Appalachia Civil War Letters Music

Henry Grooms

Grooms Tune is the same as Bonapartes Retreat

I first shared portions of this post back in June of 2012. I grew up hearing the tune called Bonaparte’s Retreat, but never gave the song much thought until C. Ron Perry, a Blind Pig reader, sent me an email containing the story the song played in the Civil War and the chain of events which resulted in Bonaparte’s Retreat being called Grooms Tune in Haywood County NC. Since I’m nearing the end of my WC Penland’s Civil War Letters Series I wanted to share the story with you again.

Bonaparte's Retreat


After Ron sent me the email, I googled around and found the same story C. Ron had told me on the Find A Grave website. Ronald Halford graciously allowed me to share the story here on the Blind Pig and The Acorn.

Tradition has it that George Grooms Jr. and his brother Henry Grooms were working in their field in Cataloochee on April 10, 1865. A group of raiders from Teague’s Company came into the field and captured George and Henry. They marched them to the Tennessee Line, nearly 8 miles away where they met up with other raiders who had captured Henry’s brother in law, Mitchell Coldwell. The raiders decided to shoot the three. The story continues that George cursed the raiders as they shot him tied to a tree. Mitchell Coldwell was said to have been a kind and simple minded individual and the raiders made him pull his hat down over his face. They did not want to kill a man that was smiling at them. Henry who was a fiddle player asked to pray before he was shot. The raiders agreed that they would let him pray but he would have to play them a tune on his fiddle. Henry played them Bonaparte’s Retreat, said to be his favorite tune. Afterwards, he also was shot. All three were left in the road beside the bullet scarred tree where they were tied and shot. Henry’s wife Elizabeth Coldwell Grooms (sister to Mitchell) and a Sutton boy, probably a relative, went to the site later and took the three bodies back on a sled pulled by an ox. All three were said to have been buried in a common grave in this cemetery and all three in one large pine box (coffin). The story continues that the actual fiddle belonging to Henry Grooms is on display at Dollywood Theme Park in Tennessee. The song Bonaparte’s Retreat is known locally as the Grooms Tune. This information was gathered from several sources including information on display at the Theme Park. Accuracy and truth of this account is unknown by the writer. Note the photo of the grave stone is inscribed Mitchell Coldwell but by tradition it is the burial place of Henry, George, and Mitchell.

written by Ronald Halford.


If you’ve heard the Blind Pig Gang or The Pressely Girls perform live, you’ve most likely heard our version of Bonaparte’s Retreat aka Grooms Tune and you’ve probably heard Chitter tell the story above in her own unique fashion. After Ron shared the story she started telling it to every audience that was listening to her.

Almost a year ago Don Casada, discovered more information about Grooms Tune and the story that took place in the Cattaloochee section of Haywood County. He even found a map that helped him locate the approximate location of the event. One thing led to another and before you know it we realized this past April would be the 150th Anniversary of the Grooms brothers’ death and we decided it would be pretty cool to go find the spot and let Chitter play her fiddle right there where we think the incident took place.

I’ll be sharing the video we filmed that day, but before I get to it I’d like to share some of the other research Don discovered as well as research from some other folks. Be on the lookout for more about this fiddle story.



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  • Reply
    Zachariah Grooms
    November 28, 2015 at 8:24 pm

    I wanted to thank the author for posting this article as I am a decendent of Henry Grooms carrying on the Grooms name. It is always interesting learning where you come from.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    September 2, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    I posted this morning, but it must’ve got lost going over the mountain…then again it could have been operator error again. ha
    The research is very interesting. I have been to Dollywood numerous times and through her museum, but I can’t hardly remember seeing the Grooms fiddle or at least it didn’t register in my mind at the time. Next time I will look for it.
    I remember my elderly aunt telling stories passed down to the family about raiders. I regret that I was too young and uninterested to a point to ask questions or write these things down. But, I do remember her telling about one distant family member hiding meat. During the Civil War they hid it in a hole in the yard and turned a feed bucket over it to disguise the hole. It seemed these raiders (so called men that hunted down deserters) had a tendency to raid the food stores of homes. This was in Madison County and remember the stolen salt that eventually led to the Shelton Laurel massacre!
    That was also during the time when my g.g.g.g..Grandfather shot the sheriff during the voting of divided allegiance in this border county!
    Can’t wait to read more of Don’s findings as well as the videos..
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    C. Ron Perry, Sr.
    September 2, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    Tipper, I really love the song and am anxious to hear the girl’s version. Henry Grooms was distant kin and I haven’t done any real research on him. I am sure that the Sutton boy mentioned was also kin of mine.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 2, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    I think the pack saddle should be released into ethereal realms where all stinging insects belong. On the other hand you should take the cricket down to the creek and let him see if he can catch a trout.

  • Reply
    September 2, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    Thanks for the History Lesson. I
    think that is wonderful that the
    girls want to go back and do one
    of their songs on that spot. What
    a nice way to pay tribute!…Ken

  • Reply
    September 2, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    AS I read into this post, I immediately thought “Cold Mountain”, though Bonaparte’s Retreat was not the song that was played in the movie. There’s another bit of a tale that goes with Bonaparte, about how the song was collected by Alan Lomax and then transcribed by someone who must have spent hours and hours listening to a record by some Texas fiddler. A soon as I remember where I heard that I’ll send it to you.
    Double props to Chitter if she has learned to play it; that’s one difficult tune…

  • Reply
    September 2, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    I am on here late, Tipper, but just had to stop by. This is fascinating reading and only makes me realize more than ever how there were small wars within a war during the Civil War. As usual, your blog always makes me want to research further, which may have to wait until Winter when things slow down. Right now I am trying to determine if I should release a “Pack saddle” and a cricket captured at my door. The cricket will be assured freedom, but not so sure about the pack saddle!
    Everything interests me except sports, and I am especially interested in Civil War history and tying it in with genealogy of my family.
    I certainly wish we had our own sleuth to unravel some mysteries around here, as you are indeed fortunate to have Don Casada. We don’t, so guess I will just have to attempt uncovering the interesting past in Southern WV. This state has a most interesting past being so split over its sentiments. The words Raiders and Guerillas when googled unveil some great stories, and it helps explain why one of my gr gr grandfathers seemed needlessly killed. It was a war with deep commitments on both sides.
    Keep up the good work, Tipper, as you seem to be making me a walking encyclopedia of facts that don’t interest my grandchildren.

  • Reply
    September 2, 2015 at 10:53 am

    This story reminds me of a similar scene in the film ‘Cold Mountain’-makes me wonder if they used this account for the movie?
    Bonaparte’s Retreat was one of the tunes my Daddy played, taught to him by his Dad.

  • Reply
    Ken Ryan
    September 2, 2015 at 10:32 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed the article today…very interesting. Looking forward to more research and the video.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    September 2, 2015 at 10:06 am

    It was a cool trip in every sense of the word 😉 I can’t wait to read the whole story!

  • Reply
    September 2, 2015 at 9:39 am

    Stories like this do make history come alive.

  • Reply
    September 2, 2015 at 9:30 am

    From food to history; that was a good transition. I always enjoy the history you share. I am anxious to hear the girls play the tune. I missed the food this morning, but I can fast today. Thanks for an interesting piece of history.

  • Reply
    Janet McClelland
    September 2, 2015 at 8:41 am

    Sounds very familiar. Was this story adapted to be in a movie called Cold Mountain?

  • Reply
    Michael M. Cass
    September 2, 2015 at 8:25 am

    This story may be–no, probably is–borrowed and used by Charles Frazier in his fine 1997 novel “Cold Mountain,” which is set in Haywood County and on many roads leading there. (It was made into a movie in 2003.) The brutal leader of the Confederate Home Guard in the novel is also named Teague, and he has his men shoot three “outliers,” that is, what we now call draft dodgers, one of whom is simple-minded. And he orders that one to hold his hat in front of his face.
    It may be that you and Don Casada already know this. At any rate, I look forward to the video.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    September 2, 2015 at 8:22 am

    This is a great story, thanks

  • Reply
    Henry Horton
    September 2, 2015 at 7:30 am

    Thank you for this story, Tipper. You had me misted up especially with the idea of y’all doing such a special and meaningful commemoration of that sad event. When the shootin starts no matter who’s ‘wrong’ and whose ‘right’ (and every body always thinks they’re right and the other guys wrong) widows are left bereft and children orphans and the ripples of pain and sorrow go on and on and on. It’s good to remember. Blessings be.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 2, 2015 at 7:23 am

    These old stories are very interesting but I can’t help wondering about all the stories that happened but were never told.
    I met a woman recently whose background was similar to mine and she said ” I’d like to hear your story.” I’ve thought of that comment several times and realized we all have a story.
    It will be interesting to hear the rest of the Groom’s story as unearthed by Don.

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