TEARS AND SORROW EMBEDDED IN MYTH AND SONG
“Thirteen hundred died that day…
It took ten good men just to dig the graves.”
There’s an old song that tells the legendary tale of an American Civil War battle fought a week after the war’s end. “Dry Run Creek” has been played perhaps ten thousand times by over a thousand artists,
“They buried them shallow, they buried them deep…
They buried them next to Dry Run Creek.”
The song has long been a favorite of bluegrass fans and civil war enthusiasts alike, but is there any truth behind the lyrics?
“Well, they weren’t just blue and they weren’t just gray,
Death took no sides when it came that day.
They laid them down side by each
They placed no stones at their head or feet.
And their mommas cried…
Oh my Lord, how their mommas cried…”
Dry Run Creek runs through the Ozark Mountains, spurring from the gorgeous Norfolk Lake, which is constantly drawing tourists and fishermen to the town of Mountain Home, Arkansas. The creek boasts beauty, clarity, and, if you’re mobility impaired or under the age of 16, an amazing trout fishing experience. What it does not boast is a civil war cemetery with 1300 unmarked graves.
Dry Run Creek, Arkansas
There is also a Dry Run Creek in Iowa and a “Dry Run Creek Cemetery” in Boise, Idaho. Need we even discuss these?
The song “Dry Run Creek” is often credited to the McPeak Brothers Band, or, more directly, to bluegrass legend Larry McPeak, one of the original VW Boys. A fine version of the song, covered by “The Seldom Scene,” can be found here:
But the McPeak boys were Virginians, not Arkansans… so any motivation for local legend can be ruled out. Some believe the song’s title is from a combination of the Battles of Bull Run and Wilson’s Creek.
“The war’d been over for about a week
But word hadn’t gotten to Dry Run Creek.
They fought and died right to the end
A battle that should have never been…”
Wherever you might believe the origins of the song came from, the number “1300” should give a clue as to the validity of the story. Although 1300 is not a high casualty amount for a civil war battle, it would be an extremely high number of killed for a battle fought after the surrender at Appomattox.
By comparison, the battle fought at Palmito Ranch, considered to be the last major engagement of our civil war, is well documented and known by anyone who claims to be a true civil war buff. It was fought in Cameron County, Texas on May 12th and 13th, 1865, more than a full month after Lee surrendered to Grant in Virginia.
The casualty count at Palmito Ranch? Four killed, 18 wounded, 104 captured.
Likewise, the Battle of New Orleans is submerged in legend and folklore for being fought more than two weeks after the War of 1812 had ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent.
How many died during the Battle of New Orleans? 440 or so, depending on your source.
A battle that saw 1300 die would see at least twice that many wounded, another gross or two captured, and if it had been fought after the end of a war it would be forever seared into the minds of generations to come.
Still, it’s a darn good song.
Thank you to my new friend and fellow blogger, David Zethmayr, for inspiring this topic. You can find his blog here: