Songs of Civil War to come alive at Fillmore County History Center
Tuesday, April 09, 2013 6:34 AM
Bob Welch's Civil War tune began in a vegetable garden, and he strums the North and the South.
Bob Welch will perform "Songs of the Civil War" at the Fillmore County History Center on Saturday, April 27.
"My interest in the Civil War began in a vegetable garden in Missouri many years ago. Every spring, we planted a vegetable garden between the house and barn," said the Dubuque resident and Civil War era historian, coming to perform his "Songs of the Civil War" program at the Fillmore County History Center on Saturday, April 27. "That spring, I was using a hand plow when I unearthed a tin type photo of a Civil War soldier. The tin type cleaned up very well, considering that it had been in the ground for so long. I could clearly see a soldier staring into the camera, holding his musket up high, under his chin. I also found coins dated early 1860s. My curiosity was aroused, and I began to read all I could about the War Between the States. The pictures on my bedroom wall went from Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays to General Robert E. Lee and General U.S. Grant overnight."
Welch's fascination with the Civil War, or the War Between the States, evolved into his performance of songs of the Civil War era, with Welch accompanying himself on guitar and banjo, combining storytelling with his music, "bringing history to musical life." Welch and his original song, "The Ballad of Jennie Wade," were honored in the Song of the Year songwriting competition and featured in the national magazine, "The Gettysburg Companion." He's been singing and playing for about nine years in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa because "they played significant roles during the Civil War, and there are several reenactment events held in these states each year, and libraries, schools and historical societies have a big interest in that history."
He has performed at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill., The American Civil War Museum in Gettysburg, Pa., at Sailors Creek Battlefield in Virginia, at the Dubuque Arts Council as an artist in residence in 2009 and 2011, at the Civil War Days in Pipestone, Minn., and at Historic Fort Snelling in St. Paul, and the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison, among numerous other places.
Welch's past audiences would gladly invite him for a return visit, as Kurt Ullrich of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald wrote, "Welch knows there is no immortality for him, but he presses on, doing his part to keep names like Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, Stephen Foster, Johnny Clem and Julia Ward Howe alive for as long as he can. The characters in his stories and songs live on, gentle ghosts who continue to show up, most often in books, but sometimes in our schools, in the guise of a guy who wears both the blue and the gray."
Welch has "always enjoyed performing in one way or another," having first played music in front of audiences when he was 12 years old. He also was a disc jockey working for radio stations in Missouri, Texas, Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. Now, as a Civil War historian and performer, he was sponsored by the Dubuque Arts Council to bring his program to Dubuque area schools, sharing songs that "draw the students in, and the learning part sneaks up on them."
"The 'Songs of the Civil War' program is designed to entertain and educate at the same time. For me, it is the ideal blend of performing and informing. Kids are actually having fun and learning at the same time - they're interested in history if it's presented in a fun way that captures their imaginations. For example, the story of the 9-year-old drummer boy, Johnny Clem, is a story they can identify with more than dates, and boring numbers." He noted that "performing requires material, such as songs, stories and interesting facts, so I do a lot of reading and research for the programs, and that research has helped me better understand how people in the North and South felt about the war, about their loyalties, politics, customs, joys, sorrows and losses."
He related, "I think the people who made the history actually inspire people. Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis both thought they were doing what was right. Men and women, of both the North and South, made huge contributions and sacrifices for what they felt was right. Their stories are inspiring. It is hard for us to imagine today for example, the loyalty and patriotic feelings people in the South had for their home state. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and many other Confederate soldiers were members of the U.S. Army before the war. But when their home state seceded from the Union, many of them made the decision to follow their home state."
Ken Allers Jr., author of "The Fog of Gettysburg" and co-author of "The History Buff's Guide to Gettysburg" reviewed Welch's performances, saying, "With these songs one can feel the 'spirit of the Civil War' and an amazing connection Bob Welch has with the Civil War. If reincarnation is a fact, then Welch experienced all of the war, for his songs are filled with a reality of the times."
Welch explained, "I want my audiences to know that I enjoy and feel what I do. The stories and the songs are heart felt. I feel we can learn from history. We can learn from the victories and the defeats, the rights and the wrongs."
Fillmore County History Center director Debra Richardson is excited to welcome Welch. "Families in particular will want to be here. It's a very interesting program for kids. Our last Civil War program was held in November, and we had quite a few kids here, and I think this one will also be very interesting for them."
The president of the center's events committee, June Hanson, is helping to host an appreciation coffee afterwards, "and we promise some very good refreshments to round out our program with an excellent performer," said Richardson.
Welch will bring "Songs of the Civil War" to the Fillmore County History Center on Saturday, April 27, at 1 p.m. Admission is free, due to sponsorship by F & M Community Bank of Preston. The Fillmore County History Center is located at 202 County Road 8 and Highway 52 in Fountain. For more information, call (507) 268-4449.