Sunday, January 09, 2011

Ben McCulloch

Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch,
McCulloch's Division, Army of the West

This song by Steve Earle is my favorite Civil War-themed tune, of which he's written a few. I love that he takes the perspective of a southern soldier in the Trans-Mississippi, not really knowing what he's gotten himself into. And I like the references to Wilson's Creek and the Boston Mountains, a part of the country for which I have a great fondness, and a battlefieldPea Ridge in particularthat is among my favorites to visit. I also appreciate that Earle chooses not to glorify the war in some cliched manner, or to present a sentimental ditty about the rightness of one side's cause.

As long as the link works, you can hear the original Steve Earle version here. Otherwise, you may need to listen to one of many covers on YouTube. Better yet, you can buy it on iTunes for a buck.

We signed up in San Antone my brother Paul and me
To fight with Ben McCulloch and the Texas infantry
Well the poster said we'd get a uniform and seven bucks a week
The best rations in the army and a rifle we could keep
When I first laid eyes on the general I knew he was a fightin' man
He was every inch a soldier every word was his command
Well his eyes were cold as the lead and steel forged into tools of war
He took the lives of many and the souls of many more

Well they marched us to Missouri and we hardly stopped for rest
Then he made this speech and said we're comin' to the test
Well we've got to take Saint Louie boys before the yankees do
If we control the Mississippi then the Federals are through

Well they told us that our enemy would all be dressed in blue
They forgot about the winter's cold and the cursed fever too
My brother died at Wilson's creek and Lord I seen him fall
We fell back to the Boston Mountains in the North of Arkansas

Goddamn you Ben McCulloch
I hate you more than any other man alive
And when you die you'll be a foot soldier just like me
In the devil's infantry

And on the way to Fayetteville we cursed McCulloch`s name
And mourned the dead that we'd left behind and we was carrying the lame
I killed a boy the other night who'd never even shaved
I don't even know what I'm fightin' for I ain't never owned a slave

So I snuck out of camp and then I heard the news next night
The Yankees won the battle and McCulloch lost his life

Steve Earle


Bob Pollock said...

This is great David, I'd never heard it before. Probably a lot of truth in it, although the line about not knowing what he's fighting for, he's never owned a slave, reinforces the argument that the war couldn't have been about slavery because most CSA soldiers didn't own slaves. BTW-The spelling in the lyrics is correct, it's McCulloch.

dw said...

Hi Bob,

Thanks for the note, and the correction on the spelling. Pretty sad since I have Cutrer's biography of the general on a bookshelf nearby.

On the slavery issue, I know what you mean, though it's fair to say that some Confederate soldiers didn't "know" what they were fighting for in that over-riding sense.

For Earle's part, he usually prefaces this or another one of his Civil War songs with a long spoken intro to point out the war was over slavery, not states rights.

Anonymous said...

Typically, soldiers seem not to know what they're fighting for, especially at the bad times. Great song. I'm surfing Earle's stuff and will be buying a bunch of MP3s today. Thanks!