Appalachia, Army of Tennessee, Battle of Gettysburg, Ben France, Ben Haley, Brandon Kirk, Cabell County, civil war, Confederate Army, Dave Bing, Ed Haley, fiddler, genealogy, Guyandotte Valley, Henry France Cemetery, history, John D. Rockefeller, John Hartford, Long Branch, Milt Haley, music, Old Soldier Fiddlers, Shenandoah Valley, Stonewall Jackson, Wayne County, West Virginia, writing
Around that same time, Brandon located a picture of Ben France in a newsletter called High Notes: Mountain Music from West Virginia (1996). France was the most famous fiddler in the Guyandotte Valley during the 1850s. He may have been acquainted with Ed’s grandfather, Ben Haley, or even influenced Milt or Ed.
“These are the ‘Old Soldier Fiddlers’ — two Union, two Confederate — who toured the country after the Civil War,” the caption read. “The second fiddler from the left is Ben France of Wayne County, a Confederate courier who was second on the scene after Stonewall Jackson was fatally wounded. France was the great-great-great-great-great-uncle of our own Bing Brothers. Thanks to Dave Bing for the use of the photograph.”
A little later, I called Dave Bing, a West Virginia fiddler pretty well known among the traditional festival circuit, to ask him about the picture.
“Uncle Ben was born in what is now Wayne County, West Virginia, in the 1840s,” he said. “He joined the Confederate Army at the age of seventeen and served as a carrier in the Shenandoah Valley campaign. He was in the area on a mission the night Stonewall Jackson was shot and was said to be the second man to come to his aid. During the Battle of Gettysburg, he was wounded and transferred to the Army of Tennessee where he served until the end of the war. Uncle Ben was known as a fine horseman.”
France became somewhat of a professional musician after the war.
“After the war, Uncle Ben and three other war veterans (all fiddlers) toured the country playing resorts and fine hotels,” Bing said. “The group was known as the ‘Blue and the Gray.’ Uncle Ben once played by invitation for John D. Rockefeller, Sr. at his hotel. He was an outstanding banjo player but was more famous for his fiddling. He was well-dressed and always had his fiddle — which he called ‘Sally.’ He never married but was the father of a daughter. He died in 1917. He was buried in Henry France Cemetery located off of Long Branch in Cabell County.”