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While Jerry Williams and Ken Baldwin were putting the finishing touches to their Christmas CD, “Strings and Bows,” last year at Williams’ home on North Lincoln Boulevard in Hodgenville, the two planted a seed idea for another album of a completely different nature.
“I’m a Civil War buff and, since the War occurred 150 years ago, I thought that putting together a mixture of traditional and original songs with a flavor of the period would be a timely project,” said Williams.
Baldwin, who formerly lived in Hodgenville but now resides in North Carolina, agreed. The result is “Hardtack and Saddlesores,” a compilation of 21 tracks, including 16 original acoustic works filled with an essence of an era when America was divided to the extent that brothers fought brothers.
“Over 600,000 soldiers died in the Civil War and each of them, plus those who survived, had a story to tell,” Williams said. “Some of them were little known, but as we researched them and the places they fought, the ideas for the songs came.”
For instance, “The Fairfield Pass,” which Baldwin wrote, resulted from his having lived at one time eight miles from Gettysburg where the Yankees and Rebels engaged in a three-day battle that would change the outcome of the war and of history.
“I chose for the person telling the story in the song a 10-year-old boy watching the hundreds of wagons, many loaded with injured and dying Confederates, pass by his home in a pouring rain at Fairfield Pass where Lee’s (Confederate General) army retreated,” Baldwin said.
Williams’ “Casualty of War” depicts the account of John M. Irby, the great-great-grandfather of a friend of his who lives in Louisville.
Irby was a young man who survived the war’s horrific battles but took his own life after the conflict ended.
“Irby married on his 21st birthday three days after they fired on Fort Sumter,” Williams said. “Being from Vevay, Ind., he joined the Third Indiana Calvary, was uninjured at Gettysburg in July 1863, but lost all but his thumb and index finger on his left hand from canister fire at the second battle of Brandy Station a month later.”
He remained in the service, was assigned to headquarters of the Army of the Potomac where he served as a scout, the union’s secret service, going behind lines dressed in civilian clothes.
“Irby likely became a casualty of war because his pension of $6 a month was not enough for him, a disabled veteran, to make ends meet with a wife and three kids,” said Williams. “Seeing that without him there would be one less person to feed and to take care of, he walked out to his barn and hanged himself.”
Williams’ research on Irby was so thorough that he convinced the Library of Congress to correct the mis-identification of Irby in a group picture on file there.
Williams, who founded Heartland Songwriters Association of Kentucky, wrote two of the songs, co-wrote another with Baldwin, played guitar, mandolin, bass, added vocals and engineered the project.
A former guitarist with the Kentucky Standard Band, Baldwin composed nine songs in addition to the one he co-wrote as well as played guitar, mandolin and added vocals.
The two also enlisted the talent of four other musicians. Alice Burton, a physical therapist with an office in Hodgenville, added hammered dulcimer.
Anne MacFie of Powell County penned three of the tracks, played guitar, mountain dulcimer, added vocals, and came up with the project’s name.
Baldwin’s son Logan added percussion and David Wilson, a Missouri musician who founded the bands Undergrass Boys and Radio Flyer, wrote one piece as well as laid down violin, mandolin, guitar and cello tracks, and vocals.
Williams’ wife Dana and Gwen McCubbin also added vocals. Jessica Neblett was in charge of CD graphics and production.
The tracks follow a chronology of the War, from “Biscuits at Manassas” to the hauntingly nostalgic “Abide with Me.”
Starting with the sound of cannon fire echoing across the battlefield, originals and traditional tunes tell the stories not often (or never before) heard in song, such as “The Drummer Boy Fiddler,” “Lone Jack,” “Stovepipe Johnson” and “A Carpetbagger’s Sashay.”
Samples can be heard at www.danjerusmusic.com. CDs are available for $15 each at The Lincoln Museum.