This song was written by Rosanne Cash
along with her husband John Leventhal and her ex-husband Rodney Crowell, who was married to Rosanne from 1979 to 1992. It was written for Emmylou Harris.
Rosanne explained to Radio.com
how she ended up recording it for her The River & the Thread
album. "I loved the song so much, and I asked if I could have it, and they said no, they had written it for Emmylou," she said. "Then Emmylou decided not to record it. A few months went by, and I said to John, 'Do you think Rodney would be offended if I asked him to rewrite the lyrics with me?' And at first he said, 'Oh I don't think that's appropriate.' And finally I said, 'I'm just going to ask him.'"
"And at the same time, my son, who was 13, was doing a Civil War project in 8th grade," she added. "And I said to him, 'You know you have Cash ancestors on both sides of the Civil War. there are Confederate Cashes and Union Cash soldiers.' I went on the Civil War database to show him, and this picture came up of William Cash. It was chilling."
"So I became obsessed with it," Rosanne continued. "I looked up in our genealogy, women who would have been 20 or 21 at the start of the Civil War, and I found a Mary Ann Cash. So I put them together. I called Rodney and said, 'Would you be willing to do this?' And he said 'Sure, I'll write a Civil War ballad with you.' Just crazy. So he came over, next time he was in New York, and we started writing it."