Copyright
Brander Matthews.

Pen and ink; papers on subjects of more or less importance online

. (page 9 of 14)
Online LibraryBrander MatthewsPen and ink; papers on subjects of more or less importance → online text (page 9 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


yet no one has succeeded. 'Yankee Doodle' we
got during the Revolution, and the ' Star-spangled
Banner ' was the gift of the War of 1 8 1 2 ; from the
Civil War we have received at least two war songs
which, as war songs simply, are stronger and
finer than either of these 'John Brown's Body'
and 'Marching Through Georgia.'

Of the lyrical outburst which the war called forth
but little trace is now to be detected in literature
except by special students. In most cases neither
words nor music have had vitality enough to sur
vive a quarter of a century. Chiefly, indeed, two
things only survive, one Southern and the other
Northern ; one a war-cry in verse, the other a mar
tial tune : one is the lyric 'My Maryland,' and the
other is the marching song 'John Brown's Body.'
The origin and development of the latter, the rude
chant to which a million of the soldiers of the
Union kept time, is uncertain and involved in dis
pute. The history of the former may be declared
exactly, and by the courtesy of those who did
the deed for the making of a war song is of a



1 72 PEN AND INK.

truth a deed at arms I am enabled to state fully
the circumstances under which it was written, set
to music, and first sung before the soldiers of the
South.

' My Maryland ' was written by Mr. James R.
Randall, a native of Baltimore, and now residing
in Augusta, Georgia. The poet was a professor
of English literature and the classics in Poydras
College at Pointe Coupee, on the Fausse Riviere,
in Louisiana, about seven miles from the Missis
sippi; and there in April, 1861, he read in the
New Orleans Delta the news of the attack on the
Massachusetts troops as they passed through Bal
timore. " This account excited me greatly," Mr.
Randall wrote in answer to my request for infor
mation ; "I had long been absent from my native
city, and the startling event there inflamed my
mind. That night I could not sleep, for my
nerves were all unstrung, and I could not dismiss
what I had read in the paper from my mind.
About midnight I rose, lit a candle, and went to
my desk. Some powerful spirit appeared to pos
sess me, and almost involuntarily I proceeded to
write the song of ' My Maryland/ I remember
that the idea appeared to first take shape as music
in the brain some wild air that I cannot now re
call. The whole poem was dashed off rapidly



THE SONGS OF THE CIVIL WAR.



173



when once begun. It was not composed in cold
blood, but under what may be called a conflagration
of the senses, if not an inspiration of the intellect.
I was stirred to a desire for some way linking my
name with that of my native State, if not * with
my land's language/ But I never expected to do
this with one single, supreme effort, and no one
was more surprised than I was at the widespread
and instantaneous popularity of the lyric I had been
so strangely stimulated to write." Mr. Randall
read the poem the next morning to the college boys,
and at their suggestion sent it to the Delta, in which
it was first printed, and from which it was copied
into nearly every Southern journal. "I did not
concern myself much about it, but very soon,
from all parts of the country, there was borne to
me, in my remote place of residence, evidence
that I had made a great hit, and that, whatever
might be the fate of the Confederacy, the song
would survive it."

Published in the last days of April, 1861, when
every eye was fixed on the border States, the stir
ring stanzas of the Tyrtaean bard appeared in the
very nick of time. There is often a feeling afloat
in the minds of men, undefined and vague for
want of one to give it form, and held in solution,
as it were, until a chance word dropped in the ear



174 PEN AND INK.

of a poet suddenly crystallizes this feeling into
song, in which all may see clearly and sharply re
flected what in their own thought was shapeless
and hazy. It was Mr. Randall's good fortune to
be the instrument through which the South spoke.
By a natural reaction his burning lines helped to
fire the Southern heart. To do their work well,
his words needed to be wedded to music. Unlike
the authors of the ' Star-spangled Banner ' and the
'Marseillaise,' the author of 'My Maryland' had
not written it to fit a tune already familiar. It
was left for a lady of Baltimore to lend the lyric
the musical wings it needed to enable it to reach
every camp-fire of the Southern armies. To the
courtesy of this lady, then Miss Hetty Gary, and
now the wife of Professor H. Newell Martin, of
Johns Hopkins University, I am indebted for a pict
uresque description of the marriage of the words
to the music, and of the first singing of the song
before the Southern troops.

The house of Mrs. Martin's father was the
headquarters for the Southern sympathizers of Bal
timore. Correspondence, money, clothing, sup
plies of all kinds went thence through the lines to
the young men of the city who had joined the
Confederate army. " The enthusiasm of the girls
who worked and of the ' boys ' who watched for



THE SONGS OF THE CIVIL WAR. 175

their chance to slip through the lines to Dixie's land
found vent and inspiration in such patriotic songs
as could be made or adapted to suit our needs.
The glee club was to hold its meeting in our parlors
one evening early in June, and my sister, Miss
Jenny Gary, being the only musical member of the
family, had charge of the programme on the occasion .
With a school-girl's eagerness to score a success,
she resolved to secure some new and ardent ex
pression of feelings that by this time were wrought
up to the point of explosion. In vain she searched
through her stock of songs and airs nothing
seemed intense enough to suit her. Aroused by
her tone of despair, I came to the rescue with the
suggestion that she should adapt the words of
'Maryland, my Maryland/ which had been con
stantly on my lips since the appearance of the lyric
a few days before in the South. I produced the
paper and began declaiming the -verses. 'Lauriger
Horatius/ she exclaimed, and in a flash the immortal
song found voice in the stirring air so perfectly
adapted to it. That night, when her contralto voice
rang out the stanzas, the refrain rolled forth from
every throat present without pause or preparation ;
and the enthusiasm communicated itself with such
effect to a crowd assembled beneath our open win
dows as to endanger seriously the liberties of the
party."



176 PEN AND INK.

'Lauriger Horatius' has long been a favorite
college song, and it had been introduced into the
Gary household by Mr. Burton N. Harrison, then a
Yale student. The air to which it is sung is used
also for a lovely German lyric, 'Tannenbaum, O
Tannenbaum/ which Longfellow has translated ' O
Hemlock Tree.' The transmigration of tunes is too
large and fertile a subject for me to do more here
than refer to it. The taking of the air of a jovial
college song to use as the setting of a fiery war-
lyric may seem strange and curious, but only to
those who are not familiar with the adventures
and transformations a tune is often made to under
go. Hopkinson's 'Hail Columbia!' for example,
was written to the tune of the ' President's March,'
just as Mrs. Howe's ' Battle Hymn of the Republic '
was written to 'John Brown's Body/ The ' Wear
ing of the Green,' of the Irishman, is sung to the
same air as the ' Benny Havens, O ! ' of the West-
Pointer. The 'Star-spangled Banner' has to make
shift with the second-hand music of 'Anacreon in
Heaven,' while our other national air, 'Yankee
Doodle/ uses over the notes of an old English
nursery rhyme, 'Lucy Locket/ once a personal
lampoon in the days of the 'Beggars' Opera/ and
now surviving in the ' Baby's Opera' of Mr. Walter
Crane. 'My Country, 'tis of Thee/ is set to the



THE SONGS OF THE CIVIL WAR.



177



truly British tune of ' God Save the King,' the origin
of which is doubtful, as it is claimed by the French
and the Germans as well as the English. In the
hour of battle a war-tune is subject to the right
of capture, and, like the cannon taken from the
enemy, it is turned against its maker.

To return to 'My Maryland': a few weeks
after the welding of the words and the music, Mrs.
Martin, with her husband and sister, went through
the lines, convoying several trunks full of military
clothing, and wearing concealed about her person
a flag bearing the arms of Maryland, a gift from the
ladies of Baltimore to the Maryland troops in the
Confederate army. In consequence of reports
which were borne back to the Union authorities the
ladies were forbidden to return. "We were liv
ing," so Mrs. Martin writes me, "in Virginia in
exile, when, shortly after the battle of Manassas,
General Beauregard, hearing of our labors and
sufferings in behalf of the Marylanders who had
already done such gallant service in his command,
invited us to visit them at his headquarters near
Fairfax Court House, sending a pass and an escort
for us, and the friends by whom we should be
accompanied. Our party encamped the first night
in tents prepared for us at Manassas, with my
kinsman, Captain Sterrell, who was in charge of the



178 PEN AND INK.

fortifications there. We were serenaded by the
famous Washington Artillery of New Orleans,
aided by all the fine voices within reach. Captain
Sterrell expressed our thanks, and asked if there
were any service we might render in return.
'Let us hear a woman's voice/ was the cry which
arose in response. And, standing in the tent-
door, under cover of the darkness, my sister sang
'My Maryland!' This, I believe, was the birth of
the song in the army. The refrain was speedily
caught up and tossed back to us from hundreds
of rebel throats. As the last notes died away there
surged forth from the gathering throng a wild
shout ' We will break her chains ! She shall be
be free! She shaft be free! Three cheers and a
tiger for Maryland ! ' And they were given with
a will. There was not a dry eye in the tent, and,
we were told the next day, not a cap with a rim on
it in camp. Nothing could have kept Mr. Randall's
verses from living and growing into a power. To
us fell the happy chance of first giving them voice.
In a few weeks ' My Maryland ! ' had found its way
to the hearts of our whole people, and become a
great national song."

I wish I could call as charming and as striking a
witness to set forth the origin of 'John Brown's
Body.' The genesis of both words and music is



THE SONGS OF THE CIVIL WAR.



179



obscure and involved. The raw facts of historical
criticism names, places, dates are deficient.
The martial hymn has been called a spontaneous
generation of the uprising of the North a self-
made song, which sang itself into being of its own
accord. Some have treated it as a sudden evolu
tion from the inner consciousness of the early
soldiers all aglow with free-soil enthusiasm ; and
these speak of it as springing, like Minerva from
the head of Jove, full armed and mature. Others
have more happily likened it to Topsy, in that it
never was born, it growed ; and this latter theory
has the support of the facts as far as they can be
disentangled from a maze of fiction and legend.
A tentative and conjectural reconstruction of the
story of the song is all I dare venture upon ; and I
stand corrected in anticipation.

The Latter-day Saints of 1843 na d a camp-
meeting song referring to the Second Advent,
' Say, brothers, will you meet us ? ' Whence this
tune came, and whether or not it is a native negro
air, I have been wholly unable to discover. I can
be certain only of its later popularity. Within
fifteen years it spread over the country. Mr. C.
G. Leland says that the song "was a great favorite
with John Brown " and that "it was sung with an
improvised variation adapted to John Brown him-



180 PEN AND INK.

self by those who were in his funeral as it passed
through the streets of New-York."

John Brown was hanged in December, 1859.
A little more than a year later the report of the
shot against the flag at Sumter rang through all
the States and startled the blood of every man in
the nation. Then suddenly the new song of
' John Brown's Body ' sprang into being. It was
the song of the hour. There was a special taunt
to the South in the use of the name of the martyr
of abolition, while to the North that name was as
a slogan. As the poet a prophet again, for
once had written when John Brown was yet
alive, though condemned to death:

But, Virginians, don't do it ! for I tell you that the flagon,
Filled with blood of old Brown's offspring, was first poured

by Southern hands ;
And each drop from old Brown's life-veins, like the red gore

of the dragon,

May spring up a vengeful fury, hissing through your slave-
worn lands!

And old Brown,
Osawatomie Brown,

May trouble you more than ever, when you've nailed his
coffin down !

The putting together of the rude version first
sung in the rising heat of the war fever, the fitting



THE SONGS OF THE CIVIL WAR. 181

of plain rough words to the tune of ' Say, brothers,
will you meet us?' the tune of which was
made more marked, and modified to a march
seems to have been done by a little knot of men
in the second battalion, the Tigers, a Massachu
setts command quartered at Fort Warren, in Bos
ton Harbor, in April, 1861, just at the time when
' My Maryland ' was getting itself sung at the
South. A writer in the Boston Herald says that
"the manner in which 'the old tune' was taken
to Fort Warren was simple. Two members of
the Tigers were present at a camp-meeting service
in a small town in New Hampshire during the fall
preceding the occupancy of the fort," and they
learned the air there. Their names were Purring-
ton and Brown ; and when the Tigers went to
the fort and joined the 1 2th regiment, these two
vocalists took unto themselves two more, Edgerly
and Greenleaf the latter a professional musician.
By this quartet the rudimentary John Brown song
seems to have been evolved out of the old camp-
meeting lyric. Beyond all question it was the
Webster regiment which first adopted 'John
Brown's Body ' as a marching song. The soldiers
of this regiment sang it as they marched down
Broadway, in New- York, July 24, 1861, on their
way from Boston to the front. They sang it



lS2 PEN AND INK.

incessantly until August, 1862, when Colonel
Webster died, and when the tune had been taken
up by the nation at large and hundreds of thou
sands of soldiers were marching forward to the
fight with the name of John Brown on their lips.

There was a majestic simplicity in the rhythm
like the beating of mighty hammers. In the begin
ning the words were bare to the verge of barren
ness. There was no lack of poets to fill them out.
Henry Howard Brownell, the singer of the 'Bay
Fight ' and the ' River Fight,' skilfully utilized the ac
cepted lines, which he enriched with a deeper mean
ing. Then Mrs. Howe wrote her 'Battle Hymn of
the Republic/ perhaps the most resonant and ele
vated of the poems of American patriotism. Its
religious fervor was in consonance with the camp-
meeting origin of the song, and even more fully
with the intense feeling of the time. Of late the
air has been taken again by Mr. William Morris,
poet and socialist, decorator and reformer, as the
one to which shall be sung his eloquent and stir
ring 'March of the Workers/

Curiously enough, the history of 'Dixie' is not
at all unlike the history of 'John Brown's Body/
'Dixie' was composed in 1859, by Mr. Dan D.
Emmett, as a "walk-around" for Bryant's min
strels, then performing at Mechanics' Hall in New-



THE SONGS OF THE CIVIL WAR. 183

York. Mr. Emmett had travelled with circuses,
and had heard the performers refer to the States
south of Mason and Dixon'slineas "Dixie's land,"
wishing themselves there as soon as the Northern
climate began to be too severe for those who live
in tents like the Arabs. It was on this expression
of Northern circus performers,

I wish I was in Dixie,

that Mr. Emmett constructed his song. The
"walk-around " hit the taste of the New-York play-
going public, and it was adopted at once by various
bands of wandering minstrels, who sang and danced
it in all parts of the Union. In the fall of 1860
Mrs. John Wood sang it in New Orleans in John
Brougham's burlesque of ' Pocahontas/ and in
New Orleans it took root. Without any authority
from the composer, a New Orleans publisher had
the air harmonized and arranged, and he issued it
with words embodying the strong Southern feel
ing of the chief city of Louisiana. As from Boston
'John Brown's Body' spread through the North,
so from New Orleans 'Dixie' spread through the
South ; and as Northern poets strove to find fit
words for the one, so Southern poets wrote fiery
lines to fill the measures of the other. Of the sets
of verse written to 'Dixie/ the best, perhaps, is



1 84 PEN AND INK.

that by General Albert Pike, of Arkansas, who
happens, by a fortuitous chance, to have been
a native of Vermont. With Republican words
'Dixie* had been used as a campaign song in
1860; and it was perhaps some vague remem
brance of this which prompted Lincoln to have the
air played by a band in Washington in 1865, a
short time after the surrender at Appomattox,
remarking that as we had captured the rebel army
we had captured also the rebel tune.

From New Orleans also came another of the
songs of the South, the ' Bonnie Blue Flag/ Mr.
Randall writes me that 'Dixie' and the 'Bonnie
Blue Flag ' were the most popular of Southern
songs. Like ' Dixie,' the ' Bonnie Blue Flag' came
from the theatre. The tune is an old Hibernian
melody, the 'Irish Jaunting Car.' The earliest
words were written by an Irish comedian, Harry
McCarthy, and the song was first sung by his
sister, Miss Marion McCarthy, at the Varieties
Theatre, in 1861. It was published by Mr. A. E.
Blackmar, who wrote to a friend of mine that Gen
eral Butler " made it very profitable by fining every
man, woman, or child who sang, whistled, or
played it on any instrument, $25," besides arrest
ing the publisher, destroying the sheet music, and
fining him $500. Later a stirring lyric, to be sung



THE SONGS OF THE CIVIL WAR. 185

to this air, was written by Miss Annie Chambers
Ketcham.

In Louisiana, of course, there was also the 'Mar
seillaise/ "The Creoles of New Orleans," Mr.
Cable has written me, "followed close by the An
glo-Americans of their town, took up the 'Mar
seillaise' with great enthusiasm, as they have
always done whenever a war spirit was up. They
did it when the British invaded Louisiana in 1814.
It was good enough as it stood ; they made no new
adaptations of it, but sang it in French and English
(I speak of 1861), 'dry so,' as the Southern rustics
say. ' Dixie' started with the first mutter of war
thunder. ... I think the same is true of
'Lorena.' This doleful old ditty started at the
start, and never stopped till the last musket was
stacked and the last camp-fire cold. It was, by all
odds, the song nearest the Confederate soldier's
heart. It was the 'Annie Laurie' of the Confed
erate trenches."

Nowadays it is not a little difficult to detect in
the rather mushy sentimentality of the words
of 'Lorena,' or in the lugubrious wail of its music,
any qualities which might account for the affection
it was held in. But the vagaries of popular taste are
inscrutable. Dr. Palmer's vigorous lyric, ' Stone
wall Jackson's Way,' written within sound of the



1 86 PEN AND INK.

cannonading at Antietam, was so little sung that
Mr. Randall thought it had not been set to music.
I have, however, succeeded in discovering two airs
to which it was sung one published by Mr. Black-
mar, and the other the familiar ' Duda, duda, day.'
The Northern equivalent of 'Lorena' is to be
sought among the songs which made a lyric address
to 'Mother,' and of which 'Just before the Battle,
Mother,' may be taken as a type. 'Mother, I've
Come Home to Die' was sung with feeling and
with humor by many a gallant fellow who is now
gathered at the bivouac of the dead. Mr. George
F. Root, of Chicago, was both the author and com
poser of 'Just before the Battle, Mother,' as he was
also of the ' Battle Cry of Freedom,' and of ' Tramp,
Tramp, Tramp ; the Boys are Marching.' It is
difficult to say which one of these three songs was
the most popular; there was a touch of realistic
pathos in 'Just before the Battle, Mother,' which
brought the simple and unpretending words home
to the hearts of the men who had girded on the
sword and shouldered the musket. Yet captivity
was not seldom more bitter to bear than death it
self, and this gave point to the lament of the soldier
who sat in his "prison cell" and heard the tramp,
tramp, tramp of the marching boys. Probably,
however, the first favorite with the soldiers in the



THE SONGS OF THE CIVIL WAR. 187

field, and certainly the song of Mr. Root's which
has the best chance of surviving, is the ' Battle Cry
of Freedom.' It was often ordered to be sung as
the men marched into action. More than once its
strains arose on the battle-field and made obedience
more easy to the lyric command to rally round the
flag. With the pleasant humor which never deserts
the American, even in the hard tussle of war, the
gentle lines of 'Mary had a Little Lamb' were fitted
snugly to the tune ; and many a regiment short
ened a weary march or went gayly into action,
singing,

Mary had a little lamb,

Its fleece was white as snow,
Shouting the battle-cry of freedom ;

And everywhere that Mary went

The lamb was sure to go,
Shouting the battle-cry of freedom.

Now the song is sure of immortality, for it has
become a part of those elective studies which are
the chief gains of the college curriculum. At the
hands of the American college boys, ' Rally round
the Flag' can get a renewed lease of life for
twenty-one years more or forever. A boy is
your true conservative ; he is the genuine guardian
of ancient rites and customs, old rhymes and
songs ; he has the fullest reverence for age if so
be it is not incarnated in a Prof, or the Prex.



1 88 PEN AND INK.

Lowell, in declaring the antiquity of the New World,
says that " we have also in America things amaz
ingly old, as our boys, for example." And the
borrowing of the ' Battle Cry of Freedom ' by the
colleges is only the fair exchange which is no rob
bery; for, as we have seen, it was from the col
lege that the air of ' Lauriger Horatius ' was taken
to speed the heated stanzas of ' My Maryland.'
Another college song, if the digression may be
pardoned, the ' Upidee-LJpida,' to which we so
wickedly sing the quatrains of Longfellow's ' Ex
celsior,' I have heard rising sonorously from the
throats of a stalwart regiment of German Landwehr
in the summer of 1870, as they were on their way
to the French frontier and to Paris.

Although they came at the beginning of the
war, 'John Brown's Body' and the ' Battle Cry of
Freedom ' have been sung scarcely more often
than 'Marching through Georgia/ which could not
have come into being until near the end of the fight.
Now that the war has been over for twenty years
and more, and the veteran has no military duty
more harassing than fighting his battles o'er,
' Marching through Georgia ' has become the song
dearest to his heart. The swinging rhythm of the
tune and the homely directness of the words gave
the song an instant popularity, increased by the



THE SONGS OF THE CIVIL WAR. 189

fact that it commemorated the most striking epi
sode of the war, the march to the sea. ' Marching
through Georgia' was written and composed by
the late Henry C. Work. In his history of 'Music
in America/ Professor Ritter refers to Stephen C.
Foster, the composer of 'Old Folks at Home, 'as one
who " said naively and gently what he had to say,
without false pretension or bombastic phrases";
and this praise may be applied also to Work, who
had not a little of the folk-flavor which gives quality
to Foster. Like Foster, Work was fond of reflect
ing the rude negro rhythms ; and some of his best
songs seem like actual echoes from the cotton-
field and levee. 'Wake, Nicodemus,' 'Kingdom
Coming/ and ' Babylon is Fallen ' have this savor
of the soil, sophisticated, it may be, and yet pun
gent and captivating. I have heard it suggested
that ' Marching through Georgia ' was founded
on a negro air, and also that it is a reminiscence
of a bit of the ' Rataplan ' of the ' Huguenots/ It
is possible that there is a little truth at the bottom
of both of these stories. The ' Huguenots ' was
frequently performed at the New Orleans Opera
House before the war, and many a slave must


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryBrander MatthewsPen and ink; papers on subjects of more or less importance → online text (page 9 of 14)