Here is a brief explanation of what the American Trilogy is and why it is performed.
Quite simply, a Trilogy as performed at Country, and Western clubs and festivals, is a salute in honour of war dead.
The dead, of all Flags and Nations, who gave up their lives during a time of war, whether they were combatants or civilians, are remembered.
Because we are influenced by American history, we remember the wars that occurred on the soil of that country as a basis to salute the dead.
In 1861 the American Civil War began and raged through the land for four years. All war is folly but this one set family against family, brother against brother and American against American. Almost 620,000 people lost their lives during that torturous time. No conflict, before or since, has taken such a high toll of a single population. It is sobering to think that, had the war happened during the 1990’s and the same percentage of population were lost, the number would be over five million lost souls.
In memory of those souls who did perish, we dedicate the American Trilogy.
During the Civil War the ladies of both sides who had been left at home held ceremonies. This was to either mourn lost ones or to pray for those still at battle. Battle Flags, or “Colours”, would be displayed and folded. Then, as now, the folded flag was either tucked in (closed) when presented due to a death or left open, to be unfolded at a later date or in the morning, were it a general salute. Ladies still take the leading roles in The American Trilogy as the Folding Party, led by a Gun Marshall.
At the end of the war the Southern States did not, in fact, surrender but their armies under General Lee were eventually forced to capitulate. When General Lee accepted General Grant’s conditions of capitulation in the Appomattox Court House (April 9/1865), Lee’s army were asked to assemble and hand over their weapons and to furl their battle flags and place them on top of the piles of arms.
The flag we fold is what is generally accepted as the “Southern States” flag but it is, in fact, an elongated version of the South’s “Battle Flag” (which was square) and is based on the Tennessee Battle Flag and Navy Jack. Because we perform a general salute, this flag is left open and, unlike at the end of the conflict, although we present the folded flag to both the Northern and Southern Officers (where present), we return it to the Ladies in Country who bore it and folded it, and charge them to return so that we can, once again, salute the war dead.
Both armies in that conflict had battle hymns, “I wish I was in Dixie” for the South, “Glory, Glory” for the North.
Elvis Presley represented both hymns, as well as a general prayer for all war dead, “Hush Little Baby”, in the tune “American Trilogy” which he made famous. It is because both sides’ hymns are represented that this tune is used in The American Trilogy.
This Trilogy takes the form of a more traditional salute that encompasses both the flag folding ceremony and a number of shots fired in tribute. We usually fire; One for The North, One for The South, One for The Mexican Empire, One for The native American People and One for All War Dead and Absent Friends.
The word “Trilogy” now represents all forms of salute to war dead as performed in Country and Western clubs/festivals.
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There are two other such ceremonies that are worth mentioning due to the graveness of how they come to be remembered.
The first, the Mexican, is dedicated to those souls who perished at the battle of The Alamo. In February of 1836 some 190 men, women and children defended The Alamo mission in San Antonio, Texas against a Mexican army of 6,000 men, led by General Santa Anna. No quarter was asked or given and, just prior to the final onslaught, a bugler sounded the Deguello that confirmed that no prisoners would be taken.
Famous names such as Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, William Travis and a Scottish piper, John McGregor, perished along with the rest of their company. They inflicted some 2,000 casualties on the Mexicans in dead and wounded during the thirteen day siege and, because of their sacrifice, gave Sam Houston time to raise enough men to defeat Santa Anna at a later date.
Due to the bravery shown by those defenders, it is said that Santa Anna commissioned his bugler to compose a Trumpet Voluntary, on the field of battle, as a salute to the dead on both sides. Legend says that he ordered silence, on pain of death if it were broken, and that the Mexican Flag be waved in ceremony.
To this day that Trumpet Voluntary is known as IL SILENCIO (in silence) and the Mexican Trilogy is performed to that dirge, in silence, with a flag waving display that depicts the ebb and flow of the siege.
We now know that Santa Anna in fact ordered the bodies of the defenders to be burned and not given a Christian burial and that the proper ceremony was held about a year later where, indeed, there was a trumpet voluntary
There is one more Trilogy, which is not performed very often, as it is very specialised. This is the Native American Trilogy.
Dedicated to the five million Native American Indians who died at the hands of the white man, from their first encounters until the battle of Wounded Knee in 1890. This is a very moving ceremony, and rightly so considering the tragedy it is based on.
Nowadays the word “Trilogy” stands for the ceremonies (Native American, Mexican, American) to salute all war dead, not just, as some people think, American.
Prepared by Eddie Cairns (aka TATANKA & Doc Holliday)
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The reason Westerners carry out the ceremony is because it has grown from the clubs that were initially frequented by Country and Western lovers, although all are welcome on the floor after the Standard Bearers, Gunfighters and Folding Party have taken their place. The presiding Gun Marshall will, usually, announce this and make all welcome.
We carry out the American Trilogy every Saturday night at The Western Frontier to remember the fallen.