Sgt. Robert E. Mingus
One of my fondest memories was a Saturday five years ago when my beloved Dad, a veteran of WWII then in his late 80s), and I attended the annual Civil War relics and collectibles show in Mansfield, Ohio (a huge event that all Civil War buffs should attend at least once in their lifetimes). As Dad and I wandered around this sprawling show, we both paused for awhile to listen to a lively minstrel string band, dressed in Confederate reenactor uniforms. My Dad loved them and commented how authentic they sounded. He grew up in the southeastern Ohio Appalachian hill country during the Roaring ’20s and was no stranger to good music. The group playing in Mansfield was the 2nd South Carolina String Band, and they were really entertaining.
My Dad passed away in May 2005 while I was on a business trip to Finland, and I struggled through a year and a half of depression, personal pain, and heartache. Last summer, as my sons and my daughter-in-law attended the annual Gettysburg reenactment, we heard the lively strains of “Camptown Races” coming from one of the sutler’s tents. It turned out to be the very same band that my Dad and I had enjoyed on our final Civil War outing together. So many memories rushed back, and, frankly, it was a healing moment. I bought one of their CDs, Hard Road, and became hooked. For Christmas, my wonderful wife and best friend Debi gave me another of their CDs, this one a collection of camp songs entitled In High Cotton. During a book signing last month at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg (I sold out of my book that day!), I picked up another of the 2nd SC String Band’s outstanding CDs, this one being Southern Soldier, a nice blend of camp songs and martial tunes. It includes one of the very best renditions of “Dixie” that I have ever heard.
The members of the 2nd South Carolina String Band first met as infantry reenactors and discovered they had a common love for period music. They quickly became a favorite at reenactments and Civil War events, and now have an international following. Their website is http://www.civilwarband.com/.
Their music is colorful, wonderfully rich in tone and sound, and the style is very much in line with the period. They have received considerable critical praise, as well as being recognized as one of the best minstrel bands in existance. They provided music for several of Ken Burns’ PBS documentaries and can be seen in Ron Maxwell’s movie, Gods and Generals. The jackets for each CD contain historical commentary on each song – who composed it, a little about its introduction into American culture, and some tidbits of interest.
Have you heard them? If not, pick up one of their CDs and listen a few times. The music will grow on you each time you play it. Be warned that this is NOT POLITICALLY CORRECT for those of you who are sensitive to these kinds of things. They use the original words for the songs, including some racially sensitive material, as they are trying to be as close to an original South Carolina regimental string band as possible.