Civil War Collection, Volume I - Liner Notes

This recording is a collection of instrumental dance music that was current around the time of the American Civil War. Fiddle players, dulcimer players, banjo players, guitarists, and other musicians, civilians and soldiers alike, performed these enduring tunes for square dances, hoe-downs, minstrel shows, and just plain common fun. Although this music is known by only a relative handful today, it was the popular instrumental music of the 1850s and 60s.  

The tunes contained in this collection fall under the category of what is known today as “traditional music” or “fiddle tunes.” As instrumental pieces they generally did not have words, and, so, were not sung. Their function was to accompany square dances and, as in the case of Little Rose Is Gone and John Brown’s March, simply to provide entertainment.   

Documentation abounds in Civil War literature for the popularity of musicians in the army camps. With no USO, no tape decks, movies, TV, or radios, the Civil War soldier had to more or less entertain himself and provide his own music. Fiddle players particularly seemed to be in abundance during the time of the war. For example, Confederate Veteran magazine reported that in a regiment of Barksdale’s Mississippians, there was one company of ninety men, seventy-five of whom were good fiddlers. Then, of course, there was the immortal Sam Sweeney. Sweeney was a brilliant banjo player who was employed by Confederate cavalry General Jeb Stuart to provide musical entertainment for the General and his staff while off on one of their famous raids or while in repose back in camp. Other musicians were also employed by Stuart to follow him around the countryside, and to provide music for the square dances that the General frequently arranged. This recording provides a sample of the music that would have been played for these dances, using the same instruments that were available to the musicians of the 1860s. 

Of the four main instruments used on this recording (fiddle, banjo, guitar, and hammered dulcimer), probably the hammered dulcimer is the least familiar to modern ears.  Although not well known today, the dulcimer was quite common in mid-19th century America. The dulcimer is a trapezoidal box with dozens of strings stretched lengthwise over one or two bridges near the center of the instrument and played by striking the strings with small wooden sticks that are usually referred to as “hammers.”

Just prior to the Civil War, the hammered dulcimer experienced widespread popularity. Music books written especially for the instrument were published in the 1840s through the 1860s containing popular fiddle tunes of the day (such as the tunes that appear on this recording). By the 1850s, the dulcimer was being widely manufactured in shops throughout New England, the upper Midwest, and particularly in New York state. Several of these firms employed teams of salesmen who traveled throughout the Midwest and South demonstrating the instruments and making rather brisk sales. For a variety of reasons, many of the dulcimer factories in the North had to close down with the outbreak of war in 1861, at which time, according to one historian, “the boys demonstrating the dulcimers in the South were obliged to leave hastily.”

At any rate, by the time of the Civil War there were literally thousands of hammered dulcimers being sold and played throughout the country, especially in the Ohio Valley and the South.  They were used primarily as lead instruments for dances and as parlor instruments to provide background music for social gatherings. The hammered dulcimer’s popularity continued after the war to the end of the 19th century when, for various reasons, it experienced a long decline that lasted until a revival
of interest in the instrument occurred in the 1970s.  (For further reading on the history of the hammered dulcimer, see The Hammered Dulcimer in America by Nancy Groce, published by the Smithsonian Institution Press).

Tracking down the origins and histories of fiddle tunes is not an easy task and has required a search through a variety of sources. Most of these sources are found in the tune descriptions that follow, but there are a couple that should be mentioned at this point. The Life of Johnny Reb, written by Bell Irwin Wiley, is an outstanding work on the life of the common Confederate soldier. The book is based on the author’s research into hundreds of soldier’s letters, diaries, and other manuscripts, gleaning some very helpful information from them. In the chapter called “Breaking the Monotony,”  Wiley lists some fiddle tunes that were often mentioned by the soldiers as being their favorites. Another source used in this project was Virginia Reels, a collection of traditional fiddle tunes compiled by George Knauff in Farmville, Virginia in 1839. This collection is unique in that it provides some insight into the instrumental music that was being played in the upper South in the decade or so before
the outbreak of the Civil War. These are tunes that would have been familiar particularly to the large number of soldiers who came from Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky.

Also in researching this project, I have relied heavily on album notes written by Alan Jabbour of the Library of Congress, and an article he co-authored with Chris Goertzen which explains the significance of Knauff’s Virginia Reels. George A. Miller provided the story about Bonaparte’s Retreat in his book, Cemeteries and Family Graveyards in Haywood County, North Carolina. Others who have patiently endured my tiresome inquiries are: Gerry Milnes, Bruce Greene (both of whom have an amazing knowledge and repertoire of old-time fiddle tunes), Sheila Adams, Richard Blaustein, Jim Costa, Gus Meade, Bill McNeil, Joe Hickerson, and Greg Mast.    


Booth Shot Lincoln

Bruce Greene learned this tune from the fiddle playing of Marcus Martin and Bascom Lamar Lunsford, both of Buncombe County, North Carolina. Field recordings were made of these two musicians in 1949 by the Library of Congress. On the recording made by Lunsford, he first sings a ballad called Booth, or Booth Shot Lincoln, which he says he learned as a boy from his father. He then plays the fiddle tune by the same name.  Musically, the ballad and the fiddle tune are similar, with the fiddle version being more ornate and complex. At this point it is difficult to know which came first, the song or the tune. Lunsford states on the recording that “it’s an old fiddle tune,” which leads me to believe that tune had been around for a while before the words were added. 

The ballad and the fiddle tune both commemorate the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by the actor John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865. The incident took place at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC while Lincoln, along with family and friends, watched a British comedy from their special box seats above the stage. During a particularly loud and sustained outburst of laughter, Booth crept into the box through the rear entrance and shot the president in the head. Booth then jumped to the stage shouting, “Sic semper tyrannis” (“thus always to tyrants”), and made good his escape. Lincoln died the following morning. Booth was shot and killed by the authorities twelve days later.

Three Forks of Hell

This banjo piece comes from Gerry Milnes who learned it from Arthur D. Johnson, a banjo player from Mill Creek, West Virginia. This tune is associated with the battle of Cheat Mountain in what is now West Virginia. The battle, which took place September 11-15, 1861, pitted the Confederate forces under Robert E. Lee against Union held positions on Cheat Mountain and the surrounding area. After five days of fighting in rugged mountain terrain and heavy rains, Lee was forced to pull back from his previously held positions and abandon the northern part of western Virginia to the Federals. Lee’s reputation was tarnished by this setback and would not be restored until the Seven Days campaign near Richmond in June of the following year. Indicative of the bitterness of the struggle in western Virginia during the war, Arthur Johnson declared that there was a time when if you went to the area around Cheat Mountain and played this tune, you’d be killed.

Arkansas Traveler

Bell Irvin Wiley in his book, The Life of Johnny Reb, lists several fiddle tunes that were popular favorites with the soldiers in Confederate camps during the war, including this Arkansas Traveler. This tune is a little different in that it comes complete with a humorous dialogue interspersed with short snatches of the tune played on the fiddle.  This popular skit from the minstrel stage was first printed in 1847, although the tune itself was likely in existence long before that. No clear British antecedent exists for Arkansas Traveler, giving rise to the theory that the tune is an American original. The dialogue that accompanies the tune is between an old Arkansas farmer and a “city-slicker.” The scene is the farmer’s cabin, which sits along the road to Little Rock.  The farmer sits in the doorway of the cabin playing his fiddle while the city-slicker, who is thoroughly lost, stops to ask directions.

Slicker: Say, farmer. Does this road go to Little Rock?

Farmer: Well, sir, I’ve been sittin’ here all day and it ain’t gone nowhere yet.

Slicker: No, what I mean is, can I take this road to Little Rock?

Farmer: No, I’d say they’ve got plenty of them there already.

Slicker: Farmer, have you lived here all your life?

Farmer: Not yet.


Pop Goes the Weasel

This tune was a popular piece with the bands and drum and fife corps of the Civil War armies. It appears in Elias Howe’s United States Regulation Drum & Fife Instructor, published in 1861. Tunes of this nature were often times adopted by fiddle players to do with as they saw fit. Since by the time of the Civil War jigs and hornpipes were beginning to wane in popularity as dancing styles, fiddlers would sometimes refashion these tunes into the more popular 4/4 reel. That’s what I’ve done with this tune—converted it from a 6/8 jig into a 4/4 reel.

Camp Chase

The title of this tune refers to the prisoner-of-war camp set up by the Union Army near Columbus, Ohio to house Confederate prisoners. The story goes that a Confederate soldier from western Virginia named Sol Carpenter (“Devil Sol” they called him) was captured by the Federals and sent to Camp Chase for confinement.  One morning while Sol was in prison, the officer in charge of the camp announced to the prisoners that he was going to hold a fiddle contest.  “The best fiddler,” he said, “that’s in this camp—I’m a-gonna set him free.”  Sol later said that there were five awful good fiddlers in there, so he decided to play the tune now called Camp Chase to try and win his freedom. He was the first to play in the contest. He said he put parts in the tune that he didn’t think were in it, but he wanted to get out so bad, he put them in anyway.  After the rest of the fiddlers had all played their tunes, the officer in charge told Sol to play his again, which he did the best he could play.  After he played, the officer said, “Well, Sol, you’re free.” Before being released, though, Sol had to swear allegiance to the United States. The story goes that Sol took the oath, got released, went straight back south and joined another Confederate outfit.

I got this tune from Gerry Milnes, who got it from Emory Bailey of Calhoun County, West Virginia. The story comes from Gerry Milnes, Burl Hammons (from a recording made in 1972), and from a recording of French Carpenter, Solomon Carpenter’s grandson.  Both the tune and the story are quite common in central West Virginia. The tune itself has a long history that dates back to the late 18th century. Its origins can be traced to a tune called The Marquis of Huntley’s Farewell, published in Scotland in 1781. In America it was published in 1839 by George Knauff in his four-volume collection of fiddle tunes, Virginia Reels, under the title George Booker. It was probably under this title that Sol Carpenter knew this tune when he played it to get out of prison. However, after his dazzling feat of fiddling set him free, the tune has ever since been known as Camp Chase.

The Rebel Raid

Bruce Greene got this tune from a 1937 Library of Congress recording of William Stepp of Lakeville, Kentucky.  The title is most likely making reference to one of Morgan’s famous raids though Kentucky and points further north.  I’ve been unable to unearth any information on the tune itself, though I suspect it is indigenous to Kentucky.

Abe’s Retreat

The alternate title to this tune is The Battle of Bull Run, probably referring to the First Battle of Bull Run (or First Manassas, as it is known in the South) that took place not many miles west of Washington, DC on a hot July 21, 1861. It was the first major battle of the war, fought by green, inexperienced troops on both sides. By the end of the day Union forces had been defeated, with the routed army making its way back to the safety of the Washington defenses. Gerry Milnes collected this tune from Emory Bailey of Calhoun County, West Virginia.

They Swung John Brown to a Sour Apple Tree

Bruce Greene collected this tune from C. W. Strong of Lee County, Kentucky. Mr. Strong learned it from his father, Alexander Strong. The title of this tune refers, of course, to the public hanging of John Brown on December 2, 1859. Brown was a fanatical abolitionist who, with four companions in May of 1856, brutally murdered five pro-slavery men in eastern Kansas.  Brown escaped to New England where he went to work for the abolitionist cause. He spent much of his time there acquiring funds from wealthy patrons in order to raise a small army. With this army, Brown planned to set up a fortress in the Allegheny Mountains from where he could strike into Virginia. He would then liberate the slaves in the area, train them to fight, take over a large portion of southern territory, and set up his own kingdom.

To accomplish his goal, Brown need guns, and the logical way to get them in large numbers was to steal them from the Federal Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. On  October 16, 1859, Brown and 21 of his followers made their way into Harper’s Ferry to loot the Armory. Unfortunately for the raiders, the townspeople and local militia had been alerted, and Brown’s men were fired on. With the situation rapidly deteriorating, a company of U. S. Marines, under the command of Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee, was dispatched to the scene. The Marines stormed the raiders who, by this time, had barricaded themselves in the fire-engine house. Brown was captured, and after a quick and sensational trial at Charles Town, was sentenced to be hanged for conspiracy, treason, and murder. The sentence was carried out before a great crowd of witnesses and much publicity.

Alexander Strong claimed that this tune was “brought back from the Civil War.” The tune does seem unique and was most likely written for the occasion. Bruce Greene plays the tune three times through, each time overdubbing another fiddle, so that by the third time through, there are three fiddles playing.


This is arguably the best known melody to come out of the mid-nineteenth century. The author was Daniel Emmett who was born in Mt. Vernon, Ohio in 1815. He left home at the age of eighteen and joined the circus. In the early 1840s, Emmett, along with three other entertainers, formed the very first black-face minstrel troupe and became a huge success in northern cities.  As a driving force of the minstrel phenomenon, Emmett composed many of the most popular songs of the day, including Old Dan Tucker and Jordan’s A Hard Road to Travel. Around 1900, S. A. Cunningham, editor of the Confederate Veteran magazine, interviewed Dan Emmett about his life and work. Included in that interview was the story of how Dixie came to be written in Emmett’s own words: “In the Spring of 1859 I found myself in New York City, engaged with the Bryant Minstrels, No. 472 Broadway.  My particular engagement was to make them new songs for the end men—plantation songs, negro songs, or ‘walk-rounds,’ as we called them. One Saturday night after the performance, Jerry Bryant overtook me on my way home and asked me to make him a new walk-round and bring it to rehearsal Monday morning. ‘Make one,’ said he, ‘that the boys can whoop and holler. Make it a regular negro walk-round.’”

“The next day being Sunday—and it rained as if heaven and earth would come together—I sat down with my violin and composed Dixie Land. I took it to rehearsal Monday morning, and they were so pleased with it that they had the second rehearsal after dinner, so we could get it just right for the night performance. It was popular from the start.”

Dixie was a big success all across the country. It was first heard in the South at the Varieties Theater in New Orleans when it was used in a march and drill routine by forty female Zouaves (colorfully attired infantry units modeled after the uniforms of French Algerian troops).  In 1861 it was played at the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederate States.

Dan Emmett died at his hometown of Mt. Vernon, Ohio in 1904. At his funeral, after several hymns, the last tune that the band played as the casket was lowered into the grave was Dixie.

Sheila Adam’s version of Dixie was learned from the legendary fiddle/banjo player Tommy Jarrell from Mt. Airy, North Carolina.


Come Dance and Sing

In Preston’s New Instruction for the German Flute, published in London in 1780, this fine tune appears under the title La Belle Catherine. It was picked up by fife players early in the 19th century and played by field musicians during the Civil War. Exactly when the tune acquired the title, Come Dance and Sing, and passed into the realm of traditional music is not certain.  However, as with some other tunes, a great melody like this one did not stay exclusively in the hands of the field music for long without being “borrowed” by the fiddlers. Currently, Come Dance and Sing is considered a “northern tune” that is frequently played for contra dances in New England.

McClanahan’s March

In eastern Kentucky at the time of the war, a man named McClanahan made his living by stealing horses from one side (we don’t know which) and then selling them to the other side. As enterprising as this vocation was, he eventually got caught at it (presumably by the side he was stealing from) and sentenced to be hanged.  Sitting atop his horse with the rope around his neck, McClanahan’s last request was to play a farewell tune on his fiddle. He added that if anyone would come up and play the tune with him, he’d give them his fiddle.  Although there were likely a few people in the crowd that would have liked to have taken a good fiddle home with them that day, no one wanted to associate themselves just now with a man about to be hung for stealing horses.  Seeing that no one was going to take him up on his offer, McClanahan tuned his fiddle and played this march. When he finished, he took the fiddle and broke it over the horse’s back, causing the horse to bolt, and leaving McClanahan at the end of his rope.

Bruce Greene collected this story and tune from Alva Greene of Sandy Hook, Kentucky.

St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning / Garry Owen

These two Irish 6/8 jigs were very popular among all musicians during the Civil War, particularly bandsmen and fifers. St. Patrick’s Day can be traced back to a printed source from 1783 called Clement Week’s Tunes and Dance Instructions. It also appears in Elias Howe’s School for the Fife (1851) and William Nevin’s Army Regulation for Fife and Drum (1861).

Garry Owen dates back to the 1770s and is found in a manuscript entitled, Songs and Music of the Redcoats.  By the time of the war, it was widely played by musicians on both sides of the conflict. This tune is most popularly associated with General George Armstrong Custer who used it as a kind of theme song for himself and the troops under his command after the war.

Haste to the Wedding

This is one of my favorite tunes. It’s another 6/8 jig from Ireland (or, possibly England). One of the most famous tunes in the British Isles and North America, Haste to the Wedding can be traced back to a version used in a pantomime in 1767. In the early 19th century it shows up in several sources including, Howe’s The Musician’s Companion (1850) and his School for the Fife (1851). Part of the reason for this tune’s popularity during the Civil War was because of its frequent use as a “quickstep” for pre-war militia units.

Stony Point

I really do like this tune. Stony Point is just one of the many titles this tune goes by. It first appeared in printed form in an 1844 collection by Dan Emmett (composer of Dixie) called, Old Dan Emmett’s Original Banjo Melodies, Second Series. Emmett used the tune, put his own words to it, and called it Old Dad, which is how it is known today in southwest Virginia. Other names for the tune include, Wild Horse, Buck Creek Girls, Booker’s Bluff, and the most common title among northern fiddlers—The Pigtown Fling.

Stony Point may refer to a battle of the same name fought during the American Revolution on July 15, 1779.  The earliest link of that title with this particular tune is a Civil War era publication called, Winner’s Music of the Dance (1866), where the tune is called Stony Point Reel. Given the connection with Dan Emmett and the minstrel stage, Stony Point (or, Old Dad) must have been quite popular with Civil War fiddlers. Bruce Greene collected this four-part version of Stony Point from Jake Phelps of Todd County, Kentucky and John Sayler of Magoffin County, Kentucky.

The Falls of Richmond

This tune comes from Gerry Milnes, who says that the more appropriate title is The Downfall of Richmond.  On Sunday morning, April 2, 1865, President Jefferson Davis was attending the worship service at St. Paul’s church in Richmond. As the minister was praying, a messenger from General Lee arrived and spoke to Davis. The President left the church quietly and went to his office where he was informed that Lee’s army, which was defending Richmond and Petersburg against Union assaults, had suffered heavily in Federal attacks earlier that morning. To avoid being trapped, the Army of Northern Virginia would have to abandon its position and retreat westward, leaving Richmond defenseless and open to Federal occupation. Davis and his cabinet were compelled to leave on a train later that morning that would take them to Danville, Virginia. As the troops left, military stores were set afire to prevent them from falling into enemy hands. Cotton and tobacco warehoused were burned, and soon the fires raged out of control. Shells from the arsenal exploded; hotels, businesses, houses, and factories burned while thousands of refugees jammed the railway station and the streets trying to leave before the Yankees arrived. After four years of bloody war, Richmond at last was falling. Early the next morning, Federal cavalry rode in, and the long military occupation began.  

The Falls of Richmond is a rather mysterious tune. Its origins are obscure and it seems to be found only in the playing of one family in West Virginia—the Hammons.  Members of that family trace the tune back to “Old Uncle Pete” Hammons, who was born in 1845. Other than that, not much is known about the tune. The Falls of Richmond has an unusual structure. It contains five parts—A, B, C, D, & E, with B and E sharing the same melody.

There Is a Fountain

Southerners in the mid-19th century were religious people for the most part. Most regularly attended church and held a deep, personal faith. When war broke out and the ties of community and church were severed, the soldier sometimes forgot his upbringing and began to slip into the besetting sins of camp life—drinking, gambling, and swearing, among others. However, at the same time, there were chaplains in the army who labored among the men to point them toward Christ. By the Spring of 1863 a great revival swept the Army of Northern Virginia, reaching its peak during the Winter of 1863-64.  Literally thousands of men were converted, and the army camps took on a much different character than the one they had possessed early in the war. Hymn singing, of course, became popular in the army at that time and one of the most popular songs was There Is a Fountain.  This hymn, written by the English poet William Cowper in the early 1770s, was already old and well established by the time of the Civil War. Two stories about this hymn and its impact on Civil War soldiers follow. The first is taken from a 1917 issue of Confederate Veteran magazine.

J. M. Beadles, of Madison Run, Virginia, writes of a most unique incident of his war experience:“In November, 1863, General Lee’s army moved into winter quarters on the south side of the Rapidan River. The Union Army moved up to the north side. The pickets on each side of the river were within speaking distance of each other. My command camped on the north side of Clark’s Mountain and was composed of the following regiments of infantry: 58th, 52nd, 32nd, and 13th Virginia, Gen. A. P. Hill’s old regiment. This was the 4th Virginia Brigade, commanded by General Pegram, who was killed at Hatcher’s Run.

“While in camp our chaplain, Rev. Willie Ragland, preached very faithfully the gospel of Christ to our command, the 13th Virginia, that loved and honored him as a servant of God. One of the converts, Goodwin, of Company A, of Orange Courthouse, living in the lower part of the county, wished to be baptized in the Rapidan River; but the enemy was just on the other side and our officers feared that we might bring on trouble. But finally they gave their consent. We marched very scatteringly, about fifty strong; and the enemy, seeing that we had no arms, did not fire on us, but seemed greatly puzzled and watched us closely. As soon as we reached the water’s edge we began to sing that grand old hymn,  ‘There is a fountain filled with blood,’ and at once the enemy began to leave their works and hasten to the riverside, and many voices in the Northern army joined in the song. Both armies were at peace as they witnessed the death of the old man into the resurrection of the new man through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The second story comes from Ira Sankey’s Story of the Gospel Hymns, published in 1906: A lieutenant in the Union army, having received his death-wound in a gallant charge at the head of his regiment, was visited in the hospital by the chaplain, who inquired how he felt.  He said he had always been cheerful, and was now ready to meet God in peace. “Chaplain,” he added, “I was passing through the streets of New York once on a Sunday night, and I heard singing. I went in and saw a company of poor people. They were singing ‘There is a fountain filled with blood.’I was overpowered with the impression the hymn made upon me, and I gave my heart to God. Since then I have loved Jesus, and I love Him now.” That was his last speech.

Little Rose is Gone / Billy in the Lowground

Little Rose is Gone is a tune composed by a Civil War soldier named Harmon Carpenter from western Virginia. The story goes that when Harmon went off to fight in the war he left behind the girl he intended to marry, whose name was Rose. While he was gone a band of Jayhawkers murdered Rose. (Jayhawkers were unionist bushwackers who roamed the southern mountains terrorizing families who were known to have Confederate sympathies. As one Jayhawker explained, “when we are traveling through secesh [Confederate] country and we come to the home of some leading secesh, we take his horses and property, burn his house, etc., or, as we say, clean them out”). When Harmon Carpenter returned home and found that Rose had been killed, he took up his fiddle and composed this mournful tune. The tune and the story were collected by Gerry Milnes, who learned them from Wilson Douglas of Clay County, West Virginia.

Billy in the Lowground appears in the list of favorite Confederate fiddle tunes compiled by Bell Irwin Wiley in his book on the common soldier, The Life of Johnny Reb. It is included in Volume 3 of George Knauff’s Virginia Reels published in 1839 and was widely played in the upper South. This version of the tune comes from Bruce Greene.

Bragg’s Retreat / Leather Britches

The first tune is most commonly found under the name of Forked Deer. I discovered the title of Bragg’s Retreat while doing research at the Library of Congress.  The title intrigued me, so I listened to the selection and immediately recognized it as Forked Deer.  The Library of Congress field recording of Bragg’s Retreat was recorded at Meridian, Mississippi in 1939  featuring a fiddler named Stephen B. Tucker. It is entirely likely, given the title and the region in which it was collected, that Bragg’s Retreat enjoyed some popularity among Confederate veterans of that area. The tune itself was quite well known in the years leading up to the war, appearing in several printed collections including Knauff’s Virginia Reels in 1839. The piece became a standard on the minstrel stage of the 1840s and 50s and has retained its popularity among current players of traditional music.

General Braxton Bragg, the subject of Bragg’s Retreat, commanded the Confederate Army of Tennessee from June 1862 through November 1863. A rigid disciplinarian with a foul temper, General Bragg was thoroughly disliked by his men and his subordinate officers. His reputation as an army commander was somewhat less than stellar and, as a consequence, his army often found itself in retreat mode. Exactly which retreat the title refers to is unclear. There were several to choose from, including the retreat after the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky, in October 1862, from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in January 1863, from Tullahoma, Tennessee, in July, and from Chattanooga, Tennessee, in November of the same year. Apparently, the fiddle player who named the tune Bragg’s Retreat had the same stoic sense of humor that characterized Private Sam Watkins who served in the Army of Tennessee throughout the war. Watkins, who years later wrote about his war-time experiences, recalled that one of the common sayings among the men of his company while on the march was “Bully for Bragg!  He’s hell on retreat!”        

Leather Britches  is a tune that dates from late 18th century Scotland where it was known as Lord McDonald’s Reel. Bell Wiley includes this title on his list of popular fiddle tunes played by Confederate musicians in The Life of Johnny Reb. The hammered dulcimer/ banjo duet heard on this selection is a good example of how this tune might have actually sounded in an army camp during the Civil War.          

Last of Sizemore

Bruce Greene collected this tune from the playing of Sanford Kelly of West Liberty in eastern Kentucky. According to Hiram Stamper, another Kentucky fiddler, this tune was connected to a story about a soldier named Sizemore who, for reasons that are now obscure, was taken up a hollow and shot. Stamper said he learned the tune and the story from Dan Triplett, Shade Sloan, and Silas Terry who were all Civil War veterans and fiddle players. 


Money Musk 1 / Money Musk 2

This is another Confederate favorite according to Bell Wiley in The Life of Johnny Reb. Money Musk was a Scottish tune composed by Daniel Dow in 1775 under the title Sir Archibald Grant of Moneymusk’s Reel. It quickly became popular in the British Isles, eventually making its way into the North American tradition.  George Knauff included the piece in his Virginia Reels in 1839 under the title of Killie Krankie. Other 19th century collections sometimes list it as Highland Fling. We play two versions of Money Musk on this recording: the first was collected by Bruce Greene from Buck Brewer of Marion, Kentucky, who was a musician on riverboats that ran on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The second version comes from Gerry Milnes who learned the tune from the playing of southwest Virginia fiddler Henry Reed.

Natchez Under the Hill 1 & 2 / Turkey in the Straw

The title of the first two tunes refers to the Mississippi River town of Natchez, once an important port in the days of riverboat travel. “Under the hill” refers to the waterfront section of town below the bluff where, according to one account, “boatmen, river pirates, gamblers, and courtesans congregated for the enjoyment of a regular hoe-down in the old times.” Origins of Natchez Under the Hill are somewhat confusing, but late 18th century Scotland seems to have produced the prototype in a tune called The Rose Tree. The tune also appeared in Volume 1 of Knauff’s Virginia Reels in 1839. Adding to the confusion is the existence of a second almost identical tune called Old Zip Coon which, to add even further to the confusion, is very similar to yet a third tune widely known today as Turkey in the Straw. While it is beyond the scope of these notes to elaborate further, suffice it to say that all of the above tunes were current during the Civil War and were widely played.

The first version of Natchez Under the Hill on this recording is based on the playing of Lon Jordon of Farmington, Arkansas who was recorded in Oct. 1941 for the Library of Congress. Before playing the tune, Mr. Jordan spoke into the microphone and declared, “Natchez Under the Hill: it sounds a lot like Turkey in the Straw, but still there’s a difference!” Indeed there is if you listen closely. 

The second version is from Bruce Greene who learned it from various fiddle players around Metcalf County in central Kentucky. The “B” part in this version is certainly similar to the same part in the other versions, but the “A” part is somewhat different. Perhaps this is an older version of the tune.

Finally, there’s Turkey in the Straw. This tune and title were first printed in 1861. However, it is practically identical to Old Zip Coon, which was printed in Elias Howe’s School for the Violin in 1851 and his Leviathan Collection of Instrumental Music in 1858. Old Zip Coon, alias Turkey in the Straw, was also a common fife tune during the Civil War.


Hell Broke Loose in Georgia

This is yet another tune that was popular among Confederate troops as indicated by Bell Wiley in The Life of Johnny Reb.  I’ve been unable to unearth anything about this tune other than it comes from the mountains of north Georgia.  The origin of the title has also proven elusive although I am almost certain that it refers to the series of fierce battles that were fought between the forces of Union General William T. Sherman and Confederate General Joseph Johnston that took place in northern Georgia between May and August of 1864.

Hell Broke Loose in Georgia is great fun to play. We learned this four-part version from a 1920s recording made by Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers.

John Brown’s March / John Brown’s Dream

These two tunes come from Sheila Adams who learned them from Tommy Jarrell and Scott Anslie.  They are most commonly found in the Piedmont section of North Carolina. These pieces are among a larger group of Civil War era fiddle tunes and songs that have John Brown as their principal theme. John Brown’s raid on the U. S. Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in October of 1859 sparked great outpourings of emotion from both North and South—a spark that eventually led to disunion and ultimately to war. Such large events tend to produce some form of musical expression, and this one certainly produced its share. John Brown’s March more than likely refers to Brown’s march to the scaffold where he was hung for treason on December 2, 1859 in Charles Town, Virginia. What John Brown’s Dream refers to is anybody’s guess.


Republican Spirit / Mississippi Sawyer

Republican Spirit is included in Volume 1 of George Knauff’s Virginia Reels printed in 1839. In some other printed versions of the mid-19th century it is found under the title Missouri Hornpipe. Most traditional musicians today know this piece by its current name, Folding Down the Sheets.  At the time of the Civil War, this tune was widely known in the North as well as the South.

Mississippi Sawyer can be found in Volume 4 of Knauff’s collection under the title of Love From the Heart. In the 19th century this tune seems to have been played mostly in the upper South. There is some debate about the meaning of the phrase “Mississippi sawyer.”  One source I found claims that the phrase refers to the clumps of tree snags floating down the river after a flood which posed a real danger to navigation. The other version I found seems less plausible, but sure makes a better story. This one says that the tune had its origin with a sawmill operator who established his mill in Kentucky at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. On the day his new mill was to have its first test run, people came from all over the area to celebrate the event. As the first boards came off the mill, everyone pitched in to build a dance floor with them. When the dance floor was completed, the mill owner, who was also an accomplished fiddler, was selected to play the first dance tune.  He commenced the dance with a tune of his own composition which, of course, was later named in his honor as the Mississippi Sawyer.      


Quince Dillon’s High D / Richmond Blues

Quince Dillon’s High D was composed by a Confederate soldier named Quincey Dillion, or at least that’s how the name appears on his military service records. A search through those records revealed that Quince first volunteered as a fife player in the 166th Virginia Militia in August of 1861, at Red Sulphur Springs in Monroe County, (West) Virginia.  Fife players, along with drummers, were used in Civil War military organizations to give the soldiers a cadence to march by and to lift their spirits when the marches became particularly monotonous and grueling, which was pretty much all the time. The musicians also played a role in the army camps providing musical signals for a variety of camp routines. During battles, the fifers and drummers were often used as aids to the medical staff and sometimes served as stretcher bearers.

Quince’s unit, the 166th Virginia Militia, was eventually incorporated into the 59th Virginia Infantry, which along with other Confederate units, was captured at the Battle of Roanoke Island, N.C. on Feb. 8, 1862.  Members of the 59th Virginia Infantry who either escaped or where later paroled were reorganized as the 26th Virginia Battalion. Quince Dillon enlisted in this organization in Feb. of 1863 at Centerville, now Greenville, (West) Virginia and promoted to Chief Musician. It is difficult to tell from the record, but it appears as though Quince was present at most of the engagements of the 26th Virginia Battalion—from their skirmishes in western Virginia to the large battles of New Market (May 15, 1864), Third Winchester (Sept. 19, 1864), and Cedar Creek (Oct. 19, 1864).       

Evidently, Quince Dillion (who was also a gifted fiddler) came from a musical family. The military records  show a William Dillion in the 26th Virginia Battalion listed as a private / musician, and also a Hugh Dillion who was recorded as being a fife major in the 23rd Virginia Battalion (which, along with the 26th and 22nd Virginia Battalions, was in Echol’s Brigade). Also of interest to me was a document I found in Quince Dillion’s file that he had signed with an “X”. While it was not uncommon in those days for a man to be illiterate, it does seem odd to me that he could have functioned as a military musician when that position required an almost complete dependence on written notation.  Perhaps he just had a really good ear.  At any rate, Quince survived the war and lived well into the 20th century. He was said to be quite a fox hunter in his day, and his “doghorn” still survives. As far as I know, Quince Dillon’s High D is the only tune that he composed that has survived down to the present day. The West Virginia banjo version on this recording comes from Sheila Adams.

Richmond Blues refers to a pre-war Richmond militia organization, and can be found in Volume 2 of Knauff’s Virginia Reels. The more common title for this tune is My Love, She’s But a Lassie Yet.  Extremely popular during the Civil War, this Scottish piece was a favorite among military fifers like Quince Dillion.

Seneca Square Dance

This is a tune from the Ozark Mountain areas of Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arkansas. The title refers to the town of Seneca, Missouri. There are other, slightly different variations to this tune with Civil War era titles including, Getting Out of the Way of the Federals, Waiting For the Federals, and Shelby’s Mules. According to one source I consulted, this piece may well date back to the days of the minstrel stage, and is a variation of an older tune called Shoot the Turkey Buzzard.

This simple melody has become one of my favorites. Through the magic of overdubbing, we start the piece off with twin fiddles, adding a hammered dulcimer, banjo, and three guitars by the end of the tune. 

Bonaparte’s Retreat / Bonaparte’s Charge / Bonaparte’s March

All three of these tunes were ultimately learned from the playing of W. M. Stepp of Lakeville, Kentucky.  Mr. Stepp, who was quite a virtuoso on the fiddle, recorded several selections for the Library of Congress during the 1930s. I learned Bonaparte’s March from one of these recordings and the first two selections from Bruce Greene, who in turn learned them from W. M. Stepp.

These three tunes are representative of a body of tunes and songs that, for the most part, originated in Ireland in the early 19th century. They commemorate a time when the Irish were earnestly hoping that Napoleon would aid them in ending English domination in Ireland. The British victory at Waterloo dashed these hopes, but Napoleon continued to inspire a fair amount of Irish music. This music eventually found its way to North America, and by the time of the Civil War many of these tunes were quite well known, particularly in the South.

There is an interesting story concerning the tune Bonaparte’s Retreat and an incident of the Civil War that occurred in the western part of North Carolina.  Although in that area of the state there were no pitched battles to speak of, the nature of the conflict in that mountainous region was violent and cruel nonetheless.  The mountains became a haven for bushwhackers, outlaws, and deserters from both armies. As the war dragged on, conditions in that part of the state grew progressively worse and Confederate authorities were hard pressed to maintain order. The Union army often took advantage of this volatile situation and sent in raiding parties to create as much havoc for the local authorities as possible. It was in the midst of these chaotic conditions during the first weeks of March in 1865, that Captain Albert Teague and a detachment of his Home Guard company rounded up three men accused of having deserted from the Confederate army and aiding the Union cause. The three men, George Grooms, his brother Henry, and Mitchell Caldwell, were captured in the Big Creek section of Haywood County close to the Tennessee state line. Evidently, Captain Teague was not one to waste the taxpayer’s money on a trial, so after he had marched his prisoners some distance down the side of Mt. Sterling, he halted them by the side of the road and prepared to have them all shot. It was said that Mitchell Caldwell was “simple minded” and wore a constant grin. Teague’s men couldn’t shoot a man who grinned at them, so they made Caldwell hold his hat in front of his face. George Grooms cursed his executioners.  His brother, Henry Grooms, was a fiddle player and had his violin with him at the time of his capture. Before the men were to be shot, Captain Teague told Henry to play them a tune.  Henry did as he was told and played Bonaparte’s Retreat, his favorite tune. When the tune was finished, Henry clutched the fiddle to his chest and the order to fire was given. Captain Teague and his soldiers marched away leaving three bodies by the side of the road where they had fallen. Some hours later, Henry Grooms’ wife, Eliza, and several others came and placed the corpses on a sled to take them across the mountain to the Sutton family cemetery. There they where placed in a single pine coffin and buried in a single grave that can still be found today. 

In that part of North Carolina near the Tennessee border, Bonaparte’s Retreat is known today as The Grooms’ Tune.

According to Bruce Greene, Bonaparte’s Charge came about as a result of the Battle of Waterloo. It was at the point in the battle when the French forces were being somewhat bested by the British, that Napoleon turned to his Chief Musician and ordered him to play a retreat. However, since Napoleon was usually not in the habit of running away from a battle, the Chief Musician had never bothered to learn to play a retreat. Being ever resourceful in a time of crisis, the Chief Musician turned back to the Emperor and declared, “I can’t play a retreat, but I can play a CHARGE that will wake the dead!” 

Bonaparte’s March will perhaps sound familiar to some. The tune appears in Aaron Copeland’s ballet, Rodeo, as the main theme for the “Hoedown” section.  Through an odd series of circumstances, Mr. Copeland came across a transcription of W. M. Stepp’s playing of the tune while he was working on the ballet in the early 1940s. He was so impressed with Mr. Stepp’s version that he used the piece almost note for note as the principal theme of the section. Bruce Greene and I play the tune using some of Mr. Stepp’s variations. 


Produced and arranged by Jim Taylor

Recorded at Dawn Studios, Asheville, N. C.

Engineered by Eddie Swann

Mixed by Eddie Swann and Jim Taylor

Layout and Design by David Ray Skinner

Cover photo: John Shytle, 48th N.C. Troops, mortally

wounded at Antietam, Sept. 17, 1862

Photo courtesy of Ray Shytle

Thanks again to Mom and Dad for their love, support,

and tolerance; to Sheila, Tom, Bruce, Timmy, and Pat for

their friendship and contributions to this project; to Cathy

Stone for all her running around and help in keeping everybody

fed and informed; to Van Atkins and Neal Hellman;

and again to my wife, Sheila, and the kids—Melanie, Hart,

and Andrew—I love y’all.

The Band

Jim Taylor: Hammered Dulcimer, Guitar (on Come

Dance and Sing, McClanahan’s March, There is a

Fountain, and John Brown's March); Tom Draughon:

Guitar; Sheila Adams: Banjo; Bruce Greene: Fiddle;

Tim Abel: Concertina; Patrick Sky: Irish Pipes

For information on other recordings of music from the War

Between the States, traditional Celtic music, and original

compositions on the hammered dulcimer, write:

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please write us at:

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©Copyright 1989, 1991, 2003 Jim Taylor