We Redlegs are indeed a very privileged group. In addition to the protection of our Patron Saint during life, we can look forward to our own special heaven after the sounding of Taps. I refer, of course, to Fiddler's Green.
Down through the ages, all purveyors of the ancient profession of stone hurlers, catapulters, rocketeers and gunners, better known as Field Artillerymen have discussed this special place in the hereafter, where someday each of us will be privileged to roam. There are as many tales of the Green as there are old artillerymen. The stories are rich with the smell of gunpowder and campfires and flavored with a taste of artillery punch.
Imagine, if you will, a starry night in southwestern Oklahoma just after the Civil War. Nestled in the shadows of the Wichita Mountains is a battery of smooth bore cannon camped for the night. As the campfires dim and the flasks of rum and lemon empty, the conversation turns to life in the hereafter. A rugged, old chief of section is surprised to learn that all present have not heard of the special destiny of Redlegs. As the young cannoneers listen intently, he shares with them the legend of Fiddler's Green.
It is generally conceded, he explains, that the souls of the departed eventually end up in heaven or hell. Heaven lies about six miles down the dusty road to eternity, and Redlegs get there by turning left at the first crossroad. From this same junction, hell is about eight or nine miles straight ahead. The road's easy to identify: it's the one paved with good intentions. A little way down the road to hell, there is a sign pointing to a trail that runs off to the right of the main road. It reads Fiddler's Green Artillerymen Only.
When artillerymen die, their souls are assembled in the battery area and they're regrouped into gun sections. Then, they load their belongings on a caisson or limber, point their lead team down that long road to eternity and move out at a trot. Like most crusty old soldiers, they face the call to eternal damnation and pass by the turnoff to heaven. But unlike the others, artillerymen are met by a road guide at the next turn off the road to Fiddler's Green. The road to hell, which lies beyond, is crowded with engineers, infantrymen, cavalrymen and other soldiers, not to mention the droves of sailors and Marines (non-Field Artillery). But at this point, Field Artillerymen bid farewell to their old comrades of other branches and services, and wheel their teams down the trail to the Green.
The Green nestles in a large valley spotted with trees and crossed with many cool streams. One can see countless tents and several large buildings in the center. Laughter can be heard from afar. At the entrance are several long picket lines for the teams. Artificers are on hand to service the pieces after the long march.
There is a representative of the Great Gunner to scan the rolls of the Orders of Saint Barbara and to attest to the fact that all who are seeking entrance are true Redlegs. Once certified, true artillerymen are met with open arms and immediately given a generous flask of that immortal nectar artillery punch.
Fiddler's Green is a unique place. It is believed to be the only heaven claimed by a professional group as exclusively its own. (Even the Marines, who didn't choose Field Artillery, only claim to guard the streets of someone else's heaven.)
The Green is a gathering place of rugged professional soldiers. Their claim to fame is that they served their pieces well and selflessly while on earth. The souls of all departed Red legs are camped here, gathered in comradeship. In the center of their countless tents and campfires is an old canteen store where liquor is free. There are taverns and dance halls. Credit is good; no questions asked. There is always a glass, a friend and a song. At any hour of the day or night, one can hear old cannoneers singing The Caisson Song. Duty consists of full-time A&R. There isn't even a duty roster. Everything is strictly nonregulation. The chow is plentiful and good, and there is no waiting in line. The main pastimes are dancing, drinking and singing all day, drinking and singing all night. The Green flows with rum, whiskey and pleasures known only to a few on earth. The chiefs of artillery, old battery commanders, chiefs of firing batteries, section chiefs and gunners down through the last cannoneer all are here. Many are even reunited with sweethearts of their youth.
Periodically, an artilleryman feels a compulsion to continue down the road to hell. He bids farewell to his comrades, repacks his gear, fills his canteen, makes provisions for his horse and departs for the main road, turning south toward hell. He was not forced to leave the Green, but felt he must of his own accord. But don't despair! Not a single Redleg has ever made it all the way to hell. His canteen of artillery punch would be emptied long before he made it, and he'd return to the Green for a refill never again to leave.
The legend of Fiddler's Green has been aptly summarized in a brief poem
Halfway down the trail to hell, In a shady meadow green,
Are the souls of many departed Redlegs camped near a good old-time canteen.
And this eternal resting place is known as Fiddler's Green.
Though others must go down the trail to seek a warmer scene,
No Redleg ever goes to hell, Ere he’s emptied his canteen.
And so returns to drink again, with friends at Fiddler’s Green
The campfires die out, and the Redlegs doze off to sleep, knowing Fiddler's Green awaits them and all their cannon-cocking brethren in the life hereafter.
This, then, is the story of Fiddler's Green. There are many versions. This one is representative of them all, compiled from available written and verbal accounts. Of course, occasionally stories circulate to the effect that the Green is shared with sailors, cavalrymen, etc. Don't you believe it! Only the officers, Soldiers, and Marines of the noblest arm the King of Battle, the Field Artillery could continue to enjoy the comradeship and spirit of their most honored and traditional branch after death. Just as in life, where not all are privileged to be Field Artillerymen, so too, after death may only these privileged few enjoy the rewards of a special heaven that is uniquely their own.
So fellow Redlegs, as we march-order and begin our road into the [appropriate year of service since 1775] year of service to our nation, we can proceed with confidence. Protected by Saint Barbara, we need fear nothing. And even if we should collide with the rocks of temptation or bog down in the quagmire of sin, remember: your comrades will be waiting by the campfire at Fiddler's Green.