Jerry Garcia showed me TWO SOLDIERS (Hazel & Alice do it pretty similar) a battle song extraordinaire, some dragoon officer's epaulettes laying liquid in the mud, physical plunge into Limitationville, war dominated by finance (lending money for interest being a nauseating & revolting thing) love is not collateral. hittin' em where they aint (in the imperfect state that theyre in) America when Mother was the queen of Her heart, before Charlie Chaplin, before the Wild One, before the Children of the Sun--before the celestial grunge, before the insane world of entertainment exploded in our faces--before all the ancient & honorable artillery had been taken out of the city, learning to go forward by turning back the clock, stopping the mind from thinking in hours, firing a few random shots at the face of time...
A song from the American Civil War, much collected in the Southern Appalachians, particularly the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas.... The title is often given as The Last Fierce Charge. An early recording was made by a genuine cowboy singer, Carl T. Sprague, while Jerry Garcia... may have learned it from the Mike Seeger recording (Vanguard VRS 9150, Hello Stranger, 1964) which Seeger learned from the Gevedon family of Kentucky. There are certainly few differences between this and Dylan's account of the song....
The date of the song's composition can obviously be pinned down pretty well, and there is an interesting example of the reversal of the normal process of English or Scottish folk ballads being discovered among the Southern mountains of the USA. A particular full text, to a similar tune to that used by Seeger/Dylan, appears in the Gavin Greig collection, as collected by T. S. Towers in Orkney (no specified date, but Greig amassed his collection between 1907 and 1911).
It was just before the last fierce charge,
Two soldiers drew their rein,
With a parting word and a touch of the hand,
They never might meet again. One had light blue eyes and curly hair,
Nineteen but a month ago, --
There was red on his cheek and down on his chin
He's only a boy you know.
The other was tall, dark, stern, and proud,
His fate in this world seem'd dim;
But he only trusted the more to those
Who were all in this world to him.
They had been together in many a fight,
And rode for many a mile;
But never till now they had met the foe
With a calm and hopeful smile.
But now they gazed in each other's eyes
With an awful ghastly loom;
The tall dark one was the first to speak
Saying "Charlie, mine hour is come.
We'll both ride up yon hill together,
But you must ride back alone.
O promise a little trouble to take
For me when I'm gone.
I have a fair face on my breast,
I'll wear it throughout the fight;
With light blue eyes, and curly hair
That shines like the morning light.
Like the morning light she is to me,
With her calm and her hopeful smile;
Oh, little care I for the frowns of fate,
For she promised to be my wife.
I mind the day she said 'Good-bye',
With a smile on her fair face;
Oh, tell her tenderly where I fell,
And where is my resting place."
Tears dimm'd the blue eyes of the boy
His voice was low with pain.
"I'll do your bidding, comrade mine,
Should I ride back again.
But if you ride back and I am slain,
You'll do as much for me;
I have a mother beloved by all,
Write to her tenderly.
She was a mother beloved by all,
Who had buried both husband and son;
And I the last for her country's cause
She cheer'd and sent me on.
And now she prays like a waiting saint,
Her fair face wet with woe;
Oh, when she hears that I am slain,
Her heart will break I know."
But now the trumpet sounds the charge,
In an instant hand join'd hand,
With a parting word and away they go, --
A brave devoted band.
There was none to tell that fair-hair'd girl
The words her true-love said,
And none to tell that waiting mother
The news that her boy was dead.
For among the number of the slain
Was the boy with the curly hair;
The tall dark man who rode by his side
Lay dead beside him there.