Two Soldiers

Lyrics: Traditional
Music: Traditional

A song from the American Civil War played by Jerry Garcia with David Grisman.

He was just a blue-eyed Boston boy
His voice was low with pain
I'll do your bidding comrade mine
If I ride back again
But if you ride back and I am left
You do as much for me
Mother, you know, must hear the news
So write to her tenderly

She's waiting at home like a patient saint
Her fond face pale with woe
Her heart will be broken when I am gone
I'll see her soon I know
Just then the order came to charge
For an instant hand touched hand
They said "aye" and away they rode
That brave and devoted band

Straight was the track to the top of the hill
The rebels they shot and shelled
Ploughed furoughs of death through the toiling ranks
And guarded them as they fell
There soon came a horrible dying yell
From heights they could not gain
And those that doom and death had spared
Rode slowly down again

But among the dead that were left on the hill
Was the boy with the curly hair
The tall dark man that rode by his side
Lay dead beside him there
There's no one to write to the blue-eyed girl
The words her lover had said
Mom, you know, awaits the news
She'll only know he's dead
Jerry Garcia Recordings
     Date Album Recorded By
     21 Oct 1987 Ragged But Right Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band
     31 Oct 1987 Pure Jerry 2: Lunt-Fontanne Jerry Garcia Band
     Spring 1991 Garcia/Grisman Garcia/Grisman (note 1)

(1) alternate take also available as a download.
Origins
"Two Soldiers" is a traditional song from the American Civil War, collected in Kentucky and Arkansas. It seems likely that Jerry Garcia learned it from a 1964 Mike Seeger recording (it was also recorded in 1973 by Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerard--Mike Seeger's wife). Jerry Garcia in turn taught it to Bob Dylan (who recoreded it on "World Gone Wrong" in 1991).

The song derives from a longer ballad, often titled "The Last Fierce Charge" (though that is normally set to a different tune). The lyrics fill in the background to the truncated version of the story that Jerry Garcia sang:
'Twas just before the last fierce charge
Two soldiers drew their rein
With a touch of hands, and parting words
That they might not meet again

One had mild blue eyes and curly hair
Just nineteen years, you know
With rosy cheeks and childish brow
He was only a boy, you know

The other was tall, dark, daring, and proud
Whose faith in this world was dim
He only trusted most in them
Who were all the world to him

They'd rode together for many a day
And marched for many a mile
But ne'er until now had they met a foe
With a peaceful common smile

They looked in each other's eyes
In the face of an awful doom
And the tall dark man was the first to speak
Saying, "Charlie, my time has come"

"We'll ride together into the fight
But you'll ride back alone
Then promise a little more trouble to take
When I am dead and gone"

"I have a face upon my breast
I'll wear it into the fight
With deep blue eyes and goiden hair
A face like morning light"

"Like morning light 'twas love to me
To brighten my lonely life
And little I've cared for the flowers of this world
Since she promised to be my wife"

"Write to her, Charlie, when I'm gone
Send back this fair young face
Write and tell her how I died
And where is my resting place"

"Tell her I will meet her on the border line
Of earth and heaven between
I know she'll meet me over there
And it won't be long, I ween"

There were tears in the eyes of the blue-eyed boy
His voice was filled with pain
"I'll do my comrade's parting wish
If I ride home again"

"But if you ride back and I am left
Will you do as much for me?
For I have a mother to hear the news
Write to her tenderly"

"One after another she has lost
She has buried all her husband's sons
And I was the last to my country's call
But she cheeredly sent me on"

"She is waiting at home like a praying saint
Her fair face filled with woe
'Twill break her heart when she hears I'm dead
I'll meet her soon, I know"

Just then there came an order to charge
An instant hands touched hands
Eyes answered eyes, and away they dashed
That bold devoted band

They rode together to the brow of the hill
Where the soldiers were stationed well
Past clouds and drifts of burning shots
That cheered them as they fell

But they had to turn from the awful fight
That fight they could not gain
And all those whom death had spared
Rode quietly back again

But among those dying upon the field
Lay the boy with the curly hair
And the tall, dark man that rode by his side
Lay dying by him there

There is no one to write to that blue-eyed girl
Those words her lover said
And the mother that's waiting at home for her son
Will learn that he is dead

She ne'er will know his last fond words
To cheer her in her pain
Until she crosses the river of death
And stands by his side again
From Ballads and Songs, Belden (with minor corrections). Collected by Ruth Sedwick in 1912 with the notation that it was "learned twenty-seven years ago in the Taney County hills."

Futher Information
For more information on recordings see Matt Schofield's Grateful Dead Family Discography
For sheet music, see:
          Jerry Garcia Songbook (vocal line and chords)

 


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