Civil War Ballads: Hood’s Old Brigade
“Hood’s Old Brigade“, or “On the March”, was written by Mollie E. Moore (1844–1909), a Southern poet who’s family was originally from Alabama. She moved to Texas in 1855, then to New Orleans, Louisiana with her husband after the war. Folksinger Bobby Horton put this poem to music for his album Homespun Songs of the C.S.A., Volume 5 (1996). Horton’s accent and rapid cadence made it difficult to transcribe, but I was able to reconcile some of the more indiscernible lyrics with the original poem.
Twas midnight when we built our fires
We marched at half past three
We know not when our march shall end
Nor care–we follow Lee.
The starlight gleams on many a crest
And many a well-trod blade
This handful marching on our left
This lin’ is our brigade.
Our lin’ is short because its veins
So lavishly have bled
The missing search the countless planes
For battles it has led
There are those Georgians on the right
Their ranks are thinin’ too
How in one company they say
They now can count but two
There’s not much talkin’ down the lines
Nor shoutin’ down the gloam [twilight]
For when the night is ’round us
Then we’re thinkin’ most of home
I saw a young soldier startled
When we passed an open glade
Where the low starlight, leaf, and bough
A fairy picture made
Nor has he uttered a word since then
My heart can whisper why
‘Twas like the spot in Texas
Where he bade his love goodbye
And when beyond us carelessly
Some soldier sang “Adieu”
My comrade here across his eyes
His coarse sleeve roughly drew
So scarcely sound of trampling feet
Is echoed through the gloom
Because when stars are brightest then
We’re thinkin’ most of home
Hush, what an echo startles up
Around this rocky hill
Was a shell half buried struck my foot?
Or stay–’tis a human skull?
This ridge I surely seem to know
By light of the rising moon
While we battled here three mortal hours
One Sunday afternoon
Last spring, you see where our captain stands
His head drooped on his breast
At his feet that heap of bones and earth
You know know why his rest
Is broke off, and why his sword
was so bitter in the fray
‘Tis the grave of his only brother
Who was killed that awful day
Hush, for in front I hear a shot
And then a well-known cry
It is the foe! See where the flames
Mount upward to the sky
It is the full hot breath we hear
We wait the comin’ sun
And ‘ere these stars may shine again
A field is lost or won
Is won! It is the old brigade
This line of stalwart men
The long roll, how it thrills my heart
To hear that sound again
God shield us boys! Here breaks the day
The stars begin to fade
Now steady here! Fall in! Fall in!
Forward the old brigade!
Confederate Lt. General John Bell “Sam” Hood became famous for commanding the Texas Brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War, but Hood was born in Kentucky. He graduated the United States Military Academy in 1853 and served in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry in Texas. When the war broke out, he joined the Confederate Army as a cavalry captain.
Hood became commander of the Texas Brigade on February 20, 1862 and was promoted to brigadier general on March 3, 1862. The Texas Brigade fought in all the Army of Northern Virginia’s battles except Chancellorsville, and also fought with the Army of Tennessee at the Battle of Chickamauga. It consisted at various times of the 1st, 4th, and 5th Texas Infantry Regiments, 18th Georgia, and Hampton’s Legion, from South Carolina.
The Texas Brigade gained a reputation for being a hard fighting unit, perhaps the toughest in the Army of Northern Virginia. John Bell Hood was severely wounded in the left arm at the Battle of Gettysburg and lost his right leg at Chickamauga. At the age of 33, he was promoted to command of the Army of Tennessee during the Siege of Atlanta. He subsequently led it on an ill-fated invasion of Tennessee, where his army was virtually destroyed and he was removed from command.
Of the 5,353 men who enlisted in the Texas Brigade, only 617 remained when Lee’s army surrendered on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.