The American Civil War, with brutal fighting from 1861 to 1865, is known as the most deadly time in American history. It’s also known for its music, most famously the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” sung by people in the North, and “Dixie,” the best-known song of the South. But, those aren’t the songs you’ll find on a recent Civil War collection called “God Didn’t Choose Sides.”
Sam Passamano, II, head of the Rural Rhythm Records label, is a Civil War buff. When he got to work producing an album of songs inspired by the Civil War, he had something different in mind, something other than recording the traditional tunes of the era.
“The real people who were in the trenches. The men and women who were a major part of ‘The War Between The States.’" he said. "There are some amazing stories that need to be told about acts of kindness and brotherhood and faith and selflessness that this project really brings out and it’s a major part of what makes it special and unique.”
Such as the true life tale of John P. Parker, who was sold into slavery at the age of eight.
He learned to read and write and apprenticed as an iron worker. Parker would eventually buy his freedom, run his own iron foundry in the northern state of Ohio, and help other slaves escape from the South. Dave Adkins sings Parker’s story in “The River Man,” on “God Didn’t Choose Sides.”
Mark “Brink” Brinkman wrote “The River Man” with Paula Breedlove. He was especially touched by Parker’s bravery and what he had to put up while helping others to freedom.
"There was a $1,000 bounty put on his head, but nobody knew what he looked like," he said. "In fact, we searched for pictures for this project and we found that there are no pictures of John Parker because he was so afraid of somebody killing him, if they knew what he looked like."
Tim Stafford and Steve Gulley also contributed a song to “God Didn’t Choose Sides.” They wrote about Tod Carter, a lawyer who left his home in Franklin, Tennessee and followed his brother into the rebel, Confederate Army. As Gulley sings, after three years of fighting the soldier found himself just a few miles from his old home, leading a charge toward the Union line.
“And when we got to that line [in the song] when researching the documented proof of the story, we knew we had the title," Gulley said. "We just worked from there and kind of told his story. From growing up to ending up being mortally wounded in the battle of Franklin in his front yard. And pulled inside by his family members, saying can we just bring him inside, in the house he was born in and in the bed he was born. It was a very poignant story. But also, I think, telling of the whole war in general. There was a lot of irony in the Civil War and I hope we drove that point home.”
In addition to 12 original songs and one cover of a gospel standard, “God Didn’t Choose Sides” includes a 16-page booklet with photographs and notes that tell the stories behind the songs.
Rural Rhythm Records has also set up a website
for the album with additional information about the Civil War and the songwriters and performers on the project. One of them is Russell Moore, who tells through song the heartbreaking true story of a woman who learns she’s a widow when she sees a photo of her family in the newspaper. The caption explains the picture was found in the hands of a dead soldier. It’s called “A Picture of Three Children.”