“A Knot of Blue and Gray”

Alternate titles: “The Blue and Gray”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1959 (recording, Loman D. Cansler)
Keywords: grief army Civilwar war death mourning brother
Found in: US(So)

Description

Singer tells why she wears upon her breast both blue and gray. She says that she had two brothers; one fought and died for the north, the other for the south -- "But the same sun shines on both their graves"

Notes

This song, apart from being ridiculously schmaltzy [Not necessarily schmaltzy if sung well. See Barton & Para's version, for example. - PJS], has real historical problems. The oldest version is in the Dabney papers (Dabney Family Papers, MSS 9852, Box 21, Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library), and in it, the southern brother "rode with Stonewall and his men," while the northern brother "followed Sherman's march, Triumphant to the sea."

The problem is, Jackson was not a cavalry general. And the number of battle casualties on Sherman's March to the Sea could be counted on one's finger. One has to suspect the author just plugged in some familiar names.

The Duke University collection has a text which eliminates the reference to Stonewall Jackson and credits the music to T. Brigham Bishop. Since Bishop's name appears on at least two other pieces ("Kitty Wells" and "Shoo Fly") which he almost certainly did not write, one suspects, in Paul Stamler's words, "an early-day Lomax in action." Particularly since the Cansler version is sung to "The Wearing of the Green." - RBW, PJS

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Recordings