White Doves at Morning by James Lee Burke: A Short Review of a Civil War Novel

Today I finished my read of James Lee Burke’s White Doves at Morning (Pocket Star Books, New York, 2002.  It is a novel, a New York Times Best Seller.  The back cover has this tag: “A Riveting evocation of the Civil War, drawn from the true family history of ‘America’s best novelist” (The Denver Post). As my blog has revealed from time to time, I read everything I can about the Civil War. While I’m most used to Burke’s detective novels, I was quite taken and quite surprised by this one. When I read something of the Civil War, I expect to run into the same tired old stereotypes (i.e.,Yankees all good and love all people, Southerners all bad and rascists). Burke surprised me though by a balanced and brutally honest treatment of both sides of the War and the people involved – Confederate and Federal, black and white – and masterfully word-painted touching societal and individual human portraits that I will never forget.  The novel is rich in historical allusions and details that could only have come from extensive research. The novel addresses many great themes related to the Civil War and the human condition and weaves stories of love, redemption, courage and fear, and politics to remind us of all that war did to us and how it changed us. I read several chapters before I realized that Burke’s heart was really in this story, that it was more than just a good tale. In short, if you like reading about America’s Civil War, I’d encourage you to read this novel.

As usual when I read Burke, my hand was busy underlining phrases and sentences–too many to list in this short review. However, here is one of the many that caught my eye with its profound insights:

“The denigrators and revisionists would eventually have their way with history, as they always did, Robert Thought, but for those who participated in the [Civil] war, it would remain the most important grand and transforming experience in their lives” (p. 379).

News from Texas and Photos from the North Texas Irish Festival

Seamus, my leprechaun, and I at NTIF

Seamus, my leprechaun, and I at NTIF

The above photos were taken at the North Texas Irish Festival in Dallas, March 2009.  The first is of me and Seamus, my leprechaun, who goes with me to every program now. The second is of Miranda Aranda of the duo, Arabesque. They make great music and are two of the most creative people I know of. The third is of me and Tom McCandlish performing on stage at NTIF.

Notes from Brownsboro, Texas:

Tomorrow is my last day with the school district at Brownsboro, Texas.  The kids and teachers have been wonderful. I’ve done two days of my Scots-Irish program and two days of Texas history programs.  Teri Green is the librarian in charge of the school system’s libraries and she is doing a grand job. She’s been taking photos and I should have some of them soon.

Mama’s Lily: A Song by Jed Marum

My friend Jed Marum has made a video that you need to see. It is of a song he wrote that I based one of my short stories on. My story is called, “Lily,” and his song is “Mama’s Lily.” This is a song that will move you to tears.  Here is what Jed says about the song: http://cdbaby.com/cd/jedmarum3

MAMA’S LILY (c) Jed Marum, 2004

This song retells the true story of a little girl who was killed in a minor military operation during the US Civil War near Charles Town WV.

Irish immigrant and Yankee soldier, William McCarter came across the scene just moments after it had happened. He was so heartbroken by the incident and he retold it with such care in his diary that the story and the heartbreak have carried on through 150 years, in McCarter’s memoirs, MY LIFE IN THE IRISH BRIGADE – in this song by Jed Marum from his FIGHTING TIGERS OF IRELAND album – and in a beautiful short story written by author Rickey Pittman in his book, STORIES OF THE CONFEDERATE SOUTH.

For more about Jed Marum, check here http://www.jedmarum.com/

Go here on YouTube to see the video and hear the song. In fact, you should view every video of Jed. I truly believe that he is one of these folk singers whose songs are going to change the world.  Here are the lyrics to “Mama’s Lily.”

She was just her Mama’s Lily
A pretty child, curious and bold
As I stood there with Michael O’Reilly
She might have been seven years old
She’d been placed high atop the piano
And arranged there with love and with care
By an African servant, her nanny
Cutting locks of the little girl’s hair
There were tear-soaked locks of her hair.

And it’s a hard cold edge to the wind tonight
It’s a bitter wind, cuts to the bone
& cruel is fate when its power and its might
To both guilty and innocent are shown
To both guilty and innocent shown

Charlestown was easily taken
Federal batteries had helped clear the way
When we went down to see,
Michael Reilly and me
The Rebel force had melted away
She’s been standing alone in the window
Watching soldiers retreat south and west
There was nothing to do,
When a cannonball flew
Through the window,
And on through her chest
Tore her arm and her heart
From her breast

Now I know we must fight for the union
But what a terrible price must be paid
And to make this land free,
Michael Reilly and me
Well we joined with the Irish Brigade
Now I look through my tears on this Lily
Shattered before she could bloom …
Still through death on her face
Shine her beauty and grace
Though she died from a terrible wound
And no child should ever die from such a wound.

Alison Kraus Song Lyrics: “I Will”

Today, I was listening to a CD a friend of mine gave me some time ago and Kraus’ version of this old Beatles song was on it. This is one of those songs that has always touched me, so I decided to post the lyrics. I intend to add my own version to my Americana show. The chords and lyrics are posted in several places on the Web. Tonight, I’m at my hotel near Tyler, getting ready for a very full week of school programs with the Brownsboro, TX ISD.

“I Will”

Who knows how long I’ve loved you
You know I love you still
Will I wait a lonely lifetime?
If you want me to–I will.

You know if I ever saw you
I didn’t catch your name
But it never really mattered
I will always feel the same.

Love you forever and forever
Love you with all my heart
Love you whenever we’re together
Love you when we’re apart.

And when at last I find you
Your song will fill the air
Sing it loud so I can hear you
Make it easy to be near you
For the things you do endear me to you
Ah [or “how”], you know I will
I will.

John McDermott Lyrics: “The Dreamer” and “Bringin’ Buddy Home”

Once again, I’m scheduled to perform  for the local Blue Star Mothers at Kiroli Park in West Monroe on Memorial Day. I’m going to do a few songs by McDermott (one of my favorite Scottish musicians. His website is here) One song, “Bringin’ Buddy Home” (I heard McDermott performing live on the radio and transcribed the lyrics) is soon to be released on his new album, Journeys. I hope you like the lyrics.  As far as I can tell, this is the first time these lyrics have been posted on the Internet.  You can hear a short version of the song on McDermott’s website.

“The Dreamer” by John McDermott

Now some people call me a dreamer
As if dreamer is a dirty word
They say I sing a song that few still believe in
And that fewer still have even heard
Say I’m living in a time that is over
And not in the real world of today
That we need more doers and less dreamers
And that folks like me just get in the way.

I dream of a world without hunger
I dream of a world without war
Where we live at peace on this earth together
Where the air tastes sweet and the rivers are run clear.
Dream it first, and it will happen
But if you don’t believe that it can
Leave me to my dreaming
Cause I’m happy just where I am.


Say I’m living in a time that is over
And not in the real world of today
That we need more doers and less dreamers
And that folks like me just get in the way.

I dream of a world without hunger
I dream of a world without war
Where we live at peace on this earth together
Where the air tastes sweet and the rivers are run clear.
Dream it first, and it will happen
But if you don’t believe that it can
Leave me to my dreaming
Cause I’m happy just where I am.

“Bringin’ Buddy Home” by John McDermott  (C-17 used)

Somewhere between earth and heaven
The C-17 flies,
Heading westward homeward
Through clean, clear, safe  blue skies
At the back of the airplane
Lying alone
Draped in his country’s flag
They’re bringing Buddy home.

Somewhere between tears and heartbreak,
A lifetime sorrow just begun
Grieving, disbelieving,
As parents wait to welcome home their son.
And pray for the strength
Somehow to face the days ahead
While heading westward homeward,
The Nation’s bringing home its dead.

When the rifles fire the volley
At the word of command
When they fold up Old Glory
And they place it in your hand
You can cry then,
And say goodbye then,
For Buddy’s now a name on a cold marble stone
And he’s never, never, never coming home.


Somewhere between fear and hatred
The black heart of war lies
Growing blacker, stronger,
With every young man who dies.
Far back from the airfield,
At their post in the combat zone,
His comrades wonder,
Who’ll be the next one going home.

When the rifles fire the volley
At the word of command
When they fold up Old Glory
And they place it in your hand
You can cry then,
And say goodbye then,
For Buddy’s now a name on a cold marble stone
And he’s never, never, never coming home.

On the Road Again . . .

Serendipity has once again come my way and I’m going to Longbeach, MS early tomorrow morning to finalize a writing project. Wish me luck. I won’t jynx it by talking about it too soon, but it’s GOOD! It’s been a difficult week, with no shortage of work. Next week, I’ll be in Brownsboro, TX at the school district there from Tuesday through Friday. Crazy busy. Here is a photo my daughter took of me last fall in ULM’s Grove at the Chili Cook-off. I was supposed to be Chili Nelson.

A Country Boy Can Survive

I’ve always enjoyed Hank Williams Jr.’s song, “A Country Boy Can Survive.” As a teacher, I believe most of my students couldn’t survive if they were put on their own.  Now, our present economic collapse might not be as bleak as Cormac McCarthy’s The  Road, but it will certainly require us to make many changes and relearn many of the things our ancestors knew that we have neglected.

Here is some food for thought from the NYT magazine. I first found the article on Adrienne Young’s site. Young is a folk singer who is deeply committed to gardens, sustainable farms, and all things natural. Please go to her website when you get a chance. You will enjoy her thoughts and certainly her music.

Farmer in Chief
Published: October 9, 2008 in the NYT magazine.

Michael Pollan, a contributing writer for the magazine, is the Knight Professor of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author, most recently, of “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.”

It may surprise you to learn that among the issues that will occupy much of your time in the coming years is one you barely mentioned during the campaign: food. Food policy is not something American presidents have had to give much thought to, at least since the Nixon administration — the last time high food prices presented a serious political peril. Since then, federal policies to promote maximum production of the commodity crops (corn, soybeans, wheat and rice) from which most of our supermarket foods are derived have succeeded impressively in keeping prices low and food more or less off the national political agenda. But with a suddenness that has taken us all by surprise, the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close. What this means is that you, like so many other leaders through history, will find yourself confronting the fact — so easy to overlook these past few years — that the health of a nation’s food system is a critical issue of national security. Food is about to demand your attention.
Complicating matters is the fact that the price and abundance of food are not the only problems we face; if they were, you could simply follow Nixon’s example, appoint a latter-day Earl Butz as your secretary of agriculture and instruct him or her to do whatever it takes to boost production. But there are reasons to think that the old approach won’t work this time around; for one thing, it depends on cheap energy that we can no longer count on. For another, expanding production of industrial agriculture today would require you to sacrifice important values on which you did campaign. Which brings me to the deeper reason you will need not simply to address food prices but to make the reform of the entire food system one of the highest priorities of your administration: unless you do, you will not be able to make significant progress on the health care crisis, energy independence or climate change. Unlike food, these are issues you did campaign on — but as you try to address them you will quickly discover that the way we currently grow, process and eat food in America goes to the heart of all three problems and will have to change if we hope to solve them. Let me explain.
After cars, the food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy — 19 percent. And while the experts disagree about the exact amount, the way we feed ourselves contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than anything else we do — as much as 37 percent, according to one study. Whenever farmers clear land for crops and till the soil, large quantities of carbon are released into the air. But the 20th-century industrialization of agriculture has increased the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the food system by an order of magnitude; chemical fertilizers (made from natural gas), pesticides (made from petroleum), farm machinery, modern food processing and packaging and transportation have together transformed a system that in 1940 produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil-fuel energy it used into one that now takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food. Put another way, when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases. This state of affairs appears all the more absurd when you recall that every calorie we eat is ultimately the product of photosynthesis — a process based on making food energy from sunshine. There is hope and possibility in that simple fact.
In addition to the problems of climate change and America’s oil addiction, you have spoken at length on the campaign trail of the health care crisis. Spending on health care has risen from 5 percent of national income in 1960 to 16 percent today, putting a significant drag on the economy. The goal of ensuring the health of all Americans depends on getting those costs under control. There are several reasons health care has gotten so expensive, but one of the biggest, and perhaps most tractable, is the cost to the system of preventable chronic diseases. Four of the top 10 killers in America today are chronic diseases linked to diet: heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and cancer. It is no coincidence that in the years national spending on health care went from 5 percent to 16 percent of national income, spending on food has fallen by a comparable amount — from 18 percent of household income to less than 10 percent. While the surfeit of cheap calories that the U.S. food system has produced since the late 1970s may have taken food prices off the political agenda, this has come at a steep cost to public health. You cannot expect to reform the health care system, much less expand coverage, without confronting the public-health catastrophe that is the modern American diet.
The impact of the American food system on the rest of the world will have implications for your foreign and trade policies as well. In the past several months more than 30 nations have experienced food riots, and so far one government has fallen. Should high grain prices persist and shortages develop, you can expect to see the pendulum shift decisively away from free trade, at least in food. Nations that opened their markets to the global flood of cheap grain (under pressure from previous administrations as well as the World Bank and the I.M.F.) lost so many farmers that they now find their ability to feed their own populations hinges on decisions made in Washington (like your predecessor’s precipitous embrace of biofuels) and on Wall Street. They will now rush to rebuild their own agricultural sectors and then seek to protect them by erecting trade barriers. Expect to hear the phrases “food sovereignty” and “food security” on the lips of every foreign leader you meet. Not only the Doha round, but the whole cause of free trade in agriculture is probably dead, the casualty of a cheap food policy that a scant two years ago seemed like a boon for everyone. It is one of the larger paradoxes of our time that the very same food policies that have contributed to overnutrition in the first world are now contributing to undernutrition in the third. But it turns out that too much food can be nearly as big a problem as too little — a lesson we should keep in mind as we set about designing a new approach to food policy.

Upcoming Author Events

The busy season is upon me. Here is what my calendar looks from now through April:

March 23-27, Brownsboro, TX ISD. I’ll be presenting both the Scots-Irish and Texas History Programs for schools in this district.

Thursday, April 2, Mississippi School of the Arts Presentation, Brookhaven, MS.

James S. Hogg Middle School, Tyler, TX (This Texas governor really did have a daughter named Ima) Tuesday, April 14

April 17-19, Scottish Heritage Festival, Batesville, Arkansas

Thursday, April 23, Caney, OK ISD.

Saturday, April 25, Weatherford, TX Books & All that Jazz

Tuesday, April 28. Hallsville, TX ISD

A Weekend in Texas

It was a long weekend and the whole time I’ve been driving in the rain. I must have passed a half dozen accidents. Thursday night I traveled to my parents house along the Red River and spent the night there. Early Friday (I left before 6:00 a.m.) I drove to Prarie Vista Middle School to present my Civil War program (7 programs). From there, I drove to Plano (only 40 miles, but it took two hours because of Dallas traffic) to present storytelling and music and sign Scottish Alphabet books at Legacy Books at their weekly Pajamorama! There were over 30 children and about that many adults and I found them most receptive.  The store took pictures, which they’re going to send me, so I’ll post more and have more to say about Lorna and Kyle the managers and the rest of the staff, but here is one photo I took with my phone of Alia, the store’s resident storyteller. This beautiful lady is an English and Theatre major and quite a hit with the kids!  If you’re ever in the DFW area, you need to visit Legacy Books (3 stories, free Internet, and great coffee) 7300 Dallas Parkway, Plano. Their website is here:

Alia at Legacy Books

Alia at Legacy Books

I left Plano and arrived in Monroe at 2:00 a.m. I slept late on Saturday, then rose to face the endless work of teaching my online classes.  Today has been spent in the same activity, but I did manage to attend the Celtic Society’s meeting today for a special presentation on St. Patrick. I know I’m behind on my posts for this blog, but I’ll catch up soon–promise. This week, I’m performing on St. Patrick’s Day  (Tuesday) at the War Veterans Home and at Enoch’s Irish Pub in the Evening.

Saint Patrick’s Battalion: Lyrics by Tim O’Brien & Guy Clark

As Saint Patrick’s Day approaches, my thoughts are on the Irish.  My mental ramblings took me to thoughts of Captain John Riley and his Batallón de San Patricio in the Mexican War of 1846-48. There’s so much about this story that needs to be told. So much in fact, that I’ve determined to write a children’s book about them. I found this song written by two great musicians–Tim O’Brien and Guy Clark–and purchased it from iTunes.  I thought I’d post the lyrics. This song tells one part of their sad story. I follow that with another song about this unit. This is definitely a story I’m working into my Scots-Irish and Texas History presentation.
“John Riley” (from http://www.timobrien.net/Lyrics2.cfm?ID=56)
From The Crossing
(Tim O’Brien, Guy Clark (Howdy Skies Music/Forerunner Music, Inc./EMI/April, ASCAP))

John Riley ©1998 Tim O’Brien and Guy Clark

John Riley came form Galway town in the years of the Irish hunger
And he sailed away to America when the country was much younger
The place was strange and work was scarce and all he knew was farming
So he followed his other Irish friends to a job in the US Army

Adventure calls and some men run, and this is their sad story
Some get drunk on demon rum and some get drunk on glory

They marched down Texas way to the banks of the Rio Grande
They built a fort on the banks above to taunt old Santa Anna
They were treated bad, paid worse, and then the fighting started
The more they fought the less they thought of the damned old US Army

Adventure calls and some men run, and this is their sad story
Some get drunk on demon rum and some get drunk on glory

When the church bells rang on Sunday morn it set his soul a shiver
He saw the Senoritas washing’ their hair on the far side of the river
John Riley and two hundred more Irish mercenaries
Cast their lot, right or not, south of the Rio Grande

Adventure calls and some men run, and this is their sad story
Some get drunk on demon rum and some get drunk on glory

They fought bravely under the flag of the San Patricios
Till the Yankees soldiers beat them down at the battle of Churubusco
Then fifteen men were whipped like mules
And on the cheeks were hot iron branded
Made to dig the graves of fifty more, who a hanging fate had handed

Adventure calls and some men run, and this is their sad story
Some get drunk on demon rum and some get drunk on glory

John Riley stands and drinks alone at a bar in Vera Cruz
He wonders if it matters much if you win or if you lose
“I’m a man who can’t go home , a wanderer”, says he
“A victim of some wanderlust and divided loyalty

Adventure calls and some men run, and this is their sad story
Some get drunk on demon rum and some get drunk on glory

“The Men that God made Mad” – written by Ron Kavanagh. I found the lyrics here:

(Arr. N. Parsons/G. Dunne)
L’Entrada de L’Angustura – written by Graham Dunne

Far far from Clifden’s rocky shore o’er the broad Atlantic sea
The Battalion of St. Patrick tired of harsh brutality
No more abuse or bigotry, their angry cry wholehearted
Near Matamoras lives were lost that’s when the fighting started

Who were those men, what was the crime
For which their lives were wasted
Did they rob or rape, or was their fate
As the poet once related
Were those great Gaels of Ireland
The men that God made mad
Their wars were never merry
But all their songs were sad

Land of the Free meant liberty to the U.S. Army’s Irish
Till James K. Polk he sent them south to civilize the Spanish
In a war to extend slavery and unjust exploitation
They’d not repeat what Cromwell did to their poor Irish Nation


At L’Angustura, Irish blood drenched the sun-baked clay
And Mexico still honours those brave men who died that day
But the worst was yet to come in the hour that war was ended
When General Scott hung the Irishmen to celebrate with vengeance


Here is the flag of the Saint Patrick Battalion as described by John Riley:

You can read more of this unit’s story here and here: Well, this post is long enough. More on John Riley to come.