The Short Answer: Darryl Worley

Darryl Worley

Credit: Tony Baker

Born in Memphis and raised in Hardin County, Tenn., near Shiloh National Military Park, the 40-year-old country music star has made four albums and scored two number-one hit singles. Still a Hardin County resident, he now lives in the town of Savannah and works closely with the Civil War Preservation Trust, donating time and money to protect endangered battlefields around the country.

What spawned your interest in the battlefields?

The fact that I grew up right across the Tennessee River from where the Battle of Shiloh was fought probably has more to do with that than anything else. I remember that park from the age when I couldn't even read the monuments. As a child, it was a great place to go to ride bicycles and hang out with buddies. As I grew older, it came to mean different things. I remember walking through the park in later years and almost feeling within myself what had happened there in those two days. There were some 24,000 people who died or were missing. That's a lot of people, especially in that time. Even today, when they commemorate the battle's anniversary, they still fire the cannons at Shiloh. You can sit on my back porch and feel the ground rumble. It's that close to home.

What threats do Civil War battlefields face today?

You've got people who buy up these properties to subdivide for houses, or to build an apartment complex or a strip mall. Just like everything else in the world that threatens our precious resources or history, it's all about money. Use your imagination. It's anything that someone could make money off of, especially if the property is in an ideal location.

Why are these places worth preserving?

We're at a time in this world when things like that are really going fast, so it's important for someone to take notice and say, "Hey, wake up, you're tearing up something you can't replace." They're such a huge part of our history. The Civil War has defined us. You have to almost not care at all about our heritage to want to destroy that.

Give an example of a battlefield that has been lost.

They're all over. The Battle of Nashville site is a good example. [Developers] bought much of the property and subdivided it into lots and sold it off to people, and now it's a residential area with big beautiful homes.

How well is the country protecting its battlefields in general?

It's amazing, the improvement now versus 10 or 15 years ago. It's just a different mentality. The folks at the Civil War Preservation Trust are good people, and they do what they do for all the right reasons. A lot of the effort is about education, and then you get into situations where there are problems with zoning and other issues. But that's the cool thing about the trust: They have different guys and gals who handle all the problems that arise.

Can you think of any sites in imminent danger?

There's a fort—a building in Knoxville where some of the war's bloodiest fighting occurred—that is about to be bulldozed to develop the property into condominiums.

How should we go about saving these sites?

You have to educate people. You have to find the trouble spots and go there. A lot of times these battlefields come under threat because even the local government doesn't realize that they're there. It happens all the time. These places are bought and sold before anyone ever knows what happened. Sometimes you find that if you make the community aware of what is about to happen, they'll take over. It happened in Franklin, Tenn. Once the people in that area found out developers were getting ready to destroy what was left of their battlefield, they formed a group and said, "We'll come up with half the money to buy it."

What happened next?

Part of the battlefield is a golf course. Obviously, that was purchased years ago and turned into a business of sorts and now that's what they are about to take back. They'll try to recreate some of the original scenes and the battlefields.

You mean, restore the Civil War landscape?

Yeah, fill in the holes. [Laughter]

How did growing up along the Tennessee River near Shiloh shape you artistically?

The way [the involvement with the Civil War Preservation Trust] all came about was, some of the guys from the trust were looking for people to represent them, and they had heard a song called "Shiloh" that was on my Have You Forgotten? CD. The theme of the song is standing in the presence of the past. It's someone's first visit to the park. They're so overwhelmed by the spirit that remains there that they just close their eyes and experience the battle. It's something really beautiful to write about because there was so much passion on both sides. It got so intense that brothers fought brothers and fathers fought sons. Every so often one of those Civil War songs will flow out of me. I don't have any choice, you know.