Civil War Ballads: The Legend of the Rebel Soldier

Like “Rebel Soldier,” “The Legend of the Rebel Soldier” is a song about a Confederate soldier pining for home (this time from prison), though “home” seems to be the South in general. It was written long after the guns fell silent. Most people seem to agree “The Legend of the Rebel Soldier” is based on the Irish folksong “Kevin Barry,” about a member of the Irish Republican Army who was hanged in November 1920 (though there is some debate).

Charlie Moore, a South Carolina bluegrass artist, released the song in the early 1970s. It is largely apocryphal, since it is doubtful, due to the number of Confederate prisoners of war and the conditions of the prison camps, that one prisoner would be given his own cell. At Camp Douglas in Chicago, Illinois, prisoners stayed in wooden bunkhouses.

The National Park Service estimates 214,865 Confederate soldiers were captured and spent some time in a Union prison camp (i.e., not paroled on the field). Approximately 26,000 Confederate and 30,200 Union prisoners of war died in captivity, mostly of starvation and disease.

Confederate prisoners of war in Camp Douglas

Confederate prisoners of war in Camp Douglas

In a dreary Yankee prison
Where a rebel soldier lay.
By his side there stood a preacher
ere his soul should pass away

And he faintly whispered, “Parson”
as he clutched him by the hand
Oh Parson, tell me quickly
will my soul pass through the Southland?

Will my soul pass through the Southland
through old Virginia grand
Will I see the hills of Georgia
and the green fields of Alabam’?

Will I see that little church house
where I pledged my heart and hand
Oh Parson, tell me quickly
will my soul pass through the Southland?

Was for loving dear old Dixie
in this dreary cell I lie
Was for loving dear old Dixie
in this northern state i die.

Will you see my littl’ daughter
will you make her understand
Oh Parson, tell my quickly
will my soul pass through the Southland?

Then the Rebel soldier died.

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About Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

Posted on April 6, 2017, in History, Music and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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