No Stars
Arlington and Manassas, Virginia
April-July 1861

Robert E. Lee was given a difficult decision when the first shots of the Civil War were fired. A rising star in the U.S. Army, he received a letter from Washington, D.C., offering him top command. He spent days tortured by the decision. He turned down the request, citing his loyalty not to the South, but to his home state of Virginia. “Save in the defense of my native state shall I ever again draw my sword,” he wrote to U.S. Commanding General Winfield Scott. Lee, however, never wore the stars of a Confederate general on his uniform. He kept only his U.S. military insignia. Today, what is left of Manassas Battlefield, the site of Lee’s first defense of his home state, is under constant threat of development by D.C.’s sprawl, crisscrossed by roads, tract housing and shopping centers.

From my front porch I can see you better
I wonder when you wrote that letter
did you think of me as the enemy
I’ve been looking for a sign
it’s just the Mason-Dixon Line
but it’s home to me
and this won’t be easy
don’t turn your back don’t turn your back
away from what you know
don’t turn your back don’t turn your back
on your sweet Virginia home
Mary Mary Lighthorse Harry
where you gonna go
don’t turn your back
at West Point the boys said general
how long is it until you send us off to war
and who are we fighting for
I’ve been staring at the ghost
of U.S. Grant down in Mexico
we could not have guessed
it would come to this
all sides awake march those cannons off to war
I wear no stars only my father’s sword

Glorieta Pass, New Mexico

March 1862

In 1862, Union Major John Chivington had his sites set on one goal: personal glory and political office. When the Confederate Army set out to capture the gold in Colorado, Chivington was determined to head them off at Glorieta Pass. He falsely took credit for destroying the Confederate supply wagons, an action that led to Union victory. His slaughter of Native Americans at the Sand Creek Massacre years later destroyed his career. The battle of Glorieta Pass is a little-visited site near Pecos Pueblo outside Santa Fe. A state highway now abruptly cuts through the middle of the battleground.

Ride on down to New Mexico
hear the sound of the south wind rolling down the road
everyone knows what we’re headed for
there’s a cannon buried by the old church door
Santa Fe is round the corner can’t you see it now
count your stars and praise the Lord
we’ll make it there somehow
sing Glorieta
it hasn’t rained since San Antone
all of the world for your mines of gold
round the pass up ahead there’s an open sky
so turn your head look away when they pass you by
Santa Fe is round the corner I can see it now
this land is ours and I’ll be sure that I can hear the sound
of Glorieta
and I believe in the fight
ride on down to New Mexico
turn your back to the sun and the ones you love

Chantilly Grace
Chantilly, Virginia
September 1862

The widow Cornelia Lee Turberville Stuart’s mansion and farm, Chantilly, was the town’s namesake. The beautiful mansion was used early in war as a Federal cavalry headquarters. There was often confusion that it was the home of Confederate cavalry star, Jeb Stuart (which led to many useless raids as the widow had no relation to that Stuart). By the fall of 1862, the house was deserted and dilapidated, personal family papers were scattered about and all of the furniture was reportedly removed except for a mahogany sideboard that was too heavy to lift. As the house continued to change hands throughout the war, the sideboard sat and watched the soldiers pass. The song is told from its perspective. Today, not much of Chantilly’s war history has survived – only a small stone house from the Chantilly farm remains, just across from a shopping center.

I lived there in those weary hallways
all the money in the world could never replace
all the stories you wouldn't believe if I told you
they're written in the lines on my face
I could tell you of strong men just breaking on down
how the ghosts of them wander this ground
I've seen some things no man should ever have to see
just listen to me because time don't erase
the way that the heart feels when everything changes
surrounded by strangers but all alone
she says that no one knows what she's been through
believe me Cornelia I do Chantilly grace
I hold on and I keep every memory
all the fire in the world can't burn them away
all the young boys didn’t listen when I told them
Stuart’s not hiding this way
I could tell them old stories before the guns sound 
now the ghosts of them wander this ground
I've seen some things no man should ever have to see
just listen to me because I understand
the way that the heart feels when everything changes
surrounded by strangers and old photographs
she says don't worry it's just the land I called home
believe me Cornelia I know Chantilly grace
I've seen some things no man should ever have to see
just listen to me I remember well
the way that the heart feels when everything changes
surrounded by strangers when it all fell
she cries to God why's it all gone away
believe me Cornelia I pray for Chantilly grace

Goodnight House
Perryville, Kentucky
October 1862

Jefferson Johnson Polk had been both the town preacher and the town doctor when the Battle of Perryville erupted on October 8, 1862. After the fighting, he was called on by Union officers to help save wounded soldiers. That night, under a full moon, he set up a makeshift operating room in a barn at the Goodnight farm. He worked to save the wounded men while Mr. Goodnight played the fiddle and gave the soldiers whiskey to dull the pain. Much of the rural landscape that was the battlefield at Perryville is rapidly sold off to developers each year.

I used to read the Bible
before I tired of Mark Twain
I still preach on every Sunday
‘cause mama said I should believe
I bet she wouldn’t recognize these hills
and the Starkweather plains
if she were here I know she’d sing along
to that old time refrain
goodnight old Kentucky long may you sleep
goodnight boys of Kentucky I know where we’ll meet
so play me home and I’ll let go
of those goodnight dreams
now John is here with the whiskey
from a little town in Tennessee
bet he wishes he could disappear
behind the fiddle’s melody

Mollie Glass
Fredericksburg, Virginia

December 1862

Hundreds of thousands of horses were confiscated by both the North and South for use in the war effort. This song is a variation on the story of Mollie Glass. Mollie, a young Alabama girl, had a favorite riding mare named Di Vernon. The horse was taken by the Jeff Davis Artillery, who changed the horse’s name to Mollie Glass in her honor. The horse was killed at Fredericksburg. Mollie learned of her horse’s death through the casualty rolls in the Montgomery newspaper, which listed “Mollie Glass” as killed in action. More than one million horses and mules were lost during the war. Today, Fredericksburg is a maze of shopping malls and housing developments that likely cover the place Di Vernon took her last breath.

She heard the news from the Army of the Shenandoah
picking apples in the orchard all afternoon
they said it’s time we’ve come to take what is ours
please leave him here he’s been my boy for eight years
Sheridan has taken all the rest we’re so sorry little miss
bury your silver far away count your blessings while they stay
the boys are coming down the pike they need your horse for a fortnight
and Mollie Glass just cried
from Winchester to the charge in Pennsylvania
he’s a good boy calm steady and always so sure
four hundred miles he wondered where she had gone
why so much noise why the men scream and they shout
if he could only go back home again to that little girl his only friend
those Union boys with their fancy coats and ribbons
could never know the hearts they’d broken

Salem Church
Salem Church, Virginia
May 1863

Elizabeth’s great-great-great-great grandfather was George Monroe Fisher of Salisbury, North Carolina. After enlisting in the Confederate Army, he went AWOL several times, including the morning of July 1, 1863 – the day Gettysburg began. He walked home to his wife in Salisbury, though he was rounded up as a deserter and sent back to the front lines shortly thereafter. Nine months later, a daughter was born. She was named “George” in his honor, as he did not expect to survive the war. He did, however, and met the girl George after his release from a Union prison camp in 1865. Salem Church was a battle he fought in just before he deserted. Was he motivated by love, or fear, or both? The town of Salem Church as George saw it is completely gone today, a victim of suburban sprawl.

I've been choking on dust and smoke searching for a way out
looking at you through the letters I wrote in love so deep I might drown
and I don't know what day it was but I know it's been way too long
since I felt you in my breath and blood so how could I be wrong
I know I wasn’t wrong
so I pray every night for a light that will lead me home to you
I wait all my life just to find my way back home to you
maybe it'd all be better if I just forgot am I lucky or not
I haven't slept since Salem Church been planning my way out
my brother said the lesson learned is for God and the ghosts around
and they told me at Seven Days you may never see her again
I dream you through the old line state so turn your back Goodwin
if you miss me at the end
Salisbury seems like a whole other lifetime we knew

Lanterns at Horseshoe Ridge
Chickamauga, Georgia and Chattanooga, Tennessee

September 1863

There is a legend of a lady who haunts the battlefield at Chickamauga. She’s dressed in white and carries a lantern. After the battle, wives, daughters and mothers spent the night searching the fields by lamplight hoping to find their loved ones. Today, you can drive over Horseshoe Ridge on Interstate 24, and may note some of the battle monuments beside the highway.

It’s time to be brave you said you made a widow out of me
now all I see is blood red when I close my eyes to sleep
when the order came to charge oh did you think of me
and I don’t know if you’re dead or if I’m dreaming
and here I am wandering all alone
by lantern light searching for my own
he’s never coming back he’s gone
I still wear the old white dress the one I wore to church that day
before our boys were starving in Longstreet’s cavalry
looked for you since September turned every fallen leaf
from the top of Horseshoe Ridge come call to me

Rose of Sharon
Mansfield, Louisiana
April 1864

A soldier leaves his family in Mississippi to fight in the Red River Valley Campaign in northern Louisiana. He is last seen sitting under an old oak tree, then is never heard from again. A Rose of Sharon, also known as a Confederate rose, was a familiar design on jewelry in the South during the war. Often given to a sweetheart before a soldier left for war, the rings or necklaces were reminder that he would be home again, and that the cause was a noble one. The Mansfield site is now mostly destroyed by lignite mining operations.

I gave my love a Rose of Sharon
a Rose of Sharon of purple and gold
to wear upon her hand and dream of
her hand and dream of the day I come home
say you’ll remember the day that we met
the day that I left you alone
while I’m heading northward my heart’s in your hands
my love is engraved on a stone
I gave my love a Rose of Sharon
a Rose of Sharon she promised I would
be always with her if I should perish
if I should perish in Louisiana
say you’ll remember the day that we met
the day that I left you alone
in the Red River Valley my heart’s in your hands
my love is engraved on a stone
say you’ll remember the day that we met
the day that I left you alone
under the old oak tree I’ll write you these letters
I’ll write you these letters
from a love now engraved on a stone

Grancer Harrison
Kinston and Mobile, Alabama
August 1864

William “Grancer” Harrison is now one of the most famous ghosts of Alabama. A wealthy landowner, he threw lavish parties at his Coffee County farm – usually on a Saturday night under a full moon. He would play his fiddle and dance the night away in his wooden clogs. He had an unusual wish: he wanted to be buried with his fiddle and dancing shoes, in his feather bed. His wishes were carried out, and his grave is a large bed-shaped tomb (they say he hangs out there still). Grancer lost all of his sons, and reportedly a grandson, in the Civil War. Though Grancer’s grave remains, the Mobile-area sites of the deaths of his sons have fallen victim to weather and lack of funding.

Cotton’s high on a Saturday night
horses race in the moonlight
Grancer’s got his dancing shoes
his fiddle and a brand new tune
and the river banks shine like coal
on Nancy’s hands are rings of gold
all the county’s gathered round
to hear him sing to hear him shout
oh bury me in my bed
in the Alabama clay so red
oh bury me in my bed
down by the church at the old homestead
oh bury me in my bed
I’ll hear them all at the dance hall when I’m dead
three score since Caroline
since he left his home in the Piedmont pines
he come down about ’34
sometime after that Indian War
to where the river banks shine like coal
Grancer built his happy home
he’d play too fast on Dandy Jim
and bring it home with a Scottish hymn
James and John went off to war
fought in Mobile in the cavalry corps
William was lost at Fort Gaines
they found his body after a hurricane
and the river banks shine like coal
and thieves still come for Grancer’s gold
if you listen to the wind
you might just hear his song again

Blood and Gold (The Mustang Song)
Horses came back to America on Spanish ships in the 1500s. This is their story.

The horses’ prayers are not ones you hear
under decks of Spanish galleons they would lift their ears
for some sign of land and of home ahead
lost in the new world blessed by Cortes
and Mexico is full of blood and gold
you never know what stories might have been told
from the soldiers left alone

Hold on now ’til the West is won
breathe in the wind and the setting sun
you know freedom's born to some
who stole it from the ones God sent to run

For years and years now they ruled the plains
the Great Horse Desert earned its name
those Texas fields were sweet and green
no farms no fences that you could see
until the cavalry gave the battle cry
in Black Hills country on some borrowed time
and Comanche saw the fight

I never held four kings at once before
an old man named Bill told the English court
those Deadwood words were so full of grace
and in circles and circles the horses raced
until Carolina in ’99
lamplight is falling on the end of the line
and the trains keep rolling by

And now they take you from October skies
down to the canyons to the trucks in a line
on your honor trust their lies
and the fear just clouds your eyes

For more background on Blood and Gold (inspired by Deanne Stillman's book "Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West")

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Carolina Amen
The story of a man killed at the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse in the spring of 1864.

April had come to the fields and through the woods
when John said oh this war is almost done
soon I can return to the one I love
if I can just leave Virginia on my own
She writes letters every day
in Charleston town to the bells beside the bay
every night he holds those letters tight
the broken heart of a southern bride
Ever since ol’ Stonewall came down
the boys all pray at every night sound amen amen
he has her ring on a string near his heart
keeps him safe when they are apart amen amen
When Lee returned to the hills at Fredericksburg
the river ran red with the blood of John’s men
he held that ring and the memories in his head
oh God give me just one more chance
She bows her head on Sundays
in the old white church down on the battery
as another wife comes with tears in her eyes
at 1 o’clock when the northern news arrives
Every since ol’ Stonewall came down
she has prayed at every night sound amen amen
a wedding band and her hand on her heart
keep him safe while we are apart amen amen
The sun is low in the sky at Saunders Field
as John writes I know my fate is sealed
and Carolina seems so far away
oh my love if I could leave today
Ever since ol’ Stonewall came down
the boys all pray at every night sound amen amen
there’s a ring on a string in the ground
John was laid down by the Court House amen amen

The only survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn on the American side was a horse named Comanche. He was found days after the battle in a ditch, covered in crows, with seven arrow wounds. Afterwards, he toured the country as a celebrity - people often plucked hairs from his tail as souvenirs. He retired to a long life at an army base in Kansas, where he developed a fondness for beer.

I was born for running
down Laredo way
Armstrong came along
and the battle brought us down one day
soldiers on my left side
bullets flying by
the boys were fighting we were trying
just to make it through another night

Fallen men and broken arrows
I'm the only living hero
just an old man with a tale for history

Now I'm 21 and all I've got's my honor
folks raise a glass and say this one's for you
my hair's turned gray at Leavenworth I wander
now there's nothing to win and less to lose

I learned to follow old trails
written in the stars
and those crows never told
the real story of those seven scars
Myles sent out a warning
but the bugle didn't sound
on Reno Hill all is still
he's lying next to me there on the ground

For more on Comanche:

General Sherman watched Atlanta burn in the summer of 1864. He stood in front of his headquarters on a rise just northeast of downtown to watch his handiwork. That hill was Copenhill. Today, it's occupied by the Carter Center.

Cumberland you hear the sound
of the creek in late July
Degress believed his batteries
could hold the Union line
no more palisades
could hold the wind of change
Burn burn burn til the flames hit the sky
time to burn burn burn you away
burn burn burn to the ground Sherman cried
may the ashes be the dirt upon your grave

John Bell Hood could never stand
on those Western Railroad lines
along Flat Shoals the cannon sounds
like another place and time
and on his horse he rode
cursing the black smoke
The last summer of a long war
might give you what you're praying for
up on Copenhill all the air is clear
fairly won

Don’t Come To Tennessee

Don’t come to Tennessee
the leaves have changed and I’m fine
Don’t take me back again
I’m still the same I’m never kind

It’s just another stateline
drenched in orange
drenched in reds
if you think you’re crazy
you should see inside my head

Don’t come to Tennessee
it’s late at night the drive’s too long
don’t listen to my voice
it will lead you here to another song

All the bars are closed now
the skyline’s dark
no golden threads
I wish I were crazy
it must be better than feeling dead

Don’t come to Tennessee
winter’s set in the nights are cold
I don’t think you’d like my friends
they aren’t the same we’re getting old

Did you find a place to call home 
does she treat you right?
I bought an old house last year
built in 1889
it looks just like that one we dreamed of 

Flying Mercury
The first circus in America, founded by Victor Pepin and Jean Baptiste Breschard in Philadelphia in 1803, was an equine circus that toured North America until 1815. A "flying mercury" was a particularly difficult trick on horseback.

Rode a stagecoach into town every year
with all the boys from the western frontier
waiting with high hopes to dance upon my ropes
dance like I was flying in the air
dressed in sequins shiny as the stars
dressed in sequins shiny as the stars
send a prayer to God say you’re the only thing I’ve got
I know you’ll help me wherever you are

I used to sell out shows
I used to drink whiskey
they used to throw roses
I used to be so pretty
back in my day
back in my heyday

Playing cards backstage with all the boys
40 Thieves or poker it’s your choice
placing penny bets and smoking cigarettes
filling sleepy towns with joyful noise

I still dream of Pepin and Breschard
I still dream of those ribbons and those cards
of the horses galloping beneath me
three cheers for flying mercury

Ghost of Traveller
Traveller was Confederate General Robert E. Lee's horse. He still haunts the grounds of Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.

I left Hartford on the southbound
with the morning light still coming round
saw New York in the rearview
Pennsylvania I was just passing through
gonna roll my windows down
and breathe in the sweet sweet air

Life is flying past me like railroad cars and flattery
spent the night in a one-horse town
where the ghost of Traveller tracked me down

My life is stretched out on maps and roadways
with most of love a memory
now I’m leaving the one who loves me
can’t remember why he troubles me
cicadas sing like long-lost friends
headed South to my home again

Fell in love on a Blue Ridge road
beneath these stars of silver gold
I’ve been lost on a Blue Ridge road
beneath these stars that now lead me home

Crossed the stateline to Virginia
oh how well I remember it
brought a suitcase full of yesterday
and of dreams I have not met

The Groundskeeper
There's a ghost that watches over Carnton Plantation at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee.

One day in June he did remember
blood on the ground as far as he could see
the sound of the swords and falling horses
the last of an army on its knees
they left the guns behind in Franklin
the hills were no match for honesty
he watched the gray line fall to pieces
heard the rush of the wind in the old oak trees

Now the sun shines on these fields
no one knows just what he's seen
and modern life starves on these highways
while he prays while he prays

God save this hallowed ground for me
I've walked along these roads for centuries
I know the world is changing so fast
but I'd like to see a little of the past

All of November felt like madness
the light in his eyes had finally failed
winter it struck like birds on corpses
of Adams and Strahl and Granbury
he walked the front porch just to see them
passed through the columns carefully
he couldn't remember life before this
the last of the Army of Tennessee

They line up chairs like cemetery stones
across this land I once called home
they walk in pairs over blood and bone
kiss under trees scarred by bullets thrown
their white dresses in the wind

Gruene Music Hall

I said I would give you away
if this weekend would stay if this weekend could stay
on old wooden floors
all this dust burns a hole in the memories you gave what I couldn’t save
now you’re sitting at home
and you’re feeling lonely
for the one you thought you loved
yes she’s falling again
and you know the end is coming soon

I’m dancing through
a ghost of me a ghost of you
in this music hall
the lights of home the sounds of fall
and sleep is easy on Gruene Road

They say the river takes the long way around
highway 306 oh I’ll get used to it
on the old radio
all the songs burn a hole in the memories we made I said I’d never change
now I feel alive
and I never tried
to feel this love that takes control
but I don’t mind
this Texas sky is in my soul

Just 50 miles down 35
who would have thought it would change your life
I watch the stars and the trucks roll by
I never thought it could change my life

Hazel Creek
In the 1940s the Tennessee Valley Authority built Fontana Dam high in the mountains of North Carolina. In the process, several small towns ended up under the waters of Lake Fontana. The cemeteries remained on high ground, inaccessible except by a two-day hike or hours-long boat ride. The TVA promised to build a road to give former residents access so they could visit the graves of loved ones. That road has never been built.  In 2010, the U.S Park Service legally blocked the road's construction because of its environmental impact and paid the county $53 million instead.

Don't curse the wintertime again
that's when the crows control the wilderness
last year is when it all began
when Woods rolled the lanterns in
would you mind if we took a look around
where the valley ends here without a sound
electricity is gonna turn around
your empty lives your little town

All across the land they cried
there's moonshine in my father's eyes
Hazel Creek is nevermore
and November brings the cold in

We left Sugar Fork a little mining town
two sons lost to war another never found
but electricity is gonna turn around
your empty life and make you proud

High water mark North Shore Road
I remember 1944
Mama's buried out by the old homestead
and we can't go there again

For more on the North Shore Road, visit:

Never On A Sunday

My mama used to drink a bottle of wine
but never on a Sunday never on a Sunday
a pack of cigarettes and a quarter of kind
but never on a Sunday never on a Sunday
with her dirty words and a sailor’s smile red stained on her face
taught me to be the free-wheeling child she said life’s a crazy place

So don’t buy into love and fate
you gotta try to make your own damn way
Friday night have another round
lose yourself in this God-fearing town
but leave Sunday out

Daddy ran around with a young girl at night
but not a Sunday never on a Sunday
momma knew the truth never put up a fight
packed up on a Sunday just left him on a Sunday
me and a suitcase and a mason jar full of money she had saved
sold his guns and stole his car left the old house up in flames

If you want me back I’m already gone
I guess I stayed too long didn’t know that I was wrong
now we’re on our own

Rose in the Snow

Oh Annie’s been lonely most of her life
never been no one’s family never been no one’s wife
daddy left with the angels when she was just three
momma found a new man and decided to leave
so she learned to be old and let go of childish dreams
like finding somebody to hold and have her own diamond ring
so she made a promise to fend for herself
to harden her heart belong to no one else

She spent her days like a rose in the snow
with her heart cold as ice so heavy and low
and she spent her life like she lived down below
six feet underground full of sorrow
and it makes me wonder
ain't it tirin' bein' alone?

She lived there next to me as long as I can remember
ma said she moved in in '81 in December
spends all her time behind closed windows and doors
never talks to no one but her old wooden floors
a big house with nothing inside but empty tables and chairs
and a woman just trying to hide from all of her fears
afraid of the world and the hurt it could bring
scared of her shadow and the blackbirds that sing

There's an old tall case clock standing by her bedside
there was no one to stop it the night that she died
now each time I drive by that old weathered house
it makes me remember and say to myself

Shores of Maryland
A child learns a hard lesson during the Civil War.

Mama told me don't cross the river
don't cross the river less you don't wanna come back home
Daddy told me don't cross the river
don't cross the river past Virginia don't you roam

Now I'm gonna fly up to Heaven
'cause old Hiram's men they all shot me dead
and Lord try to help my kin forgive them
it ain't their burden that I walked that riverbed

Grandpa told me don't cross the river
old Potomac's lined with gunpowder and lead
and Granny told me don't cross the river
don't cross the river to the shores of Maryland

Tacoma Coal Line
In the middle of the Southwestern Coalfield of Virginia there's a stop along the line called Tacoma. That little town is the home of the Elkins side of Elizabeth's family. This song is built from stories her father told her about spending part of his childhood in Wise County.

We used to listen to the Grand Ole Opry play
on the old time radio
before the tears in the Holsten River
and the late night movie show
the newsreel ran in black and white
stained with blood and dynamite
then I'd sleep by candlelight

Mama would wake us up at five
to send my Daddy off in time
on the Tacoma Coal Line
the hills were painted powder white
Daddy's hands were black as night
on the Tacoma Coal Line

My brother and I would ride to school
past the Coeburn General Store
listen to the Yankees in our wheels
I'll trade you Joe for four
we'd build a fire by the old smokehouse
late at night when the stars were out
and we'd wait for Daddy's footsteps by the gate

Mama would scold us while we ate
he'd tell stories of the good old days
on the Tacoma Coal Line
the hills were painted powder white
Daddy's hands were black as night
on the Tacoma Coal Line

I'd hear Mama cry at night
when Daddy went down the Raven Mine
on Sundays oh the bells would chime
if all the men were still alive
on the Tacoma Coal Line