The American Civil War was described by Shelby Foote as “reciprocal murder.” This was the first modern war, where the new weapons of precision and efficiency were used on a large scale against walled masses of men. It was the deadliest per capita conflict in recorded history. And one night during the 40 days, in the evening after a battle, in the lull before another battle, while the wounded in the thousands lay pleading between camps for water, wounded they weren’t allowed to help, the bands on both sides struck up songs.
First the Union, and I wish, oh how I wish I remembered what it was, and then the Confederates replied. This tattered band of old men and pubescent boys in grey rags who could play something, anything, and hadn’t yet been forced into service– They played this song, over the countless campfires, over the cries of the wounded, over the men on both sides who would walk into shrapnel and amputation and death with the dawn.
They played this fucking song. I can’t get the picture out of my head. This happened. Like a specter of all we could be, rising angelic and knowing, knowing, to rain down on the coming of blood and screams and bone saws and death. They were humans. This happened. It’s so beautiful I could cry.