Good Soldiers Live and Die

I can’t believe I find myself here,
Dressed in shame and drenched with tears.
I thought my courage would never run dry
That I would never leave my men to die

Is there a second chance for me?
Or is this the end? No way to win.
Can I fly with these broken wings?
Will I rise again? In spite of where I’ve been

I’ve replayed that moment so many times you see
Just doesn’t seem real, it feels like a dream
Here I sit … in ashes of “fallen grace”
My life a decorated masquerade

Is there a second chance for me?
Or is this the end? No way to win.
Can I fly with these broken wings?
Will I rise again? In spite of where I’ve been

I want to run to the battle – with a heart open wide
Let courage be my forefront, leave my past behind
“Up and over boys” be brave… today we kiss the sky
Good soldiers live and die

So here I sit, trying to sing this song
My cowardly memories, they’re mine all day long
Norval E Welch is a story we all know
I’ve been there once or twice, probably more

Second chances can be so hard to find
Forgiving yourself is the hardest part sometimes
But the gospel hollers  “On boys and Over“
To all its disgraced, disqualified soldiers

— Andrew Landers


Norval WelchLieut. Col. Norval E. Welch commanded the 16th Michigan on July 2nd 1863 during the afternoon struggle for Little Round Top, Battle of Gettysburg. Holding the right flank of Strong Vincent’s brigade line, Welch commanded only 150 men that day.

As the lead regiments of Confederate General Hood’s division–veteran Texans and Alabamians—attacked his position, Welch apparently lost his nerve and withdrew with the regimental flag and about 25 other men.  The rest of the regiment remained in the fight.  Strong Vincent, moving to bolster Welch’s flagging line, was mortally wounded.

Attempting to protect his reputation, Welch blamed others for his cowardice.  Returning to Michigan on “sick leave,” he took up some recruiting duties in Detroit.

Despite his tarnished reputation, Welch returned to command the 16th Michigan one year later.  At the Battle of Pebbles Farm on September 30, 1864, even though his enlistment had just expired, Welch led his men over the Confederate ramparts, calling to them “On boys and over.”  First to mount the heavily defended redoubt, Welch was struck by a Confederate bullet in the head and died immediately–redeeming his reputation by his brave death.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who had commanded the 20th Maine at Gettysburg, commented after the war about Welch and others who had some bad moments in battle:

“Among these men were some doubly deserving—comrades whom we thought lost, bravely returning. . .  If sometimes a shadow passes over such spirits, it needs neither confession nor apology. . . Welch, of the 16th Michigan, first on the ramparts at Peebles’ Farm, shouting, ‘On boys, and over!’ and receiving from on high the same order for his own daring spirit.”