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September 20 , 2007

The Breitmann Ballads


The ballad, "Breitmann's Going to Church," is based on a real occurrence. A certain colonel, with his men, did really, during the war, go to a church in or near Nashville, and, as the saying is, "kicked up the devil, and broke things," to such an extent, that a serious reprimand from the colonel's superior officer was the result. The fact is guaranteed by Mr. Leland, who heard the offender complain of the "cruel and heartless stretch of military authority." As regards the firing into the guerilla ball-room, it took place near Murfreesboro', on the night of Feb. 10 or 11, 1865; and on the next day, Mr. Leland was at a house where one of the wounded lay. On the same night a Federal picket was shot dead near Lavergne; and the next night a detachment of cavalry was sent off from General Van Cleve's quarters, the officer in command coming in while the author was talking with the general, for final orders. They rode twenty miles that night, attacked a body of guerillas, captured a number, and brought back prisoners early next day. The same day Mr. Leland, with a small cavalry escort, and a few friends, went out into the country, during which ride one or two curious incidents occurred, illustrating the extraordinary fidelity of the blacks to Federal soldiers. The explanation of the poem entitled, "The First Edition of Breitmann," is as follows: - It was not long after the war that a friend of the writer's to whom "the Breitmann Ballads" had been sent in MSS., and who had frequently urged the former to have them published, resolved to secure, at least, a small private edition, though at his own expense. Unfortunately the printers quarrelled about the MSS., and, as the writer understood, the entire concern broke up in a row in consequence. And, in fact, when we reflect on the amount of fierce attack and recrimination we reflect this unpretending and peaceful little volume elicited after the appearance of the fifth English edition, and the injury which it sustained from garbled and falsified editions, in not less than three unauthorised reprints, it would really seem as if this first edition, which "died a borning," had been typical of the stormy path to which the work was predestined.
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