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Southern unionists and my journey to the banjo

Posted by FretlessinTexas on Friday, August 8, 2008


Below is an excerpt from a book review by John Shelton Reed on Noah Trudeau's new book, "Southern Storm: Sherman's March to the Sea."

In general, "Southern Storm" could have used more human interest. Mr. Trudeau mentions, for example, that the 1st Alabama Cavalry (U.S. Volunteers), a regiment made up mostly of white Unionists from the hills of North Alabama, was one of the few units censured for excesses against civilians. He doesn't point out, though, that Sherman chose this regiment for his personal escort, no doubt because the desperadoes of the 1st Alabama were fierce fighters: For these anti- secessionist volunteers, ostracized and harassed at home, the war was often personal -- one paid a call on his hostile Rebel uncle and stole a horse -- and if captured they faced serious trouble from their fellow Southerners.


It is not widely known (or even accepted) that the people who lived in the hills and mountains of the South, where there were few slaves and few plantations, were of unionist sentiment. (West Virginia became a state for that very reason, and East Tennessee was hostile territory to the Confederacy.)

Please know I do not want to inflame old wounds or stir debate on the causes of what many of my friends call "The War of Northern Agression."

But I did want you all to know that it was because of my reenacting days with the 1st Alabama Cavalry, Co. C, United States Volunteers, that I learned to play clawhammer banjo. I was with the unit  for 16 years, and those fellas are some of the closest friends I have or will ever have.

Over time, we developed quite a musical camp, entertaining ourselves and others around the campfire. There was Noot on guitar, Billie Squeebox on the concertina, Mr. Bones on the bones, Old Haint on fiddle,  Frenchy on washtub bass, and me, Toballes, on the banjo. I will cherish those memories.

Since moving to Indiana last year, I am no longer reenacting, but I do want to thank my pards, the boys in blue, for their patience during those early days when I was trying to attempt a noise with the banjo.

And to the boys in gray, many of whom are dear friends, I would just refer to an old fiddle tune that we would occasionally play around the campfire:


"Run, Johnny, Run." (The federals will get you.)


1 comment on “Southern unionists and my journey to the banjo”

Don Borchelt Says:
Sunday, August 10, 2008 @5:37:01 PM

I checked out the 1st Alabama Cavalry website, very interesting.  I read a book last year called the "Rise of American Democracy," which touches a lot on the divergent interests between the southern planter class and the yeomen farmers in the hill country in many of the Southern states, in the years leading up to the Civil War.  There were union sympathies throughout the upland areas in just about every state except South Carolina.  Jackson is a pivotal figure in this era, without him, secession would have almost certainly occurred much earlier.

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