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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

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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!

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Civil War Ballads: Rebel Soldier

“Rebel Soldier” is a popular folk song about a Confederate soldier pining for home. Waylon Jennings performed it on the album Songs of the Civil War (1991) by Columbia Records, and it was also performed by The Cumberlands on the album Appalachian Mountain Bluegrass – 30 Vintage Classics (2007). According to the Civil War Trust, it is a folk song from Southern Appalachia.

The National Park Service estimates between 750,000 and 1.23 million men served in the Confederate armed forces between 1861 and 1865. 69 percent of workers in the Confederate states were farmers, which means they probably didn’t venture too far from home. The war took them hundreds of miles away, and many feared they would never see home or their loved ones again.

Andrew Blevins, 30th North Carolina; John Baldwin, 50th Virginia; and Ephraim Blevins, 37th North Carolina, were captured at Gettysburg on July 3, 1861. Civil War photographer Mathew Brady took this photo, which became a famous depiction of Confederate soldiers.

Andrew Blevins, 30th NC; John Baldwin, 50th VA; and Ephraim Blevins, 37th NC, were captured at Gettysburg on July 3, 1861. Mathew Brady took this photo, which became a famous depiction of Confederate soldiers.

Oh Polly, Oh Polly, its for your sake alone
I have left my old Father, my Country, my home
I have left my old Mother to weep and to mourn
I am a rebel soldier, and far from my home

The grape shot and musket and the cannons lumber lie
Its many a mangled body the blanket for the shroud
Its many a mangled body left on the fields alone
I am a rebel soldier and far from my home

Here is a good old cup of brandy and a glass of wine
You can drink to your true love and I will drink to mine
You can drink to your true love and I will lament and moan
I am a rebel soldier and far from my home

I will build me a castle on some green mountain high
Where I can see Polly when she is passing by
Where I can see Polly and help her to mourn
I am a rebel soldier and far from my home

For such an old tune, it has remarkably few variants. Most versions retain the original lyrics, but folk singer Bobby Horton added this stanza:

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