Blog Archives

Civil War Ballads: Two Little Boys

American composer Theodore F. Morse and lyricist Edward Madden wrote “Two Little Boys” in 1902 as a music hall song about two brothers who dream of growing up and joining the cavalry. The Country Gentlemen recorded a version for their album Bluegrass at Carnegie Hall (1962). Like “Marching through Georgia,” this song also gained international fame. In 1969, an Australian entertainer named Rolf Harris popularized it on his BBC variety show in the United Kingdom, and today it’s more well-known across the ocean.

Two little boys had two little toys
Each had a wooden horse
Gaily they played each summer’s day
Warriors both of course
One little chap then had a mishap
Broke off his horse’s head
Wept for his toy then cried with joy
As his young playmate said

Did you think I would leave you crying
When there’s room on my horse for two
Climb up here Jack and don’t be crying
I can go just as fast with two
When we grow up we’ll both be soldiers
And our horses will not be toys
And I wonder if we’ll remember
When we were two little boys

Long years had passed, war came so fast
Bravely they marched away
Cannon roared loud, and in the mad crowd
Wounded and dying lay
Up goes a shout, a horse dashes out
Out from the ranks so blue
Gallops away to where Joe lay
Then came a voice he knew

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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.

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Civil War Ballads: Carry the Colours

David Matthews wrote and recorded this song for his 1994 album Shades of Blue & Gray: Songs From The Civil War, released by Delta, and re-released on various alternatively-titled albums over the years. The song beautifully captures the devotion Civil War soldiers had for their regimental colours. Regiments used colours, standards, or guidons to mark their position on the battlefield and serve as a rallying point.

At the head of the army, in front of the boys
On a long pole of hickory she flies
Yes I speak for my colors and I give her my love
Just to hold her so many have died
Just to hold her so many have died

And if you think you’re worthy and your heart is so pure
If your love and devotion do shine
Then death will pay tribute to the soldier and guidon
Just to carry the colors in line
Just to carry the colors in line

It’s a rare lad of courage, few chosen, few live
It’s a curse and a blessing, you see
It’s the brave and courageous who reach out their hand
To carry the colors for you and for me
To carry the colors for you and for me

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Civil War Ballads: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

Robbie Robertson, lead guitarist and primary songwriter of The Band, wrote “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” for their second album, The Band (1969). Since then, the song has been covered by dozens of artists, notably Johnny Cash, John Denver, and the Allman Brothers Band. American folk singer Joan Baez recorded my favorite version in 1971. The song speaks to the economic and social loss experienced by Southerners during the last year of the Civil War.

The Lost Cause by Henry Mosler depicts a Confederate soldier returning to a devastated homestead after the war.

Virgil Caine is the name
and I served on the Danville train
‘Till Stoneman’s cavalry came
and tore up the tracks again

In the winter of ’65
we were hungry, just barely alive
By May the 10th, Richmond had fell
it’s a time I remember, oh so well

The night they drove old Dixie down
and the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down
and the people were singing
They went, “Na, na, la, na, na, na”

Back with my wife in Tennessee
when one day she called to me
Said “Virgil, quick, come see
There goes the Robert E. Lee!”

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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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