'Free and Green': Song -- and Fate -- Bring Limelight to Civil War Hero

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'Free and Green'

Song -- and Fate -- Bring Limelight to Civil War Hero

By David Kincaid

In March 1988, I would for the first time march with Company I, 116th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry (Irish Brigade), through the streets of Pittsburgh, my ancestral home. Wild cheers erupted then, filling me with a pride I had never known.

The experience caused me to recall a song my partner Carl Funk and I had written eight years before, of which I had recorded a demo. Neither Carl nor I knew anything about the 116th PVI, or indeed the Irish Brigade, but I felt instinctively that we had something that seemed to fit the re-enactors perfectly, and sent a copy to Co. I's commander, Captain Michael Kraus.

Mike listened to the song, and promptly sent an emotional reply: "There is something about the lyric that you couldn't possibly have known when you wrote it." He then revealed the story of Capt. Samuel Taggart, whose story, and its connection to our song, left me utterly astounded. –

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'The Story of the 116th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, in the War of the Rebellion' by St. Clair Mulholland
Captain and Brevet Major Samuel Taggart, killed at Reams Station, August 25, 1864

Samuel Taggart was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., on May 10, 1841. Taggart, an Ulster name meaning "priest" in Gaelic, is an appropriate one, Samuel having early resolved to make the clergy, albeit Protestant and Presbyterian, his calling in life. He received a good education, eventually entering Westminster College, New Wilmington, Pa., from which he was graduated in June 1862.

After graduating he enlisted in Company H, 123rd Pennsylvania Volunteers, a nine-month regiment. Appointed first sergeant of his company, Taggart fought with it in the battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and was mustered out in May 1863.

He then entered the United Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Allegheny, Pa. While a student at the Seminary in the winter of 1863-64, Taggart laid aside his books and organized a company of infantry. The unit was assigned as Company I, of the 116th Pennsylvania Volunteers, serving in the Irish Brigade, with Taggart commanding.

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St. Clair A. Mulholland, commander of the 116th Pennsylvania Infantry. 
Mass. MOLLUS Collection

The regiment's commander, Col. St. Clair A. Mulholland, had only the most reverent and glowing praise of Taggart, and his service in the 116th, evidenced in his remarks in the unit's regimental history. Said Mulholland, speaking of Taggart's devotion to his men's spiritual welfare: "Captain Samuel Taggart would hold a meeting for prayer where the larger number of the men would gather in reverence and devotion," of his courage: "Captains Nowlen, Megraw and Taggart were everywhere on the line, keeping the men together and showing the greatest valor," and of his patriotism, admonishing one fearful straggler after a battle: "If you had been killed you would have lived in the hearts of your countrymen."

On August 25, 1864, at Ream's Station, Virginia, Captain Samuel Taggart was slain in battle. Learning that the regiment's acting commander, Capt. Garrett Nowlen, had just fallen, Taggart, now in command, calmly strode to the spot where Nowlen had been shot. His men shouted "Hurry, Captain; they may kill you, too." As he reached the heavily exposed position, he too, was cut down, shot through the body.

His men carried him to the rear and laid him beside Nowlen. He would only live a few more minutes, "the smile never leaving his face for a moment, and his pure spirit ascended to heaven, bright with the light of battle and radiant with the light of a stainless life."—

Unaware of any of this, Carl Funk, a young singer-songwriter from Seattle, found himself on a vacation in Europe in the summer of 1980. One evening, on an all-night ferry from France to Ireland, Carl fell in with Irish folk musicians in the ship's pub. During this session, he sat back, listened and absorbed the songs of Ireland, rich with its history, hopes and struggles.

Inspired by the experience, Carl felt compelled to compose an Irish song of his own, expressing his vision of Ireland's tragedies, and Irish hopes. The resulting song became "Free And Green," which he presented to me in basic form upon his return. Originally, the song's protagonist was "Captain Farrell," the same name from the old Irish folk-song "Whiskey In The Jar," which Carl had learned from the above-mentioned musicians.

I thought the song was brilliant, but thought that we ought to find a different, previously unused name for the captain. Days later I received the phone call, Carl had just seen the name "Taggart" on the side of a moving company's van, and wondered if the name was Irish, and if I thought it might work. I looked into it -- the name was indeed an Irish one, and worked beautifully.

Carl had just seen the name "Taggart" on the side of a moving company's van, and wondered if the name was Irish

Armed with Carl's lyric, basic chords and melody, my work began. With minor work to the vocal melody, the composing of the instrumental sections, and the arranging of the song structure and harmonies, I soon had a complete arrangement, and we a finished song.

The shock of learning of the coincidences surrounding this song and the real Captain Taggart, is something from which we have never fully recovered. First, that the uncommon, almost randomly chosen name turned out to have been a real person of the same name and rank, and in the Irish Brigade. Second, that he was as beloved by his men in real life as his fictional counterpart, and died in the same manner as described in the song. Last, that eight years later I would unknowingly join the reenactment company portraying Taggart's men, and finally learn of these bizarre coincidences.

"Free And Green" has been an anthem of sorts for the men of the 116th for more than ten years now, provoking an emotional response from the beginning. Initially, I debated using it on my album, "The Irish Volunteer," as my purpose was to present a collection of only period songs of the Irish in the Civil War. I soon concluded that there seemed some unearthly forces at work with the song, compelling us to tell the world of Samuel Taggart's story, and these were reason enough to justify putting it on the album. Besides, I don't think my boys would have ever forgiven me if I hadn't.

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Dave Kincaid, center, performing with Greg Singer, left, and Frank Giordano, right, at the American Irish Historical Society in September.

On Saturday, Jan. 16th, I will perform "Free And Green," along with the other songs from my album, at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral for the commemoration of the January 1863 Requiem Mass for the Irish Brigade. With me will be two of the fellows who played on the album, Jerry O'Sullivan on Uilleann Pipes and Whistle, John Whelan on the Button Accordion, along with Frank Giordano on Guitar and Backing Vocals, and Greg Singer on the Fiddle. (EDITOR'S NOTE: The estimable "Bard of Armagh," Tommy Makem, himself, will be headlining the 7 p.m. concert at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral. Follow this link for more information on the event and how to order concert tickets].

Perhaps the words of one of Samuel Taggart's intimate friends and classmates can best describe the spirit of the event: "No costlier sacrifice was ever laid on the altar of the country than when that precious life went out on the battlefield of Virginia." Captain Taggart is buried in Pittsburgh's beautiful Allegheny Cemetery, where lie many Civil War veterans, including General Alexander Hays, and the renowned 19th century songwriter Stephen Foster. In Col. Mulholland's words, "the ground where he rests is a sacred spot."

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The grave of Capt. Samuel Taggart, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pa.

kincai2.jpg - 4.65 KEDITOR'S NOTE: Author David Kincaid, pictured right at Gettysburg, has been the lead singer and guitarist with the rock group, The Brandos, for quite some time. David, an Irish Brigade Association member and Manhattan resident, is a keen student of the Irish experience during the Civil War, and re-enacts with Co. I, 116th Pennsylvania Volunteers. His album, "The Irish Volunteer: Songs of the Irish Union Soldier, 1861-1865," can be found in better music and book stores throughout the United States and Ireland, orordered online.

Some related sites:

Copyright © 2012 GAR Media LLC. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed without prior permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to permissions@garmedia.com.

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Tags: American, Civil, Karma, Music, War

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