“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

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:








Encyclopedia Britannica

  1. osarobohenry says:

    Thank you for stopping by at my blog and for the like. May you be bless more abundantly in the name of Jesus Christ..

  2. Laura Jinkins says:

    I really enjoyed your post. 🙂

  3. @earfirst says:

    Eric! Hearty thanks for the research, colleague. Now I have more for my audience. –Dave Z.

  4. Bob Taylor says:

    You can hear Larry McPeak singing his “Dry Run Creek” on the Buck Mountain Band’s CD, Moon behind the Hills. This is the version he preferred.

  5. @earfirst says:

    What a welcome surprise, Eric, this research on a song I cherish in my repertoire. I rarely sing it at the bluegrass shows with the Arkdale Ramblers, but I’m anticipating more varied concerts soon, where much that I can’t very well use with the Arkdale will be my grist.

    Thank you for making time for this valued note.

  6. Greetings from the other side of the pond. I like your postings on the American Civil War. I tackled some of the issues that fascinate you in my novella ‘Burpwallow Holler’,which you might enjoy – available for free on Smashwords. It’s set in the Smoky Mountains,during the post conflict days of the Reconstruction,and deals with PTSD,the relationship between the races and the rise of the KKK. Good luck with securing a traditional publishing deal,something I’m attempting too – chasing literary agents and publishers feels like time travelling,going back to the nineteenth century.

  7. Bob Taylor says:

    The song is of course fictional, and Larry McPeak, who wrote it, was amused when asked about the whereabouts of the battle. There are many Dry Runs, as you point out, but the one Larry had in mind is in Virginia, near Wytheville, where Larry lived, and is the site of no actual battle.

  8. Ron says:

    Superb historical article, Eric! But not as good as the fried catfish at “Fred’s Fish House” overlooking Norfolk Lake! We’ve eaten there many times!

    Ron and Claudia – residents of Yellville AR 2007-2012

  9. Ad Dawg says:

    Eric, thanks for stopping by my blog. This story is most interesting; all the more so because it is true. I was born an Arkansan (Marked Tree) but left at around 4-months old. I returned in my 30s.
    Major fan of our Civil War (thank you Ken Burns); though as a descendant of slaves, it has a different “pull” for me. Still, mighty fine research into this historical event. Thank you.

  10. Opher says:

    Great post!
    Best wishes
    Opher from Opher’s World

  11. storythom says:

    Enjoyed the article! Coincidentally, I acquire books in Texas music for Texas A&M University Press, and bluegrass (thought not generally considered “Texas music,” per se) is a longtime favorite of mine. I’ll have to look up this song!

  12. degus221 says:

    Thank you for that. I appreciate the research that went into this piece, Dry Run Creed. You have added greatly to the power of the poem/ song that piqued your interest.

  13. Interesting article. I’m always interested in Civil War subject. Thanks for reading my latest Poem entitled “Mona”. The only Civil war poem on my site based upon research is called “For Lydia”.

  14. manciniblessed says:

    Thanks for liking “Set your sights on heaven.” I liked your article here interesting tidbits you put in it.
    The Lord Jesus Christ bless you abundantly.

  15. Thank you for liking my posting. I enjoyed yours as well.

  16. john wilson says:

    Wythe county VA has a Dry Run Creek, Or was it in Carroll Co. Nonetheless, the creek is in the Blue Ridge mountans of Virgina and I thought of this song as I drove over the bridge on HWY 58 today.

  17. john wilson says:

    I forgot to mention, there were several battles in the area for control of the lead and salt mines around Wytheville, VA

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