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A Different Look at the Civil War

In July 2024 NCHT will be sharing a look at the Civil War on its most personal level with its historical musical, “Bushwhackers.”


The Civil War is also sometimes known as the War of Brother Against Brother. Relatives often found themselves on different sides of the battlefields, from humble farms to the highest levels of the land – Abraham Lincoln’s in-laws, for instance, were Kentuckians who favored the southern cause.


But North Carolina’s mountains carried some of the most brutal evidence of “brother against brother” through its vicious guerilla warfare between Unionists and Confederates. You may not know it, but North Carolina – especially in the west – had many supporters of the old Union during the war. Slaves were far less common there, and many of the poor farmers who scratched a living in their mountain farms saw the conflict as a rich man’s war. They resented the fact that a man with money could buy his way out of a draft, and the growing conscription acts that forced younger and older men to go off to fight, leaving their children and womenfolk to try to keep the farms alone while risking the depredations of ruffians and roving bands of soldiers and guerillas from both sides.


While usually not lovers of the black race, many of them—descendants of indentured servants and so they opposed any kind of forced servitude. Others, who had no moral issues with slavery, still resented it as taking the livelihood of whites who otherwise might be employed on the bountiful plantations in the east.


While the Confederate government and armies scoured the mountains for men to fight, many Union-leaning men fled for Michigan or signed up to fight with Union armies in Tennessee. Still others went into hiding in the Carolina mountains, fighting Confederate-leaning men in guerilla wars.


On both sides, bushwhackers arose, hanging and murdering men of the opposite persuasion and robbing and even burning the farms and homes of their adversaries.


Probably the best known of the “bushwhackers” was Union-loving Keith Blalock and his feisty bride, Malinda who fought at his side – the “Bonnie and Clyde” of North Carolina.


Keith was known for a quick temper and his hard-knuckle boxing skills, but still, newly wed to his bride, he wanted nothing to do with the war. To protect Malinda, he signed on with a North Carolina regiment, fully planning to cross the battlefield and join the Union side.


On the day he signed, Malinda surprised him by signing up as his brother. When she was wounded and her sex found out, the two of them returned home and, pressured again to sign up, he took to guerilla fighting and eventually signed on to the Union army for the duration of the war.


Their story is one of intrigue and struggles against their enemies, including Keith’s own uncles who worked to hunt him down – and of bloody revenge.


“Bushwhackers,” which I wrote in partnership with James Merritt (who wrote the music and the score, and cowrote lyrics with me) is the result of months of research. Unlike our previous musicals, “Honour” and “Flight,” which employed music of, and entirely in the style of their time periods, “Bushwhackers” is in a more modern musical style, but with nods to the tunes of the day.


It's going to be a great show and we’re hoping to draw some real talent to our upcoming tryouts on February 10 (10 a.m.-12 p.m.) and 11 (6 p.m.-8 p.m.) at Craven Community College’s Orringer Auditorium. Do you sing? Do you love to “walk the boards”? Then we’re looking for you! If you can’t make those dates, contact us as 252-229-4977 or by email and we’ll set up a date to meet you that you can make. Click on our Bushwhacker’s link to take a look and listen to some of the music, and to see the first scene of the script!


We hope to see you there and, if you can’t, we hope to see you at the show!

Bill Hand, President

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