In 2008, John Walsh and his family made a Father's Day weekend visit to Gettysburg, Pa., to visit the historic Civil War battlefield.
The singer-songwriter, a longtime history buff, was moved by the enormity of the area and what had happened there.
And he got the germ of an idea to create a musical project about the largest battle of the Civil War, and the one that claimed the most casualties.
"We just happened to wind down what turned out to be Cashtown Road," recalled Walsh, 50. "We stopped at a rest area and I looked across the road, where there was a statue of John Buford. So I walk over and I'm looking at the placards and the map and I realize, 'Holy cow, this is where the first shot was fired.'
"It was an awe-inspiring moment for me. I just realized how much humanity was barreling down there - and a lot of them didn't walk back out. There was a lot of gravity looking down that road. And I said, 'I need to write something about this.' "
It took five years to bring to fruition, but Walsh's timing is impeccable.
His 12-track song cycle, "The Fields of Gettysburg," a CD featuring narrative and original songs about the historic battle, has been released just in time for the 150th anniversary of the battle at Gettysburg. It's also West Virginia's sesquicentennial.
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During his nine years in the U.S. Air Force, after which he retired as a captain, Walsh became interested in military history.
"Before I got into the service, I didn't pay much attention to history," he said. "But I was forced into reading about it, and then I began to latch on to the stuff I was reading, and I really became interested in the Civil War Era. We had to do a research paper - this is probably 1991 or '92, and we had to pick what our instructor called a war history figure. And I picked Ulysses S. Grant and found out I had all kinds of preconceived notions that were false.
"I call him my gateway character. And then my interest just migrated toward the Gettysburg story. It's an epic battle. There's probably 1,000 different stories about it."
In his reading, Walsh became especially interested with some of the characters both major and minor in the battle. Among them were Brigadier General John Buford, who led the Union Army to Gettysburg, settling in to await much-needed reinforcement, and Lt. General James Longstreet, a Confederate leader whom some blame for the Confederate's loss at Gettysburg.
"Both of them are interesting and heroic, even though they were on either side of the line," Walsh said.
That Father's Day in 2008, Walsh got the idea to tell stories of his favorite key characters.
"I'm a songwriter, not a writer-writer, so that was my natural media to consider how to express myself," he said. "I thought about all these stories and was there some way to put them together, either in one song or to string some things together.
"Within that year, I started taking some notes. And I realized there might be a whole song cycle there."
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A native of New York, Walsh grew up in Marietta, Ohio, and graduated from West Virginia's Salem College.
From boyhood, he wrote songs and played guitar, emulating the great singers of the 1960s and '70s. He has performed all over the country and has released seven albums.
When he returned to the area in 1996, Walsh became active in restoring the Colony Theatre and the start of Adelphia Music Hall in Marietta. He serves on the board of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.
Those activities connected him to many active players in the region's music scene, something that helped immensely as his project took shape.
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Walsh didn't have the luxury of devoting himself full time to his project. He's a husband and a father of two. He works as an executive for Alliance Industries in Marietta, 10 miles from his home in Vienna.
Through 2009, Walsh pieced together the framework of his project, which would somehow cover the Battle of Gettysburg from July 1-3, 1863.
He then sought characters that would help tell his story - Buford and Longstreet, certainly, and the moral dilemmas each faced. But Walsh also wanted to humanize his project even more by telling the story of young soldiers.