camp in southeast Georgia.

Discoveries made as recently as a few weeks ago were being displayed Thursday at the Statesboro campus of Georgia Southern University. They include a soldier's copper ring bearing the insignia of the Union army's 3rd Corps, which fought bloody battles at Gettysburg and Manassas, and a payment token stamped with the still-legible name of a grocery store in Michigan.
"These guys were rousted out in the middle of the night and loaded onto trains, so they didn't have time to load all this stuff up," said David Crass, an archaeologist who serves as director of Georgia's Historic Preservation Division. "Pretty much all they had got left behind. You don't see these sites often in archaeology."

Camp Lawton's obscurity helped it remain undisturbed all these years. Built about 50 miles south of Augusta, the Confederate camp imprisoned about 10,000 Union soldiers after it opened in October 1864 to replace the infamous Andersonville prison. But it lasted barely six weeks before Sherman's army arrived and burned it during his march from Atlanta to Savannah.
Barely a footnote in the war's history, Camp Lawton was a low priority among scholars. Its exact location was never verified. While known to be near Magnolia Springs State Park, archaeologists figured the camp was too short-lived to yield real historical treasures.

That changed last year when Georgia Southern archaeology student Kevin Chapman seized on an offer by the state Department of Natural Resources to pursue his master's thesis by looking for evidence of Camp Lawton's stockade walls on the park grounds.

Chapman ended up stunning the pros, uncovering much more than the remains of the stockade's 15-foot pine posts. On neighboring land owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he dug up remnants of the prisoners themselves — a corroded tourniquet buckle, a tobacco pipe with teeth marks in the stem and a folded frame that once held a daguerreotype.

"They're not just buttons and bullets," Chapman said. "They're little pieces of the story, and this is not the story of battles and generals. This is the story of little people whose names have been forgotten by history that we're starting to piece together and be able to tell."

A year later, Chapman says he and fellow archaeology students working at Camp Lawton have still barely scratched the surface. In July, they used a metal detector to sweep two narrow strips about 240 yards long in the area where they believe prisoners lived.

They found a diamond-shaped 3rd Corps badge that came from a Union soldier's uniform. Nearby was the ring with the same insignia soldered onto it.

The artifacts also yield clues to what parts of the country the POWs came from, including the token issued by a grocery store in Niles, Mich., that customers could use like cash to buy food. Stamped on its face was the merchant's name: G.A. Colbey and Co. Wholesale Groceries and Bakery.

Similarly, there's a buckle that likely clasped a pair of suspenders bearing the name of Nanawanuck Manufacturing Company in Massachusetts.

Hooks and buckles that appear to have come off a Union knapsack also hint that, despite harsh living conditions, captors probably allowed their Union prisoners to keep essentials like canteens and bedrolls.

The Georgia Southern University Museum plans to add the new artifacts to its public collection from Camp Lawton in October along with a related acquisition — a letter written by one of the camp's prisoners on Nov. 14, 1864, just eight days before Lawton was abandoned and prisoners were taken back to Andersonville and other POW camps.

The letter written by Charles H. Knox of Schroon Lake, N.Y., a Union corporal in the 1st Connecticut Cavalry, was purchased from a Civil War collector in Tennessee. Unaware that Camp Lawton will soon be evacuated, Knox writes to his wife that he hopes to soon be freed in a prisoner exchange between the warring armies.

He doesn't write much about conditions at the prison camp, but rather worries about his family. He tells his wife that if she and their young son need money for food or clothing, there's a man who owes him $9. Knox also gives his wife permission to sell the family's cow.

Brent Tharp, director of the campus museum, said his growing collection from Camp Lawton has definitely drawn Civil War buffs to visit from far beyond southeast Georgia.

"The people who are real Civil War buffs and fanatics, those are definitely coming," Tharp said. "But I think we've also created a whole new group of Civil War buffs here because it's right here in their own backyard."

Monday, August 15, 2011

An Sagairtín

"An Sagairtín" ("The Little Priest"), is a traditional Irish ballad, sung here unaccompanied in sean-nós style by Bríd Ní Mhaoilchiaráin. The lyrics and translations available at Mudcat are well worth a read.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Jacob Immell

Jacob Immell
Pvt., Co. L, 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry

I have not been able to find out much about the life of Jacob Immell. No descendents chronicled his life and career. No pension records exist, nor do any census reports trace the growth of his family in the postwar years. Unlike Fred Bentley and James Farris, Immell did not survive to return to his home in Greene Township, Pennsylvania. A farm boy, he may have aspired to one day own land of his own, work out in the sun, and nurture his crops to grow tall year after year. He never had that opportunity or the chance to love, marry, and have children. If he planned on going to college, traveling the country or even the world, or simply watching the sunset from his own front porch, it was never to be. Whoever Immell would have been and whatever contributions he would have made died with him on June 15, 1865, over two months after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, from a leg wound suffered in the Battle of Amelia Springs on April 5. He was about twenty years old. Enlisting at the age of eighteen in August, 1863, Immell had already survived numerous engagements from Cold Harbor through the Petersburg Campaign.

Uncovering the descendents of Bentley and Farris really brought home for me the enduring tragedy of those who did not survive the war. There is not only the immeasurable loss of a man taken before his time, but each death in a sense reverberates through the generations, as it represents the possibility of countless others who will never be at all. His children, grandchildren, and so forth may have included great teachers, scientists, and civil rights pioneers, but whether great or small they would undoubtedly have been friends, cousins, lovers, spouses, and parents. Though no one who loved Jacob Immell is alive today to suffer his absence, his death is, like those of all our war dead, an abiding scar upon the heart of his nation.

A description of Immell's wound and death from gangrene by Surgeon Reed B. Bontecou. This and the above photograph of Immell are from the National Museum of Health and Medicine's gallery on Flickr.

One thing I did discover about Immell is he was buried on the estate of General Robert E. Lee’s wife’s family, on land which the U.S. government confiscated in 1864 for the establishment of a burial ground for fallen Union soldiers. His tombstone can still be viewed there at his final resting place, Arlington National Cemetery.

Immell's headstone from

Friday, July 29, 2011

Fiddler on the Minivan Roof

My last few posts have been devoid of any modern context, so...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

James D. Farris, Unbroken

James Daniel Farris (a.k.a. Faires)
Private, Company H, 18th South Carolina Infantry

In August of 1864, as young Fred Bentley signed up for the Union Army, far across the Mason-Dixon line another teenage farm boy was readying himself for war. Seventeen-year-old James D. Farris of York, South Carolina, cast his lot with the Catawba Light Infantry, Company H, 18th South Carolina and would soon be headed for the other side of no man’s land along the Petersburg front. Unlike the 185th New York , the 18th South Carolina was a veteran regiment that since 1862 had been involved in numerous campaigns spanning seven different states. At Petersburg, they served in Johnson’s division of Beauregard’s command. Farris and other new recruits and draftees helped fill the ranks of a regiment diminished by heavy casualties, desertion, and disease. As Farris and his colleagues would soon find out, the 18th’s service was far from over.

The days to come melted into a seemingly endless whir of battles, skirmishes, and periods of prolonged exposure to enemy sharpshooters and artillery. A little over two months in, Farris was shot in the chest and sent to Jackson Hospital in Richmond for treatment. He recovered and rejoined his unit on the front, only to find himself back at Jackson Hospital with a gunshot wound to the face in early March of 1865. Farris returned to his regiment in time for the Battle of Five Forks, where they left the trenches with Major General George E. Pickett’s Division to defend a vital crossroads southwest of Petersburg from the combined forces of Warren’s 5th Corps and Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps. Outnumbered and outflanked, the Confederates fought hard but were ultimately overwhelmed. In the maelstrom of battle, Farris was shot in the head and captured by Union soldiers.

Confederate prisoners after Five Forks

Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was soon forced to abandon Petersburg and Richmond. While Grant’s forces cornered them near Appomattox Court House, a wounded James Farris was on his way to Lincoln General Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he was admitted with a fractured skull. Surgeon J.C. McKee reported removing depressed bone fragments from the wound on April 20. His wound proceeded to heal well.

By the time Farris posed for this portrait in his tattered shell jacket, the war was over. Though he served for only about eight months of a four year war, there is no doubt that the thrice-wounded teen was a veteran by this point. His body, like his clothes, is frayed and torn. But the look in his eyes says everything.

After signing the official Oath of Allegiance in June 1865, Farris was released from Lincoln Hospital. His descendants’ oral traditions hold that he bore an iron plate in his head for the rest of his life as a result of his third war wound. He returned to a life of farming and started a family in Steele Creek, North Carolina. He and his family later moved to Nacogdoches, Texas. By 1910 the lingering effects of his wound had caused him to go blind. James Farris died in 1914 and is buried in Christian Cemetery in Nacogdoches.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Frederick Bentley, Survivor

Frederick A. Bentley
Co. A, 185th New York Infantry

Frederick Bentley was 12 years old when the first shots of the Civil War were fired. He didn't vote for the politicians who started it, and he probably didn't write chickenhawk newspaper articles or deliver loud speeches rallying his fellow Yankees to fight their brothers down South. If this farmer’s son from Lysander, New York had strong opinions about slavery or states rights or tariff policies they are lost to us now. What we do know is that Bentley was determined to serve his country, and enlisted in the army in August of 1864 when he was only 15. The muster rolls list his age as 18, but multiple census records reveal his actual year of birth was 1849. It was not all that uncommon for boys to lie about their age to enlist. For all we know it may not have been Bentley's first effort. The skinny, 5’ 3” teenager may not have made the most convincing 18-year-old, but recruiters were desperate to fill their quotas.

After a stint of infantry training, the newly-formed 185th New York Infantry was sent to the labyrinthian front lines of Petersburg, Virginia on September 27, 1864, where they were attached to the Army of the Potomac’s veteran 5th Corps. One of Bentley's comrades described their new home: "This is what we call the front, and a muddy, gloomy place it is." On March 29, 1865 at the Battle of Lewis’s Farm, the 185th found itself in an exposed, unsupported position and was raked with “a regular blizzard of bullets.” Over 200 men in the 185th were hit. Among them was young Bentley, shot through the chest by a Confederate minie ball. Civil War gunshot wounds tended to be particularly gruesome. The typical minie ball was a .58 caliber chunk of lead which usually flattened on impact, causing it to tear an even wider hole through a person’s body. Bentley was lucky the bullet at least exited. He was sent to a field hospital and eventually made his way to Harewood General Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he came under the care of Dr. Reed B. Bontecou. Bontecou had Bentley and many of his patients photographed to document their treatment and progress. This boy’s care was fairly minimal. In the days before penicillin and general anesthesia, there was not a whole lot that could be done for a wound like this. Bontecou’s note on the reverse of this photograph states simply, “He recovered under simple dressings, with very little stimulants, and no special diet.” After this miraculous recovery, Bentley returned home to New York, where he worked as a farmer and produce merchant until his death at the ripe old age of 71. He left behind at least one child, a daughter named Mary.

Though Bentley was extremely lucky to have survived his injury, this photograph gives us a faint glimpse into what he lived through. The physical pain, psychological trauma, and unimaginable grief and guilt over friends lost at his side reveals itself somewhere in those eyes. Above it all, though, Frederick Bentley looks to me like he is determined to live on. What nightmares accompanied his survival are lost to time. What remains is a lone image of a boy with a hole through his torso. He sits before the camera, his body and wounds laid bare.

I found the above image in this Flickr gallery of public domain photographs of wounded Civil War veterans from the National Museum of Health & Medicine. Though the photographs were taken for clinical reasons, they stand today as an incredible testimony to the wounded men and boys they portray, people exposed both physically and emotionally at the end of a long war. I hope to research a number of them and post what I find as I go. If anyone has more information, please feel free to share it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

They Died with Their Arms Around One Another

"Civil War Dead" by George Pratt

Below is part of a letter from a Confederate captain describing his experiences in the Battle of Malvern Hill, Virginia, on July 1st, 1862. Originally printed in the Charleston Daily Courier, it is a raw and vivid first-person account of Civil War combat in all its horror and confusion. War exposes humanity at its most paradoxical extremes as men are driven to love and hatred and terror and bravery all in one swirling maelstrom of technology, earth, flesh, and bone:

At length, about 5 o’clock p.m., the enemy were reported occupying a very strong position just in our front, where they had fortified. Our artillery was ordered out to open on the enemy, and a brigade of Georgians and Alabamans to support it. No sooner had our guns opened than they were dismounted, the caissons torn to atoms, and the horses and men piled and mangled together. Other batteries were ordered out with the same success, and the few men and horses who were left came dashing back, panic-stricken, and sought refuge in flight. Then we saw what was coming. Our brigade was ordered to the front, to support the one already sent out, and, forming in line, we marched to the skirt of woods, which separated us from the open ground, where the enemy had formed to receive us. His position could not have been better selected. Upon a hill, about half a mile in our front, were planted 30 siege guns and 20 light batteries, manned by United States regulars, while in front the ground descended gradually to our position, midway between which and their batteries was a line of 30,000 of their best troops, who were selected to cover their retreat to their gunboats, two miles distant. Upon this line and their batteries we advanced. For the first half mile of the mile and a half we marched the shells burst around us incessantly. After that, just as we got into the woods, the gunboats opened on us with their broadsides of rifled guns, the shells from which came hurtling through the woods, crushing and bursting, and tearing down numbers of the largest trees in their course. Then came the grape and canister from the batteries in our front, and soon the musketry opened, actually sweeping down whole lines of men in our front and from our own ranks, and making our path one over dead and dying men.

We passed over four lines of men, who, sent out before us, were unable to stand the fire, and lay close to the ground, from which no threats of persuasion could move them. Our men trampled them into the mud like logs, and moved on in an unwavering line, perfectly regardless of the numbers who were falling around them. It was just here that Arthur Parker, who had been quite sick, said “Boys, I am almost done; but I’ll go as close to them as I can.” Scarcely had he spoken when a ball passed through his bowels. He did not speak; only pressed his hand to his side and turned round, when a second ball passed through his head, and he fell dead. Keedle was shot through below the knee, at the same time, and Lieutenant Burcknight through the head, while Ebby Butler and Sergeant Miles were both killed instantaneously by grapeshot passing through their breasts, and Warren Brooks was struck in the leg by a ball. But we pushed on until we found the line we were to support within 600 yards of the battery, and there we halted under cover of a hedgerow, and lay down to rest. The line in front of us, unable to stand up in front of the fire, had laid down, while the troops in our rear poured several volleys into us, wounding and killing many men. Finding the place untenable between friend and foe, General Kershaw proposed to the General in our front to charge the battery, and let us support him. This he refused to do. Kershaw then offered to charge it with our brigade if they would support him after he took it. This they also refused, and, as the Georgians and Louisianans on our right were moving up, we could not fire without injuring them, and we could do no good where we were, we were directed to fall back to our original position and re-form line of battle. I held our position with the left wing until the right was beyond range, and then directed the left to retire, I keeping some distance in their rear and falling back very slowly. No sooner had our men retired when here came a portion of the Confederate soldiery, dashing past me panic-stricken, and huddled together like sheep, presenting elegant marks for the grape and cannon balls which cut paths through them, and hurled them, writhing and digging, into the mud and water of the swamp. One man, in his haste to get out of danger, shoved me on one side, and just at the instant a canister shot tore his head off, and spattered my face with his blood and brains. As you may suppose, I was not much vexed at his impoliteness.

On our way out we paused over the ground which we traveled in going in, and found men lying dead in every direction. Upon reaching the rear we were marched into a skirt of woods to rest for the night, the fight having now closed, and the enemy ceased firing. When morning dawned they were gone again, having reached the James River, and being safely under cover of their gunboats. Early in the morning I rode over the battle ground, our brigade having been marched to occupy it, and the sight which was there presented beggars description. Entering the field at the point where our artillery had been posted, I came upon numbers of dead and dying horses, who, with the drivers and gunners, lay in a pile together, their several dismantled guns, their caissons, fired and blown up by the enemy’s balls, all presenting an aspect of desolation and ruin. Then came the point at which our infantry lines advanced through the open fields and engaged that of the enemy. For a mile the ground was thickly strewn with the mangled and dying, showing with what desperate energy our men had advanced, and with what energy they were repulsed. Men, mangled in every conceivable manner, to the number of 10,000, were strewn out before me. The painful details of our own wounded I will spare you; but I will pass to the enemy’s side of the field, where one half of the number lay; there were men with their arms, legs, and hands shot off, bodies torn up, features distorted and blackened. All this I could see with indifference, but I could not but pity the wounded; there one poor devil, with his back broken, was trying to pull himself along by his hand, dragging his legs after him, to get out of the corn rows, which the last night’s rain had filled with water; here another, with both legs shot off, was trying to steady the mangled trunk against a gun stuck in the ground; there a fair-haired Yankee boy, of 16, was lying with both legs broken, half of his body submerged in water, with his teeth clinched, his fingernails burled in the flesh, and his whole body quivering with agony and benumbed with cold. In this case my pity got the better of my resentment, and I dismounted, pulled him out of the water, and wrapped him in a blanket, for which he seemed very grateful. One of the most touching things I saw were a couple of brothers (boys) both wounded, who had crawled together, and one of them in the act of arranging a heading for the other, with a blanket, had fallen, and they had died with their arms around one another and their cheeks together.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Boy Girls

The subject of gender-bending has been in the news lately as certain "experts" have stirred up a controversy regarding the publication of a J.Crew ad showing a designer painting her young son's toenails pink. “This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity,” psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow wrote in a Health column. Before we all commit mass self-immolation over the death of the West, maybe we should take even a cursory look at this culture that media fear-mongers love to generalize about. Gender identity, especially for the young, has never actually been a cut-and-dry issue in America. It used to be fairly common, for example, for parents to dress their young boys in petticoats or dresses, a practice which lasted well into the Victorian era. While they didn't mind forcing their own "liberal transgendered agenda" upon their boys, many Americans of the 19th century would have been appalled at the notion of a girl wearing pants, something that's a non-issue today. Our notions of gender norms have certainly changed over the years, but it hasn't exactly been a steady plummet into sexual confusion. We're as twisted now as we've ever been, just in different ways.

Consider, for example, the following excerpt, from Thomas Lowry's The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell of a letter a Massachusetts soldier wrote to his wife while stationed in Virginia during the Civil War. This man's regiment held a ball in which some of the drummer boys wore dresses and danced as ladies:

"Some of the real women went, but the boy girls were so much better looking that they left…. We had some little Drummer Boys dressed up and I'll bet you could not tell them from girls if you did not know them…. Some of them looked almost good enough to lay with and I guess some of them did get laid with.... I know I slept with mine.”

Is this saying what it seems like it's saying? But this was wartime...and I thought men were men and they killed other men and grew beards and ate turkey legs and rode horses and had big swords and frilly scarves and and and...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Spring of '61

The 150th anniversary of the firing on Ft. Sumter seems an appropriate enough time to end the recent, unplanned hiatus of this blog. I have been thinking of focusing more on Civil War-related subjects in the midst of national commemoration.

Commemoration is often confused with celebration. While I would like to avoid using the occasion of the "Sesquicentennial" to perpetuate the mythologization of the Civil War into some Homeric epic, I also feel compelled to admit the obvious. It is beyond my capacity to truly comprehend the magnitude of the losses the people of this country experienced in the period of 1861-1865 and the years that followed. I cannot speak for the dead, nor can I venture to say I know the best way to honor them. There was a time when I at least believed that their sacrifices were necessary. I don't know what to believe anymore. Platitudes and generalizations help fit the Civil War into a tight little narrative to comfort and inspire the living. But the dead flit in and out of our peripheral, whispering inaudibly in the dark spaces or resting in eternal light or tucked into a dusty library shelf or shimmering in our hearts and minds or nothing nowhere at all.

I humbly submit this blog neither as a place to analyze military tactics and political strategies nor to anthologize the most important minds and bravest heroes, but as a mere dance in the dark. I am most interested in candlelight flickers, faces in the smoke, stories, songs, poems, images of the common and uncommon, heroes, deserters, civilians alike, their colloquial sounds, their pleasures and pains, their ghosts and reincarnations.

After a number of suggestions from various directions, I've changed the Civil War mixtape a little bit. Thanks to all those who provided feedback and criticism. Thanks also to the Irate Pirate and Gadaya, whose phenomenal blogs contributed several of the songs here. And of course, thank you to anyone who actually reads my ramblings.

Download: Spring of '61

1) French Carpenter - "Camp Chase"
2) J.D. Cornett - "Spring of '65"
3) Walt Whitman - Excerpt from "America"
4) Thomas Alexander (37th NC veteran) - Rebel Yell
5) Glen Faulkner - "Short-Cycle Blues Pattern)
6) Camptown Shakers - "Ol' Dan Tucker"
7) Clifton Hicks - "Going Across the Mountain"
8) Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton - "And Am I Born to Die (Idumea)"
9) Len Spencer and Company - Excerpt from Uncle Tom's Cabin
10) Hobart Smith - "Cuckoo Bird"
11) Tommy Jarrell & Fred Cockerham - "John Brown's Dream"
12) Frank C. Stanley - "Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep"
13) Rutherford, Burnett And Moore - "Cumberland Gap"
14) Bascom Lamar Lunsford - "The Mermaid Song"
15) Bob Flesher - "Jim Along Josie"
16) Seán Ó Riada & Le Celtóirí Chualan With Darach Ó Catháin - "Ag Scaipeadh Na gCleití"
17) Carolina Chocolate Drops - "Dixie"
18) Texas Gladden - "Two Brothers"
19) Wayne Erbsen - "Southern Soldier Boy"
20) 16 Horsepower - "Wayfaring Stranger"
21) Seneca Indians - Funeral Chant
22) Dillard Chandler - "The Soldier Traveling From the North"
23) Buell Kazee - "The Dying Soldier (Brother Green)"
24) Eck Robertson - "Run Boy Run"
25) Frank Kittrell - "Want to Go to Meeting"
26) Woody Guthrie - "Buffalo Gals"
27) John McCormack - "Kathleen Mavourneen"

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Carnyx Unveiled

Image source: The carnyx howl by svantewit

Forget fifes and drums--Iron Age Celts charged into battle to the clamor of the carnyx, an enormous bronze war horn with a boar-shaped mouth. We may never know for certain what it sounded like, or how it was played, but some researchers and artists have ventured to try and recreate it. Working off the Deskford Carnyx, one such team unveiled their reconstructed carnyx at the National Museum of Scotland in April of 1993. Below, trombonist John Kenny delivers an intriguing performance from Carnyx & Co's Deskford clone. Imagine a gaggle of these things trumpeting across a broad field in Ireland, Britain, or France. Who needs armor when you've got that on your side?

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Ulster Cycle: The Webcomic Series

I honestly haven't been into any comics since I was a kid. No offense to the art; it's just not something I've had an interest in or been exposed to over the years. The only exceptions I can think of are Jeffrey Lewis's comics and The Beats: A Graphic History. Also awesome, but a topic for a later post. What I'm getting at is I'm by no means all that knowledgable on the subject, but I recently stumbled across Patrick Brown's adaptations of the Ulster Cycle of ancient Irish mythology and I'm really digging them. It's a perfect storm of geekdom: history, mythology, literature, and comics all rolled into one. The Ulster Cycle is fascinating to me, the stories dark and mysterious, the characters complex and at times grotesquely violent. Brown's work really helps make sense of the often confusing, sometimes downright contradictory tales. I'm sure he's taken artistic license here and there, but it is mythology, after all. Every myth you've every heard, read, or seen involves artistic license on someone's part. This guy certainly does his research. Not only does Brown write and draw, he's also compiled an impressive series of his own original translations of Ulster Cycle stories. It's all well worth a look:

If you're still not convinced, here are a couple pages from "The Cattle Raid of Cooley," in which the teenage Cú Chulainn faces off against an entire invading army. Take that, 300. Cue the carnyx:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Frozen Past: Available in 3D

"Royal Gardens, Dresden, Germany." Undated.

Long before our recent 3D movie craze (before movies, for that matter) people enjoyed the simple magic of stereoscopic photography. Why look at a flat photo when you can leap right into a three-dimensional freeze frame? I picked up the photos in this post at a used book store few years ago and I've been meaning to post them for a while. They show images from around the world taken around the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. If you're into stereoscopy, I also highly recommend Clicksy Pics. The site's owner takes images like these seemingly still, dead photographs and breathes incredible life into them through animated gifs. I would not, however, recommend them to anyone suffering from epilepsy or susceptible to motion sickness. They're intense, though perhaps not quite Avatar intense.

"The Sad Roll Call after some of the British were cut off at Dordrecht (Dec. 30th), S.A." 2nd Boer War, South Africa, 1899. Published by Underwood & Underwood, 1900.

"Spanish prisoners freed by the Americans on the capture of Imus,--Las Pinas, Philippines." Spanish American War, 1898-1899. Published by Underwood & Underwood, 1899.

"Street Scene, Cairo, Egypt." Undated.

"The Stadium, Rome." Undated.

"Garden of Gethsemane. Palestine." Undated.

"Off for Porto Rico." Undated (Spanish American War?)

"A Public Well, Pekin, China." Undated.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Appalachian Trails

A few more photographs of eastern Kentucky in the 1960s and 70s by William Gedney. In his notes for these images, Gedney included a quote from Harry Caudill's Night Comes to the Cumberlands:

“Exhaustion is apparent on every hand—exhaustion of soil, exhaustion of men, exhaustion of hopes. Weariness and lethargy have settled closer everywhere. The nation, engulfed in its money-making and international politics, has paid no noticeable heed to its darkest area.”

Source: Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Monday, February 14, 2011

Authentic to the Bone

I must apologize for my lack of specificity in discussing the "authentic" in my last post. Rather than blathering, I thought I'd simply illustrate it with a Civil War geekout dose of fantastic, minstrel-style, Civil War era tunes. On video. Complete with seriously kickass bones a-clickety clackin'. Shit just got real.

For more 19th century minstrel bliss, check out Tim Twiss's Banjo Clubhouse and the YouTube channels of minstrelbanjo, giggletoot, and oldcremona.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Civil War Mixtape - Take 1

UPDATE: For the latest version of this mixtape, which fixes some broken files and changes up the list a bit, please see this post.

For years I've been in search of the perfect Civil War era music compilation. Disappointed with what I found along the way, I eventually started experimenting with making my own CD-length Civil War mixtape. It always ends in frustration as I end up being miserably unhappy with the results. Though I've since given up on the whole perfection thing (part of growing up, right?), anthologizing/mixtaping is nonetheless a surprisingly difficult art. My attempts at establishing parameters is usually one of biggest snags. Do I only include songs that can be absolutely verified to have existed during the Civil War? And what about the instruments and playing styles? Must they be also confirmed as absolutely accurate? I admit, this is a terribly neurotic way at approaching the task.

The Smithsonian Folkways album, Back Roads to Cold Mountain significantly changed my way of looking both at this mixtape project and at Civil War music in general. It's a ghostly collection, brilliantly compiled by musicologist (and former New Lost City Rambler) John Cohen and Cold Mountain author Charles Frazier. Many of the songs in it eventually made it into the movie, covered by a number of artists, including musician/actor Jack White of the White Stripes. Cohen and Frazier undoubtedly took some liberties in assembling this album, but it really got me thinking about what constitutes "authentic," particularly when it comes to studying a period that pre-dates recorded music. Many purist students of Civil War music, whose research is indispensable, won't consider something true Civil War music unless it can be verified in period sheet music and instructional songbooks. Such is the duty of a respectable scholar. But what if we go about this as informed artists? It gives us a little wiggle room, to be sure, but this is not just a lazy man's way out. I believe imagination is vital to the understanding of the Civil War. It would be foolish to assume that colloquial musicians of the period were all learning from books. Many people learned then as they did a century later, in the heyday of Appalachian field recordings--by a combination of oral, passed-on tradition and the occasional bit of improvisation. There's no way of knowing for certain what music sounded like that far back in the telephone game, which is where imagination comes into play.

So here's my disclaimer: this is not at all an attempt at collecting fully authentic Civil War music. Most of the songs here definitely existed at the time of the Civil War. I've certainly more than filled in some gaps. I've also added a bit of literature to the mix, including a wax cylinder recording, supposedly of Walt Whitman himself, and a turn-of-the-century recording of an excerpt from Uncle Tom's Cabin. These recordings date from the late nineteenth to the early twenty-first century. You may find some of them to be strange or even hard to listen to. This is a compilation inspired by the American Civil War, after all. Comfort is a cop out.

This is still a work in progress, so any feedback will be more than appreciated. In the meantime, tilt back your slouch hat, kick off your brogans, and prepare to be rocked in the cradle of the deep:

Download: Spring of '65

1) French Carpenter - "Camp Chase"
2) J.D. Cornett - "Spring of '65"
3) Walt Whitman - Excerpt from "America"
4) Thomas Alexander (37th NC veteran) - Rebel Yell
5) Glen Faulkner - "Short-Cycle Blues Pattern)
6) Camptown Shakers - "Ol' Dan Tucker"
7) Clifton Hicks - "Going Across the Mountain"
8) Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton - "And Am I Born to Die (Idumea)"
9) Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham - "Fall on my Kness"
10) Len Spencer and Company - Excerpt from Uncle Tom's Cabin
11) Hobart Smith - "Cuckoo Bird"
12) Bob Holt - "John Brown's Dream"
13) Frank C. Stanley - "Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep"
14) Bob Flesher - "Jim Along Josie"
15) Seán Ó Riada & Le Celtóirí Chualan With Darach Ó Catháin - "Ag Scaipeadh Na gCleití"
16) Carolina Chocolate Drops - "Dixie"
17) Texas Gladden - "Two Brothers"
18) Wayne Erbsen - "Southern Soldier Boy"
19) Jim Taylor - "Getting Out of the Way of the Federals/Run, Rebel, Run"
20) 16 Horsepower - "Wayfaring Stranger"
21) Seneca Indians - Funeral Chant
22) Dillard Chandler - "The Soldier Traveling From the North"
23) Buell Kazee - "The Dying Soldier (Brother Green)"
24) Frank Kittrell - "Want to Go to Meeting"
25) Woody Guthrie - "Buffalo Gals"
26) Oscar Parks - "The Battle of Stone River"
27) John McCormack - "Kathleen Mavourneen"

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Indian War Whoop

Just stumbled across this brilliant psychedelic stop motion video by Carter Baldwin for Hoyt Ming and His Pep Steppers' classic "Indian War Whoop." I don't know about Ming, but Harry Smith and the Holy Modal Rounders would certainly be proud.

For more information on the song and its original performers, The Old Weird, America has a fantastic, comprehensive post with a brief history of the band, 14 variations of the song, 3 videos, and all 6 of the Pep Steppers' recordings. If you're still not sated, here's a wafer thin R. Crumb portrait to top it off. Don't worry, the cleaning lady's on her way with a bucket:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mary Don't You Weep

Georgia field hands performing "Mary Don't You Weep," circa late 1920s-early '30s.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Drum Full of Bees

Let us begin with a drum full of bees. I hoped to have some accompanying audio for this, but apparently, the internet has some limitations. We'll have to leave some of this--including the soundtrack--to the imagination. Take a moment and picture an old army snare drum lying in the grass on a Pennsylvania farm. A bee emerges from a bullet hole in the drumhead. It flies off. Another one follows. Soon you realize the drum is filled with bees. A persistent buzzing resonates within. They've actually built their nest there. Or someone's prepared it for them. You see, this drum is the centerpiece of several divergent stories.

I first stumbled over the bee-filled drum while perusing the MOLLUS online photograph collection. There's a postcard with a photograph of it, which is useless to post, as the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center apparently feels that the U.S. army's heritage is more educationey if viewed through the center of an enormous, opaque logo. The text of the card begins,

"'Kiss me before I die,' said the little drummer boy, to Mrs. Judge Fisher, of York, Pa., as he lay at the foot of Round Top, dying far away from home and his dear mother. She kissed his pale cheek, and tenderly held him in her arms, till his spirit had fled. His bereaved mother came several times in search of his body, but it could not be found until 1867, when it was sent to his home in Providence, R. I.

"His broken drum was found near him, by Farmer Jacob Weikert, who turned it into a bee-hive, which for sixteen years was used in this strange and significant employment."

The stirring account is accompanied by a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier:

"The Hive at Gettysburg"

In the old Hebrew myth the lion's frame
So terribly alive,
Bleached by the desert's sun and wind, became
The wandering wild bees' hive;
And he who lone and naked-handed tore
Those jaws of death apart.

In after time drew forth their honeyed store
To strengthen his strong heart.

Dead seemed the legend: but it only slept
To wake beneath our sky;
Just on the spot whence ravening Treason crept
Back to its lair to die,
Bleeding and torn from Freedom's mountain bounds,
A stained and shattered drum
Is now the hive where, on their flowery rounds,
The wild bees go and come.

Unchallenged by a ghostly sentinel,
They wander wide and far,
Along green hillsides, sown with shot and shell,
Through vales once choked with war.
The low reveille of their battle-drum
Disturbs no morning prayer;
With deeper peace in summer noons their hum
Fills all the drowsy air.

And Samson's riddle is our own to-day,
Of sweetness from the strong,
Of union, peace, and freedom plucked away
From the rent jaws of wrong.
From Treason's death we draw a purer life,
As, from the beast he slew,
A sweetness sweeter for his bitter strife
The old-time athlete drew!

I'll avoid drifting into a long-winded poetry analysis here, though I can't help but point out the flat political theme (just in case you didn't notice it). But that's beside the point. What is the point?

Well, the text on this postcard was written in 1883 by A.E. Tortat, an Episcopal reverend who used it to raise money for "a memorial of this young hero, or any of our country's dead, in the Historic Tower and Memorial Church, soon to be erected on this battlefield."

Tortat also penned this letter to the editor of The Churchman in 1883, describing the death of the drummer boy and declaring,

"I hold out his broken drum to all generous Church people, and indeed to all true souls, to cast in a few thousand dollars to begin at once this churchly monument....From the heights of Round Top I hold out our boy's drum for all to see. How many working bees shall hum their peaceful tune around it with this opening spring, and briog in their sweetest gifts of love and gratitude to God, and of kind remembrance of our beloved dead? Particulars about this monument of piety and patriotism may be had from your correspondent,
A. E. Tortat,
Rector of the church of " the Prince of Peace,"
Gettysburg, Adams county, Pa.

"PS.—We have various sizes of granite stones, finely cut, ready for engraving, costing in Philadelphia from $10 to $20. These we now offer, free of charge, to early applicants, charging only 30 cents per letter for inscribing, placing, and covering them. Also, polished stones at 50 cents per letter, mid cheaper stones for inside at 35 cents per letter."

Where is this all going, you ask? Well, actually, I'm as unsure now as when I started researching this. I wanted to get the bottom and there was no bottom to be found. Tortat never identified the boy or explained how he died. I was not entirely convinced he even existed at all. Yet I still believed in the beehive drum. That part seems too beautifully weird to have been invented by Whittier.

Enter Mrs. Judge Fisher, the supposed original source of the dying drummer boy story. According to Tortat, her account originally appeared in the Philadelphia Times. I couldn't find that article, but I did find one from an online copy of The Lakeside Press of Cleveland, NY, also dated 1883. She apparently went to Gettysburg immediately after the battle to help care for the wounded, a heroic task in and of itself. Her account seems familiar, yet strange and curious:

"I found him at the farthest extremity of the hospital, with a half dozen other hopeless cases. He was a lovely boy, scarcely more than a child, who had run away from his home in Providence, RI, to join the 'drum corps.' He was a brave boy and a great pet among the soldiers, who nursed him as tenderly as possible, but could poorly supply a mother's loving care. How he longed for one more look of her dear face and once again to hear her sweet words of love! He was so frail and slight it was a marvel how he could have endured the fatigue and privation so long. He was not disfigured by wounds, but constant marches, insufficient food and often sleepless nights had exhausted his strength and and he had not the vitality to resist the sharp attack of fever. He was perfectly conscious, but too weak to say much. I asked the poor child what I could do for him. 'Oh! I want my mother!' I sat down on the ground, and taking him in my arms tried to comfort him. He turned his face to me, saying 'I am so tired,' laid his head against me and appeared to sleep.

"The last rays of the sun touched the lovely features of the dying boy. The long-drawn shadows vanished in the gathering darkness. Silence, unbroken save the plaintive moan of some poor victim, succeeded the hum of the busy day. The pitying dews shed a balm upon his brow. Fainter and fainter grew the breath and more feeble the clasp of the little hand, when suddenly rousing he opened his eyes, glazed in death, and looking long and earnestly in my face, said 'Kiss me, lady, before I die!' Clinging still closer to the stranger who could faintly represent the fond mother's tenderness he so eagerly craved, he dropped his heavy lids and slept away his brief life as peacefully as a child goes to sleep in its mother's arms. I gently laid the lifeless form down on the hard earth and left him to a soldier's burial and a nameless grave. Poor fellow, what an atom he seemed to be in all that mass of wretched, dying humanity! Yet he was all the world to the heart of that mother, who wept and prayed for her darling's safe return to the distant home, that never again would echo his boyish step or ringing laugh."

The boy's identity is still a mystery to me. If he was from Rhode Island, it is likely he was a member of the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, the only Rhode Island infantry unit at Gettysburg. Whether a coincidence or not, the centerpiece of their monument at Gettysburg is a drum.

Photo source: Gettysburg Daily

As for Tortat's church, the National Memorial Church of the Prince of Peace was completed in 1900 and still stands in Gettysburg as a house of worship and memorial to both sides of the Civil War. I could not find any reference to the story of the dying drummer boy and the role it played in the church's fundraising efforts. I was also unable to find anything to indicate where the beehive drum is today. If anyone can shed any light on these mysteries, I would greatly appreciate it. If anyone has a recording of bees inside a snare drum, please pass that along to me as well.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Battlefield Vulture

Source: New York State Historical Society.

A nigthmarish stereoview from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: "A Battle-field Vulture, Godfor by name--one of those inhuman creatures who follow in the wake of armies, robbing the field of blankets, clothing, turning the pockets of the dead, &c." Who is this bizarre character?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Jeffrey Lewis - The Complete History of Punk Rock

While we're on the subject of lineage, here's Jeffrey Lewis's musical history of the early development of punk out of New York City's folk/poetry scene of the 1950s and '60s. This really doesn't need an introduction.

If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out Lewis's homepage and his original music and comic books.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

McAlpine's Fusiliers

Across the pond to Ireland. The Ronnie Drew Group (later the Dubliners) perform Dominic Behan's "McAlpine's Fusiliers." You can see the fire in Drew's eyes as he sings about the hardships faced by Irish laborers in England. I think it's worth noting that this was in 1963, right before the Beatles took America by storm performing "I Want to Hold Your Hand" on the Ed Sullivan Show. Though rock 'n' roll is an obvious direct ancestor of punk rock, it's easy here to see the vital role folk music traditions played in that and a number of other significant lineages. More on this later. In the meantime, enjoy:

Oh, and for the hell of it, here are the lyrics to "McAlpine's Fusiliers" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand:"

McAlpine's Fusiliers

As down the glen came McAlpine's men with their shovels slung behind them
It was in the pub they drank the sub and up in the spike you'll find them
They sweated blood and they washed down mud with pints and quarts of beer
And now we're on the road again with McAlpine's Fusiliers

I stripped to the skin with Darky Flynn way down upon the Isle of Grain
With Horseface Toole I knew the rule, no money if you stop for rain
When McAlpine's god was a well filled hod with your shoulders cut to bits and seared
And woe to he who looks for tea with McAlpine's Fusiliers

I remember the day that the Bear O'Shea fell into a concrete stairs
What the Horseface said, when he saw him dead, well it wasn't what the rich call prayers
I'm a navvy short was the one retort that reached unto my ears
When the going is rough, well you must be tough with McAlpine's Fusiliers

I've worked till the sweat near had me bet with Russian, Czech and Pole
On shuddering jams up in the hydro dams or underneath the Thames in a hole
I grafted hard and I've got me cards and many a gangers fist across me ears
If you pride your life, don't join, by Christ, with McAlpine's Fusiliers

I Want To Hold Your Hand

Oh yeah, I'll tell you something,
I think you'll understand.
When I'll say that something
I want to hold your hand,
I want to hold your hand,
I want to hold your hand.

Oh please, say to me
You'll let me be your man
And please, say to me
You'll let me hold your hand.
Now let me hold your hand,
I want to hold your hand.

And when I touch you I feel happy inside.
It's such a feeling that my love
I can't hide, I can't hide, I can't hide.

Yeah, you've got that something,
I think you'll understand.
When I'll say that something
I want to hold your hand,
I want to hold your hand,
I want to hold your hand.

And when I touch you I feel happy inside.
It's such a feeling that my love
I can't hide, I can't hide, I can't hide.

Yeh, you've got that something,
I think you'll understand.
When I'll feel that something
I want to hold your hand,
I want to hold your hand,
I want to hold your hand.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Promised Land

The following is a transcription of a letter from Lee Hendrix, a private in the 1st North Carolina Sharpshooters during the Civil War. Poetry of a different sort.

Source: Virginia Tech, Universities Libraries, Special Collections