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LJI 10 Week 17: Fugue for Violin

This is my entry for Week 17 of LJ Idol Season 10 (therealljidol). My topic was "Surrender Under Protest."

The front of a music book, reading John G. Marshall

Music hand written by John G. Marshall

Through the violin, he spoke. A cadence at first in adagio, slow and plodding, then an allegro gallop of dissonance and counterpoint, followed by an elegy in harmony. His wife, sometimes, would accompany him on voice. His dark-haired granddaughter, toddling into the room, watched with wide eyes. She had inherited, he thought, his son's kind eyes. He met them with his own, conveying to her through music the things he could not -- would never -- tell her.


On the first day's march, the young men of the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry marched from Nashville on the Nolansville Pike, feeling almost relaxed. To young John Graves Marshall, whose heart was light in the bright sunshine, the ride was quite enjoyable. Up on his trusted horse, he felt safe: after all, to a mounted man, foot soldiers posed little danger. Despite a few close shaves, his company was unhurt.

"It's like fox hunting," one of his friends told him, and he had to agree. So easy it seemed, but not for long.

As they neared the Confederate Army in Murfreesboro, the young men charged forward, yelling, as John would describe it later, "in the highest glee." They ran through the wood and up to a fence, where they encountered the Confederate infantry, and then came disaster.

The rifles belched fire, and John's brothers-in-arms fell. One was pierced with fourteen bullets. Others were met with volleys right in their faces. As John would later recall, "Men seemed to fade away like frost before the morning sun, and many empty saddles was the sad result." The worst moment was when he witnessed his dear friend, Sergeant Frederick Herring, shot through the head, riding right next to John at the time. "He lingered in the saddle a moment, then fell with a thud to the ground, and his blood saturated my shoulder." At that instant, John's gray horse was shot and fell on John's leg. The rest of the battle he witnessed, he saw from the cover of his steed as he fought to free himself.


If only that had been the worst suffering he would encounter. Wordless, his music told his granddaughter about his later capture, the long march to Andersonville. A muddy dirge, this part of the tale. Washing in a river, despite the winter cold. Coarse corn or uncooked food. Inadequate shelters. He and his fellow men survived by making tents out of their ponchos, three foot high and with no ground cover.

This musical slog put a look of concern on his granddaughter's face, so he was glad he would not have to explain to her in words how the men would draw straws for the dead animals who would sometimes float down the stream, devouring them raw.

He ended the piece with a flourish of celebration, a triumphant arrival home, free to enjoy Pennsylvania green.


His brothers never forgot him, and one day, after he had played his final note, his funeral procession was met by members of the 15th Cavalry, described by a newspaper reporter as "fine looking well preserved men." They would carry on his song.

John Graves Marshall, at right, and an unidentified friend and fellow member of the 15th Cavalry

My great-great-grandfather, John Graves Marshall, died when my grandmother, Miriam Ivy Marshall Wilson Heritage, was only 2. She wrote that he loved to play the violin, and she preserved some of his violin music, written in his own passionate, strong hand, with the genealogical materials she collected and which I now possess.

John gave an account of the battle of Stone River, which I've paraphrased here, in "History of the Fifteenth Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry Which Was Recruited and Known as the Anderson Cavalry in the Rebellion of 1861-1865" by Charles H. Kirk. The details about life in Andersonville Prison Camp, where the Confederate soldiers kept captured Union soldiers, comes from a fellow soldier, in that same book.

You can click on the photos above to see larger versions.


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( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 9th, 2017 12:17 am (UTC)
This is wonderful. Your words really bring to life the horrors seen during war, and the strength of one man as he lives with them.
May. 9th, 2017 12:23 am (UTC)
Thank you! My siblings and I had a conversation one night about him and how we couldn't understand how he could have lived through such things and have gone on to raise a son whose unfailing trait was kindness and gentility, as my Grandma described her father. I can only imagine that he had other ways of dealing with those experiences, such as the violin that my Grandma said he enjoyed.
May. 9th, 2017 12:22 pm (UTC)
Nicely done! This could have fallen too far into detail and been difficult, but you did a great job balancing history and painting pictures of the time. I wondered if anyone would write about historical surrenders and I'm glad you did.
May. 9th, 2017 12:42 pm (UTC)
Yes, this was a natural approach for me, because I only recently found out about his service. We have known he was in the Union Army because of that picture, copies of which are in the possession of various members of family.
May. 9th, 2017 02:19 pm (UTC)
His story is kind of inspiring. Lovely take on the prompt. Thanks for sharing it with us.
May. 9th, 2017 02:38 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I find it inspiring, too. Yo have gone through so much and raise a son who, according to my Grandma, was full of kindness, he must have been an amazing person.
May. 9th, 2017 02:49 pm (UTC)
What a great take on the prompt. Loved the history and the dischord a man who loves music marching to war. The genealogy is always interesting!
May. 9th, 2017 02:57 pm (UTC)
Thanks! He came from a family of Quakers, too, who tend to be pacifists. I can only imagine he felt driven by principle to enlist.
May. 9th, 2017 03:47 pm (UTC)
More fascinating genealogy wrapped up in your wonderful way with words! I like the idea of him playing the violin and capturing his own music on paper!
May. 9th, 2017 04:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm not sure if the piece I shared above in the images was by him, but I think it might be. The music book wasn't completely filled, and he tended to attribute pieces to the original composers when he copied down music written by someone else. What is certain, however, is that he loved the violin and tried to get my great-grandfather, Barclay Cope Marshall, to play, but he never took to it.

Edited at 2017-05-09 04:03 pm (UTC)
May. 9th, 2017 03:54 pm (UTC)
An incredible story, well written. I've heard Andersonville described as a "concentration camp" comparable to the ones in WWII. Good to see the story of a survivor ending with a good family life.
May. 9th, 2017 04:00 pm (UTC)
It was as bad as a concentration camp in many ways. The guards also sometimes shot into the men and randomly killed them. They were essentially penned into an area and given very little to sustain their lives, as their captors simply watched them suffer and die.

When my brother told me that our ancestor spent time in that place, I was horrified. I didn't think too many people survived, but he was lucky and lived to tell the tale. My Dad had a copy of the Charles H. Kirk book, and I got my own reprint from Amazon, which is lacking in printing quality but still has all of the text. It was nice to see some of his own words because, as I said, he simply didn't talk about it to family.
May. 9th, 2017 04:13 pm (UTC)
Family history is so cool!
May. 10th, 2017 12:42 am (UTC)
You are loving this delving into your ancestors and I can understand why! Such rich history to mine through. Thank you for sharing this with us. Hugs and peace~~~
May. 10th, 2017 05:14 pm (UTC)
I loved the way you worked the music into this! Andersonville must have been a true horror. Your research into your family must be fascinating.
May. 10th, 2017 09:24 pm (UTC)
This is a rich bit of history you've retold here, and the story gives a strong sense of how hard it would be to live through that... and then somehow go on and try to carry on the rest of your life without letting the experience destroy you.
May. 10th, 2017 10:23 pm (UTC)
This literally brought tears to my eyes. Beautifully written! I clicked on the photo and must say your great great grandfather was a very handsome you man. There was someone last year who wrote stories about a world in which only the old went to battle. Looking at that picture, I wished it were true.

Brava! Well done!
May. 11th, 2017 01:40 pm (UTC)
The effort you put in telling the story of your family is amazing. In our history class, the losses are usually put in numbers and never in emotions. I really enjoyed reading this.
May. 11th, 2017 06:53 pm (UTC)
I love well written historical pieces, especially when they are relatives of the author. It somehow adds extra credibility to the story, if you know what I mean?
May. 12th, 2017 01:24 am (UTC)
This is great history! :)
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

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