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Worley uses music to save Civil War sites

Singer’s family farm bordered Shiloh battlefield
/ Source: The Associated Press

From the historic Carter House, the epicenter of a Civil War battle in which 9,000 soldiers were killed or wounded, the drone of traffic nearly drowns out the songbirds — and singer Darryl Worley.

Worley is talking about the value of saving Civil War sites like this one, a pleasant patch of green amid neighborhoods, auto repair shops and a strip shopping center where the five-hour Battle of Franklin was fought Nov. 30, 1864.

“Those events changed and reshaped the nation forever,” says the 39-year-old Worley, a tall, muscular guy with a 5 o’clock shadow best known for his pro-war anthem, “Have You Forgotten?”

Worley, who releases a new album Tuesday, is lending his name and his music to the Civil War Preservation Trust, a Washington-based group that works to protect endangered battle grounds. The fall edition of the organization’s magazine shows him on the cover next to a row of cannons.

Living historyHis enthusiasm for Civil War history is rooted in his family’s farm in the rich bottom land along the Tennessee River, a shot away from where the Battle of Shiloh was waged April 6-7, 1862.

As a boy, he heard stories of how the Federals took over the property, kicking out the bottom of the corn crib and letting their horses feed on the grain and forcing his great-great-grandparents to grind meal and cook for them.

“Everybody saw things that they would never forget, and they passed it down,” says Worley, who grew up in the area and still lives there. “I think what it must have been like to sit that close and hear the cannons and wonder which family members were gong to come back home and which ones weren’t.”

Shiloh was an important victory for the Union forces, leaving them poised to capture the Confederate railway at Corinth, Miss. It also was one of the bloodiest, with nearly 24,000 killed, wounded or missing.

“That battlefield affected my life from childhood until I was a teenager and then as a young adult, and each stage is different,” he says. “Each time when I grew a little bit I learned a little more about what was going on and what had happened there. By the time I became an adult, I was passionate just about the way it feels inside of me when I’m there.”

So passionate that he co-wrote the song “Shiloh” for his last album. The lyrics recount a stream of images during a visit to the battlefield, with the chorus, “Brother fightin’ brother / Father fightin’ son / By the time the sun was settin’ / Looked like the South had won / Now my mouth’s as dry as cotton / And my heart is beatin’ fast / Standin’ in the presence of the past.”

Extension of patriotismUnlike the fragmented battlefield in Franklin, which the Civil War Preservation Trust considers among the nation’s most endangered, the site of the Battle of Shiloh is a 4,000-acre national military park.

The park is protected, but the Trust wants to secure its boundaries by preserving the surrounding farm land, either by purchasing it outright or through a conservation easement in which the owner agrees to keep the land free of development.

“Part of our mission is to go out and talk to landowners who own historic land and try to convince them to sell to us, but there’s a big difference between us doing it and Darryl Worley doing it,” says Jim Campi, a spokesman for the Trust. “He is extremely well-known in that area of the country and brings excitement to our efforts there, as well as credibility.”

Worley, who also is helping to raise money and awareness for the Trust, views the work as an extension of his patriotism. He’s performed for U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Kuwait and been a vocal supporter of President Bush and the war in Iraq. He had the biggest hit of his career last year with “Have You Forgotten?” — a song that some criticized as an overzealous call to arms.

“I think part of my patriotic nature and support I show for the troops is probably because I grew up next to that battle site,” Worley says. “But it’s also just because I grew up around a lot of military family members.”

With his new, self-titled album, he wants to return the focus to his music rather than his politics. The first single, “Awful Beautiful Life,” celebrates the “crazy, tragic, sometimes almost magic” events of life. There are love songs and drinking songs and reflective songs and even a song about the scourge of crystal methamphetamine in rural America.

“People have a tendency to pigeonhole you,” he says. “This is not necessarily a patriotic album. This is a country music album.”