Historic America

Civil War Ballads: The Fall of Charleston

Eugene T. Johnston wrote this song near the end of the American Civil War to celebrate the capture of Charleston, South Carolina by Union forces in February 1865. Since then, it has been covered many times, including by country and western artist Tennessee Ernie Ford (1919-1991) and Civil War folk singer Bobby Horton.

Oh have you heard the glorious news, is the cry from every mouth,
Charleston is taken, and the rebels put to rout;
And Beauregard the chivalrous, he ran to save his bacon—
When he saw Gen. Sherman’s “Yanks,” and “Charleston is taken!”

With a whack, rowdy-dow,
A hunkey boy is General Sherman,
Whack, rowdy-dow,
Invincible is he!

This South Carolina chivalry, they once did loudly boast;
That the footsteps of a Union man, should ne’er polute their coast.
They’d fight the Yankees two to one, who only fought for booty;—
But when the “udsills” came along it was “Legs do your duty.”

With a whack, rowdy-dow,
Babylon is fallen,
Whack, rowdy-dow,
The end is drawing near!

And from the “Sacred City,” this valiant warlike throng;
Skedaddled in confusion, although thirty thousand strong—
Without a shot, without a blow, or least sign of resistance,
And leaving their poor friends behind, with the “Yankees” for assistance,

With a whack, rowdy-dow,
How are you, Southern chivalry?
Whack, rowdy-dow,
Your race is nearly run!

And again o’er Sumter’s battered walls, the Stars and Stripes do fly,
While the chivalry of Sixty-one in the “Last ditch” lie;—
With Sherman, Grant and Porter too, to lead our men to glory;
We’ll squash poor Jeff’s confederacy, and then get “Hunkydory.”

With a whack, rowdy-dow,
How are you, neutral Johnny Bull?
Whack, rowdy-dow,
We’ll settle next with you!

Photograph by George N. Barnard depicting ruins of Charleston, South Carolina in 1865

On December 20, 1860, South Carolina was the first state to vote to secede from the Union. April 12, 1861, batteries under command of General Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, touching off the Civil War. As a hotbed of Southern secession, the Union tried repeatedly to capture Charleston throughout the war, subjecting it to brutal bombardment, but never capturing it through force of arms.

After Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s army captured Columbia on February 17, 1865, Confederates evacuated Charleston and burned its public buildings, warehouses, stores, and mills. The song mocks this defacto surrender: “And from the ‘Sacred City,’ this valiant warlike throng; Skedaddled in confusion, although thirty thousand strong—Without a shot, without a blow, or least sign of resistance…”

In all fairness, “this valiant warlike throng” was likely civilians–merchants, politicians, women and children, and the elderly. But it was a fact that after several failed attempts at capturing the birthplace of the Confederacy (including the bloody attack on Fort Wagner depicted in the movie Glory), the Union Army simply marched in without a fight.

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