Lily: A Story from a Yankee Diary & a song of Jed Marum

In my collection of historical short fiction, Stories of the Confederate South, I have a story that was inspired by a song of Jed Marum and printed in Ceili magazine. The song is entitled, “Mama’s Lily.” I still remember the first time I heard Jed sing that song, and ever since that Friday afternoon, this song has been a favorite of mine. The lily is a symbolic flower, a flower of beauty, hope, and a reminder of death. This little story honors that little Southern girl who lost her life because the forces opposing the South had no scruples about warring on civilians. On Jed’s advice, I purchased and read McCarter’s memoir. I love this Irishman, and I love studying the Irish Brigade that he was a part of. I hope I can someday reenact as part of their unit. About McCarter, I think there are more stories from that memoir that I should write.

Jed says this about “Mama’s Lily: “I wrote this song a few years ago after reading the diary of an Irish immigrant and Union soldier named, William McCarter. His words were published in a book called, “My Life in the Irish Brigade.” He told one story that stunned me so – that I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks. It’s the true story of a little girl accidentally killed in the shelling of Charlestown, WV. McCarter came across the scene shortly after the incident had taken place and was absolutely crushed, heartsick by it. He told the story with such care – that I knew I had to retell it. I had to find a way to pass the story on … I wrote the song using as much of McCarter’s own word and thought as I could. I hope that although it is a tragically sad story – it is a beautiful song, and pays homage to this little girl’s memory.

While it is told from the point-of-view of a Yankee soldier, and that soldier lists for us his motivations for fighting, this song tells just as much a Confederate story. A story I hope will one day be heard in wider circles then my singing will take it. I hope this song is sung, and this story retold at every reenactor campfire, every historical gathering and every music venue in the country.

“Mama’s Lily”
© Jed Marum 2002

She was just her Mama’s Lily
A pretty child, curious and bold
As I stood there with Michael O’Reilly
She might have been seven years old
She’d been placed high atop the piano
And arranged there with love and with care
By an African servant, her nanny
Cutting locks of the little girl’s hair
There were tears soaked locks of here hair.

And it’s a hard cold edge to the wind tonight
It’s a bitter wind, cuts to the bone
& cruel is fate when its power and its might
To both guilty and innocent are shown Em
To both guilty and innocent shown

Charlestown was easily taken
Federal batteries had helped clear the way
When we went down to see,
Michael Reilly and me
The Rebel force had melted away
She’s been standing alone in the window
Watching soldiers retreat south and west
There was nothing to do,
When a cannonball flew
Through the window,
And on through her chest
Tore her arm and her heart
From her breast

Now I know we must fight for the union
But what a terrible price must be paid
And to make this land free,
Michael Reilly and me
Well we joined with the Irish Brigade
Now I look through my tears on this Lily
Shattered before she could bloom …
Still through death on her face
Shine her beauty and grace
Though she died from a terrible wound
And no child should ever die from such a wound.