Corb Lund's Horse Soldier Horse Soldier
By Jim Mundorf
A buddy of mine from Montana gave me the Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier CD back when people listened to those things. I had never heard Corb Lund before and I'll admit, it was so different than anything I'd ever heard before it took awhile for me to really fully appreciate it. Lund grew up a Cowboy on a ranch in Alberta Canada. He makes you wonder why every damn song on the radio is a love song, when there are so many other interesting things in the world to write about, like horses and cows. The song Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier is a masterpiece. He wrote it as if he was every horse soldier throughout history. Somethings I recognized but a lot of them I didn't, so I decided to try to figure it out. I can't wrap my head around how he was able to put this all into a song, and thought I should share it. I bet you'll learn something.
I'm a Hussar, I'm a Hun, I'm a wretched Englishman
Routing Bonaparte at Waterloo
This refers to the battle of Waterloo in 1815 where Napoleon Bonaparte got whipped by two armies. One was the Prussians and their light cavalry soldiers were called Hussars. The other army was an allied coalition. It was led by the Brits and the majority of soldiers were wretched Englishmen. The Hun part I’m pretty sure refers to the Kings German Legion, which was a British unit made up mostly of Germans. A slang term for German soldiers was Hun.
I'm a dragoon on a dun, I'm a Cossack on the run
I'm a horse soldier, timeless, through and through
This is Napoleon’s invasion of Russia where he did the whipping. Dragoons were cavalry units in Napoleons army. A dun, is simply a tan colored horse. A Cossack is a Russian soldier. In 1812 Napoleon’s dragoons chased the Cossacks all over Russia.
I's with Custer and the 7th in ‘76 or ‘77
Scalped at Little Big Horn by the Sioux
Here’s one I didn’t even have to look up, but I looked it up anyway to make sure I didn’t write something dumb. The 7th Cavalry was commanded by General George Armstrong Custer. The Souix war was 1876-77. In June of 1876 Custer and 267 members of the 7th were killed, scalped and mutilated by the Souix Indians near the Little Big Horn River in Montana.
And the tears and devastation of a once proud warrior nation
This I know ‘cause I was riding with them too
Native Americans were superior horsemen, proud warriors, but were outnumbered, out gunned and devastated.
And I drank mare's blood on the run when I rode with the Great Khan
On the frozen Mongol steppe while at his height
My favorite line. Gengis Khan, 1162-1227 was the founder of the Mongol Empire. Mongols traveled all over hell to fight everybody. One of the ways they were able survive while traveling was they would ride lactating mares. That way if they needed a drink and couldn’t find water, they could just milk their horse. If they got real hard up and ran out of milk they also knew of a minor vein in the horses neck, that they could slit so they could drink the blood. Pretty grisly stuff but if you’re out to conquer the world you can’t be a wuss about it. The Mongol Steppe was the northern range of his empire. At Khan's height the empire reached from the Pacific Ocean to the Black Sea and included all of China, most of Russia and the Middle East.
And I's a White Guard, I's a Red Guard, I's the Tzar's own palace horse guard
When Romanov was murdered in the night
These lines reference the Russian Civil War in 1917-22. The White Guard was an anti-communist army. The Red Guard were the Bolsheviks, also known as Commie bastards. The Tsar is Tsar Nicholas Romanov II. During the revolution he and his family were removed from power and imprisoned by the Bolsheviks. Then in the middle of the night of July 16 1918, they woke him, his wife and his five children. They marched them all into a basement room and murdered them by shooting and stabbing them with bayonets. Murderin Commie bastards.
And I knew Saladin and rode his swift Arabians
Harassing doomed crusaders on their heavy drafts
And yet I rode the Percheron against the circling Saracen
Once again against myself was cast
Saladin (1137-1193) was the Sultan of Egypt who led the Muslim army against the invading crusaders in the Middle East. He rode smaller, faster Arabian horses, while the doomed Crusaders rode heavy draft horses. Draft horses or work horses were used by the crusaders because the knight’s shining armor was extremely heavy and they needed a big horse to carry them. Percheron is a breed of draft horse that was used by the Crusaders. Saracen was what the Crusaders used to call the Muslims during the war.
Well I've worn the Mounties' crimson, if you're silent and you'll listen
You'll know that it was with them that I stood
Since Corb's Canadian he had to include the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Being a red blooded American I hate anything Royal, but they helped out Sean Connery and Elliott Ness in the Untouchables so they must be alright. Their uniforms are Crimson. The Silent part might be a reference to the movie, The Silent Code, from 1935 about a Mountie, or it might reference something completely different, who knows.
When Mayerthorpe, she cried, as her four horsemen died
Gunned down in scarlet, cold as blood
This was a surprise to find something so modern. Mayerthorpe is a town in Alberta that cried in 2005, when the Mounties were called to a farm to reposess a truck. They found a weed growing operation and stolen car parts. As they were looking around they went into a building where the dirtbag was waiting and he shot down 4 of them in cold blood. He was then wounded and killed himself.
I's the 'fustest with the mostest' when I fought for Bedford Forrest
Suffered General Wilson's Union raid
Nathan Bedford Forest was a Confederate General, a horrible racist, and the most effective Cavalry officer of the civil war. He is famously quoted as saying, "I always make it a rule to get there first with the most men." Some have said that since he was an uneducated southerner he actually said, "Git thar fustest with the most mostest."
General Wilson's Union raids, were Gen. James Wilson leading his cavalry troops through Alabama and Georgia towards the end of the Civil War. They destroyed southern factories and arsenals. Gen. Forest repeatedly tried to stop him, but he wasn't even close to having the mostest, and was repeatedly beaten back.
And mine was not to reason why, mine was but to do and die
At Crimea with the charging light brigade
The Charge of the Light Brigade is a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It describes the battle of Balaclava during the Crimean war of 1854. During the battle the Brittish light Cavalry had a miscommunication and charged a well fortified Russian artillery they were forced to retreat and suffered high casualties. The part of the poem referenced reads,
“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
On hire from Swiss or Sweden, be me Christian, be me heathen
The devil to the sabre I shall put
This ones tough. Because of the Christian reference, I have to think this is about the Swiss Guards that to this day guard the Vatican and the Pope. This started in 1506 when Pope Julius II hired Swiss Mercenaries to defend the church. Swiss Mercenaries were professional soldiers that hired out to other countries. I am stumped on the Swedes. I don't see any reference to Swedes being with the Swiss Mercenaries but who knows.
With a crack flanking maneuver, I'm an uhlan alles uber
Striking terror into regiment of foot
An Uhlan was a light cavalryman. In the beginning of WWI the English and French called the German cavalrymen Ulans. Uber alles is a German term meaning, above all else, I suppose he just switched it around to make it sound right. The regiment of foot just refers to the infantry or soldiers on foot that were always terrified of the Cavalry.
I knew my days were numbered when o'er the trenches lumbered
More modern machinations de la guerre
This all refers to the beginning of WWI, and trench warfare, which was the essentially the end of the Horse Soldier. At the beginning of the war all countries involved had mounted cavalries and tried their best to use them. They just weren't very effective. As happened throughout history, the technology was ahead of the tactics. Due to "modern machinations," by the end of the war, the horses wouldn't be used much in battle. "De la guerre" is French for, of the war.
No match for rapid fire or the steel birds of the sky
With a final rear guard action I retreat
The horses were, "no match" for automatic weapons and airplanes of WWI.
No match for barbered wire or the armored engines whine
Reluctant I retire and take my leave
Again, just referencing the new stuff. Barbed wire and armored vehicles used in WWI made it harder to use the Cavalry units. Horses were used a lot for transportation and ambulances during the war, since they could be ridden through trenches and the mud. Many were killed in combat and from disease. By the end of the war, horses were in short supply and a valuable asset to all forces.
Today I ride with special forces on those wily Afghan horses
Dostum's Northern Alliance give their thanks
This is the line that made me wonder about the rest of the song. 39 days after 9/11 the first military action against the Taliban was when a small group of Special Forces were sent to Afganistan to fight alongside the Northern Alliance to fight the Taliban. The battles were old school. Two lines of mounted soldiers charging towards each other. They also used pickup trucks with machine guns mounted in the backs, and tanks on the hills firing down into the lines. Dostum was a Northern Alliance General who is now the Vice President of Afganistan. It’s an amazing story told by Doug Stanton in the book Horse Soldiers and the movie 12 Strong which is based on the book. It's also amazing is that this song came out before the book, when very few people knew much about the events.
And no matter defeat or victory, in battle it occurs to me
That we may see a swelling in our ranks
You never know, it had been nearly a century since American Soldiers rode into major battles on horses. Who knows when it may happen again.
This last verse fades out giving you the feeling that he could go on singing about the history of the horse soldier forever. I think he maybe could.
I's with the Aussies at Beersheba took the wells so badly needed
As the song fades he comes up with the most obscure refrences. At this point I think he’s just showing off. The Battle of Beersheba was in WWI 1917. Beersheba is a city in the Israeli desert. There were water wells in the town. The men and horses and were dying of thirst when they attacked the city. The Australian Mounted Divisions charged the town, whipped the Germans and took over the wells.
And with the Polish lancers charging German tanks
I think he is referring to the Charge of Krojanty. As Germany invaded Poland on the first day of WWII Sept. 1 1939. The Polish Cavalry attacked German infantry, held them off and allowed their own infantry to escape. The day after the battle German tanks arrived and as there was still dead Pols and horses on the grounds, the Nazi Journalists created the myth and used it as propaganda to show that the Pols were so stupid they would attack their tanks with horses and lances. Maybe this is where all the Pollack jokes started.
Saw Ross' mount shot down at Washingtown the night we burned the White House down
Brittish Major General Robert Ross was the bastard that lead the Brittish Army attacking Washington D.C. in the war of 1812. His horse was shot out from under him on the way through town and they then burned the White House, Capital and some other buildings. He was later picked off by an American sharpshooter and killed in the Battle of Baltimore.
And cursed the sack of York and sons of Yanks
Also, War of 1812 American Navy captured the town of York which is now called Toronto, (who knew?) Sons of Yanks probably refers to many of the soldiers in the War of 1812 were children of Revolutionary War Yankee soldiers.
And there you have it. Pure songwriting genius. Now turn the stupid radio off, download all his tunes and go check him out live this summer.