Civil War camp band sings history of the South (with video)

Civil War camp band sings history of the South (with video)

June 9th, 2013 by Joy Lukachick Smith in Local Regional News

Bob Beeman of the 2nd South Carolina String Band plays the bones, a Civil War era percussion instrument.

Photo by C. B. Schmelter/Times Free Press.

High above Chattanooga, past the cannons that can't fire and memorials for soldiers who died 150 years ago, the fiddle, banjo, guitar and jawbone meet.

The sound of the old American ballad "Angeline the Baker" hangs in the air.

"She left me here to weep and tear and beat on the old jawbone," sang men in checkered shirts, cotton pants and straw hats.

A crowd gathered to watch and listen as the 2nd South Carolina String Band sang America's most famous old tunes at Point Park on Saturday.

Close to the front, a man leaned forward, intent. On the back of his white T-shirt was a single word: "History."

The Civil War camp band met at the site of the Battle Above the Clouds as part of the Friends of the Park's 150th Civil War anniversary events. The nonprofit Friends group has events scheduled throughout the year.

History can be told through songs, said Kim Coons, a Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park director.

What people saw Saturday was similar to what they would have seen in a war camp a century-and-a-half ago.

Friends director Patrice Glass said the string band is known as one of the most authentic Civil War camp bands, keeping to the traditional garb, instruments and lyrics of the time. She said they are known for playing both Confederate and Union pieces.

But ask band manager Joe Ewers and he'll tell you the band -- named for a Confederate infantry unit -- sticks mainly to Southern tunes.

The members of the 2nd South Carolina band met during a 1989 re-enactment at Fort Warren in Boston Harbor as five riflemen for the Co. 1, 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry.

Ewers was raised in Illinois but said he always had identified with the South. He said having a great-grandfather from Tennessee who fought for the Confederate Army may have played a role.

The band became popular around campfires at the Boston Harbor re-enactments and eventually made an audiotape. Twenty-five years later, the performers are working on their sixth CD. The group has been featured in several of Ken Burns' documentaries and in the film "Gods & Generals," about Stonewall Jackson.

On Saturday, band members didn't shy away from any of the country's history, singing songs of slavery, plantation life and bloody battles, always telling the narrative behind each musical piece.

"I'll place my knapsack on my back. My rifle on my shoulder. I'll march away to the firing line, and kill that Yankee soldier."

As the last lines of "Southern Soldier" fade, a little boy dressed in a gray general's hat and Rebel uniform clutches his wooden toy rifle.

He runs as fast as he can toward the New York Peace Memorial, the tall statue that portrays a Union and a Confederate soldier shaking hands.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.