Civil War Ballads: Marching through Georgia

Henry Clay Work, a Connecticut composer and songwriter, wrote this song in 1865 to commemorate Major General William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea”, near the end of the American Civil War. It became wildly popular and its tune and lyrics were adopted by other countries to celebrate their own military achievements. Its music is even used for two high school anthems in Sydney, Australia!

Bring the good old bugle, boys, we’ll sing another song;
Sing it with a spirit that will start the world along,
Sing it as we used to sing it, fifty thousand strong,
While we were marching through Georgia.

Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the jubilee!
Hurrah! Hurrah! The flag that makes you free!
So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea,
While we were marching through Georgia.

How the darkeys shouted when they heard the joyful sound!
How the turkeys gobbled which our commissary found!
How the sweet potatoes even started from the ground,
While we were marching through Georgia.

Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the jubilee!
Hurrah! Hurrah! The flag that makes you free!
So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea,
While we were marching through Georgia.

Yes, and there were Union men who wept with joyful tears,
When they saw the honored flag they had not seen for years;
Hardly could they be restrained from breaking forth in cheers,
While we were marching through Georgia.

Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the jubilee!
Hurrah! Hurrah! The flag that makes you free!
So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea,
While we were marching through Georgia.

“Sherman’s dashing Yankee boys will never reach the coast!”
So the saucy Rebels said, and ’twas a handsome boast;
Had they not forgot, alas! to reckon with the host,
While we were marching through Georgia.

Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the jubilee!
Hurrah! Hurrah! The flag that makes you free!
So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea,
While we were marching through Georgia.

So we made a thoroughfare for Freedom and her train,
Sixty miles in latitude, three hundred to the main;
Treason fled before us, for resistance was in vain,
While we were marching through Georgia.

“Marching through Georgia” is a cheery, boisterous song commemorating what Southerners consider wanton destruction of public and private property. From November 15 to December 21, 1864, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman and his 60,000-strong Army of the Tennessee, led by Major General Oliver O. Howard, and Army of Georgia, led by Major General Henry W. Slocum, marched from Atlanta, Georgia, to Savannah on the Atlantic coast. Confederate Lt. General John Bell Hood took his 30,000-strong Army of Tennessee and marched north, leaving Sherman opposed by only scattered cavalry and militia. Sherman welcomed the move, remarking, “Damn him! If he will go to the Ohio River, I’ll give him rations.”

Lithograph depicting Union soldiers foraging during Sherman’s march to the sea.

Sherman’s goal was to punish the State of Georgia for supporting secession and the Confederacy. “I am going into the very bowels of the Confederacy, and will leave a trail that will be recognized fifty years hence,” he said. It’s difficult to estimate the damage done along the march. Sherman himself estimated his army destroyed $100 million in livestock, railroads, and military hardware. That’s roughly $1.56 billion today. They wrecked 300 miles of railroad (bending the rails around trees to form “Sherman’s neckties”), destroyed bridges, cotton gins, mills, and telegraph lines, and confiscated 5,000 horses, 4,000 mules, 13,000 cattle, 9.5 million pounds of corn, and 10.5 million pounds of fodder.

Many slaves escaped their plantations to follow the Union armies, seeing them as liberators. “How the darkeys shouted when they heard the joyful sound!” the song says. The army put some freed men to work, but many women and children suffered deprivation at the hands of the Union soldiers. In one notorious incident, Union soldiers prevented freed slaves from following the army across Ebenezer Creek as they were pursued by Confederate cavalry. Hundreds drowned as they desperately tried to cross the freezing water to safety.

Sherman’s march to the sea left a mixed legacy; celebrated in the North and reviled in the South. Sherman is generally credited with recognizing and embracing the horrors of modern, “total war,” but you wouldn’t know it listening to this cheerful song.

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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 June 15, 2017, in History, Music and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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