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Nero Fiddled as Rome Burned
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The Spectator
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 by Frank Shortt
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Strange things happen in time of war. Unlikely heroes, and sometimes, unusual characters emerge as the result of turmoil.

The American Civil War, or the War Between the States, (1860-1865) was no exception!

Nero Smith was born on a farm near the town of Rome, Georgia. One might refer to him as being a tad simple, although, he was a good farm hand and learned most of the jobs required for farming. In addition, he learned to play the fiddle at an early age and as soon as he had mastered several songs, he began entertaining on the streets of Rome. His mother and father did not agree with that lifestyle, but Nero was able to outsmart them when he needed a few pennies.

The winds of war began wafting into the smaller towns as the larger cities of Georgia were being ransacked by the Northern hordes.  There began to be talk of a Blue coated general who was determined to burn Georgia to the ground.  When Nero’s father heard this talk, he began preparations to leave the area and began selling off all that he could. When his parents left for parts unknown, Nero sneaked away and began living in old shacks, under houses, or wherever he could find a dry place. One thing he did was to keep his fiddle dry and in good working order.

Then the day came when the first contingent of Union soldiers began drifting into the environs of Rome. Nero was not sure what to do so he just kept fiddling. Soon, smoke could be seen on the outskirts of town as soldiers began burning everything in sight.  Sherman’s hordes were finally a reality. Some of the citizens of Rome had no idea what was coming down until their life’s savings and all they had worked for was ashes! Nero awakened one morning to a command from a grouchy, unkempt man in blue, “Hey you, come outta that hole and stand at attention!” Nero had no idea what he meant so he just crawled out, unleashed his fiddle and began to play one of the latest songs he had learned. The soldier recognized that Nero was pretty talented, although a little simple, so he decided to keep him around to entertain the other soldiers. “Come on son, I’ll make a little money outta you and I won’t let you starve!” Nero did not know he was being taken prisoner as the soldier thought that he was a deserter from the Rebel army.

Nero fiddled while Rome burned

Rome burned, Rome burned

Nero played the fiddle while Rome burned

‘cause he had nothing better to do.

Nero had the run of the encampment as the Union soldiers thought him to be daft. They were wondering what kind of a nut he could be to fiddle as his whole town was askew and up in flames! Nero just kept fiddling! Little did the soldiers know that Nero had plans of his own! He was becoming very familiar with the arsenal inside the Union camp and had watched carefully when some of the soldiers made homemade bombs in their spare time. The wounded and bewildered were used for this purpose. The soldier, Jim Jones, who had found Nero in the first place, used Nero every night to play to a different contingent of men. He made plenty of money as he became promoter, ticket salesman, and agent for Nero. “Come on down to area two tonight,” he would cry as he made his rounds, You ain’t never heard such beautiful fiddling as Nero Smith can do. Why, he can fiddle the hide off’n a hoss!” And the soldiers came as they had nothing else for entertainment.  They would even dance with each other as they heard familiar dance tunes of the time. Nero became more and more trusted and soon had a tent not far from the arsenal. The soldiers did not know that Nero planned to light old Sherman’s lamp. They did not even know that he even knew who Sherman was!

On a certain humid, sultry evening as all the soldiers lolled about, Nero decided to make his play. He had accumulated matches which he hid in a pair of cast-off gloves wrapped in waxed paper to keep them dry. He had also fashioned two crude bombs from powder spilled as the bomb-makers worked. He had seen what these forerunner grenades could do as the soldiers trained for possible action in the future. He had fashioned his fuses from old dishrags and wax he had filched from the cooks tent. As stated before, Nero had the run of the camp because of his popularity among the soldiers.

Using lamp black, Nero daubed himself carefully so as not to be seen at night. As darkness fell, he made sure he wore an old cast-off uniform of one of the soldiers. Sneaking past the sentries, he made his way carefully and steadily toward his intended goal, the arsenal of powder and extra weapons. Carrying the bombs, along with his fiddle, was a little cumbersome, but Nero went nowhere without his fiddle.

He soon reached the arsenal and found the place he sought where his bombs would be the most effective. The fuses were short, so he had to get the bombs off in a hurry. He lit one and threw it as far as he could. Nothing happened for a short time, so, Nero decided to light the other. He threw it in the direction of the other bomb. Boom! They went off simultaneously. The resulting explosion rocked the whole camp, if not Rome itself. Shrapnel flew in all directions, some flying toward where Nero lay hidden. Soon, men were running everywhere not knowing whether to hit for cover or try to salvage the remaining arsenal. The cries of the wounded resounded in all ears that were left. Nero was fatally wounded in the explosion! After everything calmed down a little, strains of a fiddle could be heard wafting from above where the arsenal once stood. When the surviving soldiers arrived at the scene, Nero sat calmly playing his fiddle. They could see that Nero was done for, especially Jim Jones, who saw his means of income vanishing. He made Nero as comfortable as possible and that was all he could do for him. None ever suspected that Nero was the culprit!

Nero fiddled while Rome burned

Rome burned, Rome burned

Nero played the fiddle while Rome burned

And he’s probably sittin’ there yet!

It seems that America is sitting on a powder keg. We are once again in a Civil War of sorts. Somehow, the States have become divided again. Men are shooting each other down as their passions dictate. We will recall the recent massacre in Dallas where five ‘blue coats’ were slain. There are gang wars in many cities as men are divided into ‘Reds’ and ‘Blues’ (Nortenos and Surenos)! These men are of the same blood! The ‘Crips’ are against the ‘Bloods’ and they are of the same blood! The ‘SOS’ (Sons of Samoa) are at war with each other. Most of these gang wars are territorial. They kill each other over a certain ‘turf’!

It is hoped that Americans will not ‘fiddle around’ as America is being burned down bit by bit. When will humans decide that material objects are very temporal? Our freedoms are disappearing, more each day, and the poor, but honest, taxpayers are taking the brunt of the whole thing. By the way, who is paying the high cost of all the forest fires in California this past summer? You guessed it, the poor, but honest taxpayer!