Tuesday July 8 & Wednesday July 9, 2014

Tuesday and Wednesday were mostly lecture days.  Lots of great resources, websites, video links, etc. to incorporate our topics into the classroom.  Plenty of delicious history with Anne Rubin again on the Compromise of 1850, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Bleeding Kansas and John Brown.  I love it when historians give you the down and dirty every day life stories along with the “book facts.”  I would have enjoyed history a lot more in high school with some enthusiastic teachers like I have the pleasure of listening to at the NEH Institutes.  I guess the main difference is that they all are passionate about their topic.  Lesson taken:  Keep your passion for your class subject….somehow.

Hearing Rubin’s take on John Brown was especially enlightening, given that we had just been through Harper’s Ferry on our way here.  On Tuesday we talked about the tune “John Brown’s Body” that my sister kept singing, making it the trip ear-worm.  The song, in it’s time, was very controversial, which is really no surprise, given that John Brown himself was controversial.  He was an example of you’re “either for him or ag’in him.”  Typically, hated by the South and admired by the North.  The tune became the Union theme song.  Northerners would sing the song because they KNEW it made the southerners mad.

Our SKYPEd conversation today with Christian McWhirter of the Lincoln Library and author of “Battle Hymns,” revealed something I’d never heard of.  Since music played such a large part of the recreational time of ALL people, north and south (think no TV, no radio, no iPods kids), the soldiers were known to have “play offs.”  Southerners on one side of the river and the Northerners on the other side.  One side would play a tune and the other side would answer (remember the banjos in Deliverance?).  They might have been mostly “friendly” musical dialogues before they started shooting at each other again the next day.  But according to McWhirter there were known instances of sides deliberately antagonizing each other.  The Southerners would play a tune and then the Yanks would play “John Brown’s Body,” which is SO offensive to the Rebels that they opened fire!  Can we say the lesson stands to this day – Don’t piss off a southerner?

John Brown’s Body

Old John Brown’s body lies moldering in the grave,

While weep the sons of bondage whom he ventured all to save;

But tho he lost his life while struggling for the slave,

His soul is marching on.


John Brown was a hero, undaunted, true and brave,

And Kansas knows his valor when he fought her rights to save;

Now, tho the grass grows green above his grave,

His soul is marching on.


He captured Harper’s Ferry, with his nineteen men so few,

And frightened “Old Virginny” till she trembled thru and thru;

They hung him for a traitor, they themselves the traitor crew,

But his soul is marching on.


John Brown was John the Baptist of the Christ we are to see,

Christ who of the bondmen shall the Liberator be,

And soon thruout the Sunny South the slaves shall all be free,

For his soul is marching on.


The conflict that he heralded he looks from heaven to view,

On the army of the Union with its flag red, white and blue.

And heaven shall ring with anthems o’er the deed they mean to do,

For his soul is marching on.


Ye soldiers of Freedom, then strike, while strike ye may,

The death blow of oppression in a better time and way,

For the dawn of old John Brown has brightened into day,

And his soul is marching on.


Great musical version, with old photographs.


Wednesday we also were treated to a concert from the Federal City Brass Band.  These guys looked great replete with period costumes and instruments.  Today they were a Union band, however, to their credit they also portray Confederates in their gray uniform.  The music was Civil War era, accompanied by the stories that surround each piece.  What I really thought was the most fascinating were that all they guys were playing period instruments.  The drums were all pre-1850.  They said that they scavenged estates and old attics.

Here’s a short performance from this group at Gettysburg in 2012.


While they played, their special guest showed up.  I was very careful to stay in my seat when General Grant appeared.

General Grant, Federal City Brass Band and Band Leaner

General Grant, Federal City Brass Band and Band Leaner

IMG_2229 IMG_2232


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