Friday, June 24, 2011

Take me back to the Southland.....

Ever have a song just stuck in your head?  I've had that recently.   Several years ago, Mike and I heard a song on public radio... actually two songs played back to back.   A renewed interest in bluegrass brought the song(s) to mind.    Both are very touching, very sad songs that will send chills down your spine or put goosebumps on your arms, especially when played together.  

I'm reminded of George Washington Warren, son of S. John Warren and his second wife, Sarah Robinson, who was Mike's GGG grandfather (his great-grandmother Laura Bertha Warren Dulaney's grandfather).  G. W. Warren served in Company F, 24th Miss. Infantry, otherwise known as Cummings Grays after M. C. Cummings, who organized the company out of Itawamba County volunteers.  Company F was commanded by a fellow Itawambian, Captain B. F. Toomer.  
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After serving in battles at Corinth, MS; Cave Hill, KY; Murfreesboro, TN; and Chickamauga, GA, George W. Warren's luck ran out.  On November 24, 1863, he was captured at the Battle of Lookout Mountain, subsequently sent to a Union prison at Louisville, Kentucky and later transferred to the newly-opened Rock Island POW Camp in Illinois where he died on December 20, 1864.  POW records indicate he died of phtheris pulmonaris, a fancy term for consumption, also known as tuberculosis of the lungs.  Most likely, it was pneumonia that killed George Washington Warren.

For additional information about a Confederate's soldier's experience at Rock Island Prison Camp, you can read this first-hand account written by Charles Wright.    Hunger, meager clothing, and poor living conditions contributed to many unnecessary deaths.  Disease was rampant; a smallpox epidemic killed over 600 prisoners in just three months.   George died leaving a wife, the former Margaret Digby, and two small children, Nancy and John Ed Warren.

The first song is Legend of the Rebel Soldier, written by Charlie Moore and popularized by the bluegrass band The Country Gentlemen in 1971.   Below are the words, but you can hear the song on You Tube here at this link.

In a dreary Yankee prison
Where a rebel soldier lay
By his side there stood a preacher
Ere his soul should pass away
And he faintly whispered: Parson
As he clutched him by the hand
Oh, parson, tell me quickly
Will my soul pass through the Southland?

Will my soul pass through the Southland
Through the old Virginia grants
Will I see the hills of Georgia
And the green fields of Alabam?
Will I see the little church house
Where I pledged my heart and hand
Oh, parson, tell me quickly
Will my soul pass through the Southland?

Was for loving dear old Dixie
In this dreary cell I lie
Was for loving dear old Dixie
In this northern state I die
Will you see my little daughter
Will you make her understand
Oh, parson, tell me quickly
Will my soul pass through the Southland?

Then the rebel soldier died

We had a difficult time finding the second song, probably hindered by the fact that we didn't know the title, which eventually was discovered to be Rebel's Last Request.  This song was written by Mississippi native and Grammy winner Carl Jackson who was born in Louisville, appeared on the Grand Ole Opry as a teenager, and later played the banjo with Glen Campbell's band.  Itawamba fiddle player Carl Grissom told us that he had played with Carl Jackson, and that he recalled that Jackson had kinfolks from over around Kirkville and Marietta. 

Rebel's Last Request was recorded in 1984 by The Bluegrass Cardinals, and unfortunately it is not in a format for downloading.  Mike did find the LP album on E-bay, and you can listen to the song on You Tube here.

Eighteen sixty-three was an awful place to be
I never thought I'd make it out alive 
But a dying man's request
Helped me pass the rugged test 
And see the end to eighteen sixty-five 

He called me to his side 
and just before he died 
This Rebel soldier made it clear to me
That his one last desire 
Before his soul it did retire 
Was to return home and there forever be 

Take me back to the southland 
Mississippi is my home 
Let me rest with those green fields above me 
Never more shall I roam 

So I dug a shallow grave 
marked the spot where he was layed 
By a nearby lonesome weeping willow tree 
And in case I lost my knife 
Or another took my life 
I carved those final words he said to me  

Take me back to the southland 
Mississippi is my home 
Let me rest with those green fields above me 
Never more shall I roam 

Eighteen Sixty-Five and I made it out alive 
So I returned to fill his final plea 
But I found no body there Just a feeling in the air 
And a change of words upon the willow tree

He's gone back to the Southland 
Mississippi is his home 
He now rests with those green fields above him 
Never more shall he roam

 G. W. Warren died, for loving dear old Dixie, in one of those dreary Yankee prisons.  He never made it back to the Southland, and along with nearly 2,000 of his fellow Confederate soldiers, he rests instead under the green fields of Illinois.

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