Cold Harbor

Album: Soldiers of Fortune (1986)
Charted: 172
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Songfacts®:

  • The Civil War buff in Outlaws founding member Henry Paul took the lead in this historically accurate song about the Battle of Cold Harbor, which, Paul says, was the first battle fought with rapid-fire weapons. As a result, the loss of life was unspeakable. In his words, "It was just horrific. It was the final phases of Lee and Grant in the Eastern Theatre, and Grant was going to win the Civil War by massacring his army if that's what it took to overwhelm his foe, and it didn't matter - human life had value, but he wasn't going to sit around and evaluate what that was. He sent these people in, and it was kind of like that conflict of trench warfare versus frontal attack where the technology had far surpassed the old school business of waging war. You'd line up in a field and you'd just charge one another, but they had all these rapid-fire weapons now, and it wasn't like the battle of Hastings where you were swinging axes. They had rapid-fire rifles and accurate rifle barrels, and by the time they got to the earth works where these people were dug in, there'd be tens of thousands of people killed. So it was sort of like that first modern war, and the last of the old-style wars, and they collided in the Civil War, and that's why the loss of life was so astronomical. It was just hideous." It was one of the first examples of killing your enemy without having direct contact or having to look them in the eyes first. "You could lob a little grapeshot right into the works, and blow a hole the size of a Mack truck. 'Cold Harbor' for me was part of my infatuation with the Civil War, and kind of my romantic relationship with the South."
  • This is one of Henry Paul's favorite songs, and one he is particularly proud of. "It's a sort of documentary of the Civil War battle outside of Richmond, and it's very well written, and I'm very proud of it. 'Cold Harbor' is a great song, it's really well written. And it's interesting the way it was written. I wrote the song as an outsider looking in, and then the second verse it became first person. I set the stage, 'It wasn't far from Richmond, the second day of June, the year was 1864, the end was coming soon on a long and bitter struggle for the boys in blue and gray, and the battle of Cold Harbor was only hours away.' Then the second verse I enter into the song as myself as a singer and I go, 'Well, I woke up long before the sun cut through the morning sky, and I wondered as I lay there, was this my time to die. Somewhere in the distance the Union fires glowed, the distant bugle's reveille was playing soft and low.' And it sets this really clear picture of where it was."
  • Cold Harbor is located in central Virginia. In 1862, the Battle of Gaines' Mill was fought on the same ground during the Seven Days Battles. As a result, the 1862 battle is sometimes referred to as the First Battle of Cold Harbor, and the 1864 battle as the Second Battle of Cold Harbor.
  • The casualties of the Second Battle of Cold Harbor have been estimated at between 7,000-13,000 Federals to 1,200-2,500 Confederates. In his memoirs, Grant stated, "I have always regretted that the last assault at Cold Harbor was ever made. At Cold Harbor no advantage whatever was gained to compensate for the heavy loss we sustained." (Check out our interview with Henry Paul. For more, go to www.blackhawkmusic.us.)

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