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Chapter 6: lyrics

A soldier group in a moment fit for song—the 170th New York on reserve picket duty


The battle hymn of the republic—‘a hundred circling camps’: the fifth Vermont in 1861, with their Colonel, L. A. Grant The time of this photograph and its actors connect directly with Julia Ward Howe's inspiration for her Battle hymn. The author, in the late fall of 1861, had made her first visit to Washington in company with her pastor, James Freeman Clarke, Governor Andrew of Massachusetts, and her husband, Dr. Howe, who, already past the age of military service, rendered valuable aid as an officer of the Sanitary Commission. Of her visit she writes in her Reminiscences: “On the return from the review of troops near the city, to beguile the rather tedious drive, we sang from time to time snatches of the army songs so popular at that time, concluding, I think, with ‘John Brown's body.’ The soldiers . . . answered back, ‘ Good for you!’ Mr. Clarke said, ‘ Mrs. Howe, why do you not write some good words for that stirring tune?’ I replied that I had often wished to do this, but had not as yet found in my mind any leading toward it. I went to bed that night as usual, and slept, according to my wont, quite soundly. I awoke in the gray of the morning twilight; and as I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind. Having thought out all the stanzas, I said to myself, ‘I must get up and write those verses down, lest I fall asleep and forget them.’ So, with a sudden effort, I sprang out of bed, and found in the dimness an old stump of a pen which I remembered to have used the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper. I had learned to do this when, on previous occasions, attacks of versification had visited me in the night, and I feared to have recourse to a light lest I should wake the baby, who slept near me. I was always obliged to decipher my scrawl before another night should intervene, as it was only legible while the matter was fresh in my mind. At this [155] time, having completed my writing, I returned to bed and fell asleep, saying to myself, ‘I like this better than most things that I have written.’ ” In 1861 the Fifth Vermont lay near Camp Griffin. It was on the outskirts of the encampments in Virginia, near Washington, and consequently subject to attacks by the Confederates. Its career throughout the war is proof that the spirit of the Battle-hymn animated these boys in blue. Its Lieutenant-Colonel, L. A. Grant, who sits on his charger to the right, became famous later as the general commanding the ‘Vermont Brigade.’ To the left is Major Redfield Proctor. Leaving Camp Griffin on March 10, 1862, the regiment moved to the Peninsula. Its name became known at Yorktown and Savage's Station, at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg. In the Wilderness campaign, in the battle of May 5th, it assisted in checking the advance of the Confederates along the plank road in time for the Second Corps to take a strong position. It was in the heavy fighting of the succeeding day, and at the ‘Bloody Angle’ at Spotsylvania was engaged for eight hours in the desperate and determined contest. The brigade commander reported: ‘It was empathically a hand-to-hand fight. Scores were shot down within a few feet of the death-dealing muskets.’ After battling all the way down to Petersburg, the Fifth Vermont was suddenly rushed to Washington to repel Early's attack. It then engaged in the thrilling victories of Sheridan in the Valley. In December, it returned to Petersburg and ended its active service only with the surrender at Appomattox. During these four years of service, the regiment lost eleven officers and 202 enlisted men killed and mortally wounded, and one officer and 124 enlisted men by disease. Its total loss was therefore 338, worthy of the famous ‘Vermont Brigade.’



Lyrics: battle-hymn of the republic

The unusual circumstances under which this national classic was written are recounted under the picture of the Fifth Vermont in 1861, with their Colonel, L. A. Grant, on the immediately preceding page.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps.
His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery gospel, writ in burnished rows of steel:
‘As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on.’

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before his judgment-seat:
Oh! be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.


The Seventeenth New York Infantry at Minor's Hill.

As pictured above, the Seventeenth New York Infantry at Minor's Hill marches along the rolling Virginia fields to the inspiring music of the military band. This regiment, with its bright array, lives up to its spirited name, Westchester Chasseurs. Well might such a pageant have inspired Mrs. Howe to write the resonant war-song to which her name is forever linked. But these New Yorkers saw much severe service. They went with McClellan on the Peninsula campaign in 1862, and back toward Washington in time to fight in the second battle of Bull Run and to see service in the bloody conflict at Antietam, September 16-17, 1862. They were in the sanguinary repulse at Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862. They remained at Falmouth, across the river from Fredericksburg, till Chancellorsville. Its three-years men then went to the 146th New York. In the earnest spirit of Mrs. Howe's poem, the Ninth Vermont Infantry, as pictured vividly below, marches out of Camp in North Carolina, 1863. Its career of only a year has been unusual. It had barely entered active service in 1862 when it was transferred to Harper's Ferry. There it was captured by ‘Stonewall’ Jackson on September 15, 1862, and was paroled the next day. Its military career was apparently cut short. It was used, however, to guard Confederate prisoners at Camp Douglas, Chicago, until March 28, 1863. In January of that year, it had been declared exchanged and in the fall was at length sent to New Berne, North Carolina, where it was on duty in the Newport Barracks till July, 1864. There it engaged in various expeditions into the vicinity, destroying salt-works and capturing turpentine. There the photograph here reproduced was taken.

‘In burnished rows of steel’: the Seventeenth New York Infantry at Minor's Hill.

‘His truth is marching on’: the Seventeenth New York Infantry at Minor's Hill.



My Maryland

This famous Confederate lyric had a striking origin. While James Ryder Randall was teaching in Poydras College he became acquainted with Mr. D. C. Jenkins, editor of the New Orleans Delta, who published some of his verse. In April, 1861, he sent the young Professor a copy of the poems of James Clarence Mangan. Randall was warm in his admiration of the ‘gifted Irish poet,’ and especially enthusiastic about that passionate outburst, the Karamanian Exile. one stanza begins:
I see thee ever in my dreams,
thy hundred hills, thy thousand streams,
Karaman, O Karaman!

his dreamy existence at Pointe Coupee was rudely broken on April 23, 1861, by the news in the New Orleans Delta of the attack on the troops of the Sixth Massachusetts as they passed through Baltimore on April 19th. The first citizen to fall was a friend and College mate of the poet. Randall's own account of the effect of this news appears in a letter printed in Professor Brander Matthews' pen and Ink:
this account excited me greatly. I had long been absent from my native city, and the startling event there inflamed my mind. That night I could not sleep, for my nerves were all unstrung, and I could not dismiss what I had read in the paper from my mind. About midnight I rose, lit a candle, and went to my desk. Some powerful spirit appeared to possess me, and almost involuntarily I proceeded to write the song of “my Maryland.” I remember that the idea appeared to first take shape as music in the brain—some wild air that I cannot now recall. The whole poem was dashed off rapidly when once begun. It was not composed in cold blood, but under what may be called a conflagration of the senses, if not an inspiration of the intellect. I was stirred to a desire for some way linking my name with that of my native State, if not “with my land's language.” but I never expected to do this with one single supreme effort, and no one was more surprised than I was at the widespread and instantaneous popularity of the lyric I had been so strangely stimulated to write.

Randall was always free to acknowledge that Mangan's poem ‘solved the meter’ of his famous lyric. The College boys to whom he read the poem the next morning were so enthusiastic that he at once forwarded it to the Delta, in which it was printed on April 26th. Nearly every Southern journal at once copied it. Mr. Randall says: ‘I did not concern myself much about it, but very soon, from all parts of the country, there was borne to me, in my remote place of residence, evidence that I had made a great hit, and that, whatever might be the fate of the Confederacy, the song would survive it.’


Union soldiers at Federal Hill,Maryland.

These Union soldiers at Federal Hill, Maryland, in 1862, are the Gun Squad of the Fifth Company in New York's representative ‘Seventh’ regiment. Sergeant-Major Rathbone is handing an order to Captain Spaight. Personally, the invaders were far from ‘despots,’ as Southerners soon ascertained. In the picture below are veterans of this same ‘Seventh’ regiment, as they appeared seventeen years later in a different role—hosts and escorts of the Gate City Guard. In 1861, this had been the first body of troops to enter Confederate service from Atlanta. In 1879, its neighborly call upon New York City was met by one courtesy after another, under the auspices of the ‘Seventh.’ The New York sun said: ‘The visit among us of the Gate City Guard will do more to bring about an understanding between North and South than the legislation of a century.’ Other newspapers commented on the event in a similar cordial spirit of friendship.

‘The despot's heel is on thy shore’: the New York ‘seventh’ in Maryland

Veterans of the New York ‘seventh’ in 1879

The despot's heel is on thy shore, Maryland!
His torch is at thy temple door, Maryland!
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle-queen of yore, Maryland, my Maryland!

Hark to an exiled son's appeal, Maryland!
My Mother State, to thee I kneel, Maryland!
For life and death, for woe and weal,
Thy peerless chivalry reveal,
And gird thy beauteous limbs with steel, Maryland, my Maryland!

Thou wilt not cower in the dust, Maryland!
Thy beaming sword shall never rust, Maryland!
Remember Carroll's sacred trust,
Remember Howard's warlike thrust,
And all thy slumberers with the just, Maryland, my Maryland!

Come! 'tis the red dawn of the day, Maryland!
Come with thy panoplied array, Maryland!
With Ringgold's spirit for the fray,
With Watson's blood at Monterey,
With fearless Lowe and dashing May, Maryland, my Maryland! [161]

‘Burst the tyrant's chain’: Northern officers at a Maryland home in pleasant valley, after the battle of Antietam The young Maryland girl with the charming ruffles has evidently discovered at least one Northerner not a ‘tyrant’ or otherwise disagreeable. The scene is at the Lee homestead near the battlefield of Antietam; the time, October, 1862. Two members of General Burnside's staff and one of General McClellan's are here seen talking with the family, who were furnishing a temporary home for Mrs. McClellan after Antietam. One would never surmise that, a short time before, the fiercest single day's action of the war had been fought. Many another hospitable home among the beautiful rolling hills of Maryland entertained the same kindly feelings for the ‘despots’ of whom Randall sang. Many another young lady, like the one sitting in her crinoline and ruffles opposite the handsome young officer, held a similar admiration for some leader in blue. Maryland, even in war-time, was always conscious of the bond of brotherhood that linked its people with the American Union. The group on the vine-shadowed veranda was but a prophecy of a day when all can admire the martial ring of My Maryland without losing pride in the greatness of the American Republic.


Come! for thy shield is bright and strong, Maryland!
Come! for thy dalliance does thee wrong, Maryland!
Come to thine own heroic throng,
Stalking with Liberty along,
And chant thy dauntless slogan-song, Maryland, my Maryland!

Dear Mother, burst the tyrant's chain, Maryland!
Virginia should not call in vain, Maryland!
She meets her sisters on the plain,—
Sic semper! 'tis the proud refrain
That baffles minions back amain,
Maryland, my Maryland!

I see the blush upon thy cheek, Maryland!
For thou wast ever bravely meek, Maryland!
But lo! there surges forth a shriek
From hill to hill, from creek to creek,—
Potomac calls to Chesapeake, Maryland, my Maryland!

Thou wilt not yield the Vandal toll, Maryland!
Thou wilt not crook to his control, Maryland!
Better the fire upon thee roll,
Better the blade, the shot, the bowl,
Than crucifixion of the soul, Maryland, my Maryland!

I hear the distant thunder-hum, Maryland!
The Old Line's bugle, fife, and drum, Maryland!
She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb;
Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!
She breathes! she burns! she'll come! she'll come! Maryland, my Maryland!

James Ryder Randall. [163]

‘Advance the flag of Dixie’: a hopeful Confederate group of 1861 Actual photographs of the Confederate flags raised within the Confederate fortifications are rare indeed. This photograph was taken by Edwards, the New Orleans artist, inside the Confederate lines at Pensacola, Florida. The cannon, at whose ‘ringing voices’ Pike sang ‘The South's great heart rejoices,’ are shining in the warm Southern sunlight that brightens the flag in the color-bearer's hands. All is youth and hope.




Southrons, hear your country call you!
Up, lest worse than death befall you!
To arms! To arms! To arms, in Dixie!
Lo! all the beacon-fires are lighted,—
Let all hearts be now united!
To arms! To arms! To arms, in Dixie!
Advance the flag of Dixie!
Hurrah! hurrah!

For Dixie's land we take our stand,
And live or die for Dixie!
To arms! To arms!
And conquer peace for Dixie!
To arms! To arms!
And conquer peace for Dixie!

Hear the Northern thunders mutter!
Northern flags in South winds flutter!
Send them back your fierce defiance!
Stamp upon the accursed alliance!

Fear no danger! Shun no labor!
Lift up rifle, pike, and sabre!
Shoulder pressing close to shoulder,
Let the odds make each heart bolder!

How the South's great heart rejoices
At your cannons' ringing voices!
For faith betrayed, and pledges broken,
Wrongs inflicted, insults spoken.

Strong as lions, swift as eagles,
Back to their kennels hunt these beagles!
Cut the unequal bonds asunder!
Let them hence each other plunder! [165]

‘Northern flags in South winds flutter’: Union gunboats on the Mississippi and the James These views of Federal gunboats flying the Stars and Stripes preserve such scenes as inspired Albert Pike's stanzas to the tune of ‘Dixie.’ The ram Vindicator above is particularly apt, since ‘Dixie’ first appeared in a ‘River’ town, being printed in the Natchez Courier on April 30, 1862. It is a curious fact that the author was born in Boston and attended Harvard. The tune itself had a Northern origin. Daniel Decatur Emmet, who had traveled a great deal with circus bands and a minstrel company of his own, and was already known as the composer of ‘Old Dan Tucker,’ joined the famous Bryant's Minstrels in 1857. He not only appeared in the performances, but composed airs for the entertainments. The closing number on each occasion was known as a ‘walk-around,’ in which all members of the company would appear. One Saturday night, September 17, 1859, Emmet was told to prepare a new walk-around for the following Monday rehearsal. Sunday was gloomy, with a cold rain falling. As Emmet looked out the window an expression with which he had become familiar in his circus experience flashed across his memory,—‘I wish I was in Dixie.’ Dixie referred to the South, where many companies spent the winter on the road. Emmet at once took up his fiddle and began to work out the melody along with the words. The melody which he used is supposed to have been an old Northern Negro air, associated with the name of one Dix or Dixy, who had a large plantation, some say on Manhattan Island, others on Staten Island. When the progress of abolition sentiment obliged him to migrate southward, his slaves looked back to their old home as a paradise. But with years the term Dixie's Land was transferred to their new home and was taken up by both white and black as a name for the South. Emmet's production was sung for the first time on Monday night, September 19, 1859, at 472 Broadway, New York City, where Bryant's Minstrels were then showing. It enjoyed instant popularity. Its vogue in the South was begun in New Orleans in the Spring of 1861. Mrs. John Woods was then playing at the New Orleans Varieties Theater in John Brougham's burlesque of ‘Pocahontas.’ In the last scene was a zouave march. At the first performance the zouaves were led by Miss Susan Denin, singing ‘Dixie,’ and reappearing seven times in answer to the persistent applause. The whole South took it up.


Swear upon your country's altar
Never to submit or falter,
Till the spoilers are defeated,
Till the Lord's work is completed!
Halt not till our Federation
Secures among earth's powers its station!
Then at peace, and crowned with glory,
Hear your children tell the story!

If the loved ones weep in sadness,
Victory soon shall bring them gladness,— To arms!
Exultant pride soon vanish sorrow;
Smiles chase tears away to-morrow.
To arms! To arms! To arms, in Dixie!
Advance the flag of Dixie!
Hurrah! hurrah!

For Dixie's land we take our stand,
And live or die for Dixie!
To arms! To arms!
And conquer peace for Dixie!
To arms! To arms!
And conquer peace for Dixie!

Albert Pike.

Sherman's March to the sea

The song that made Sherman's March famous, acording to the General, who remarked to George Cary Eggleston:
it was this poem, with its phrase “March to the sea,” that threw a glamor of romance over the movement which it celebrates. The movement was nothing more than a change of base, an operation perfectly familiar to every military man. But a poet got hold of it, gave it the captivating title, “the March to the sea,” and the unmilitary public made a romance out of it.

the author was regimental adjutant of the Fifth Iowa Infantry when he was captured in a charge at the battle of Missionary Ridge, November 24, 1863. he was confined successively in six Southern prisons, escaping three times and being each time recaptured. While imprisoned at Columbia, South Carolina, one chilly morning in a little wedge tent he wrote the song here reprinted. Meagre reports of Sherman's leaving Atlanta had come through a daily paper, which a kindly disposed negro stuffed into a loaf of bread furnished to a mess of the Union prisoners who were fortunate enough to have a little money to pay for it. Through [167]

‘and we stormed the wild hills of Resaca’: a scene after Sherman's March this freshly turned earth on the entrenchments at Resaca, over which the weeds have shot up in the spring weather of 1864, witnessed the even-handed struggle of May 14-15th, to which Byers refers. The heavy timber made the movement of troops very difficult, but it was of advantage to the Confederates behind their fortifications. In one case the attackers under General Henry M. Judah were moving up a valley to storm a salient, when they were met by a murderous fire from the edge of the woods in front as well as from the right. The bluffs proved too steep for even their dash and courage. At another point General J. D. Cox's men charged directly upon the entrenchments and drove the opposing force out after a fierce struggle. Artillery from higher up the slope then opened upon the Federals, so that they had to use the reverse of the work just captured, strengthening it with small timber, like that in the picture, till reenforcements came. All the fighting was of this nature. As soon as Sherman got into position to March across the river to Johnston's rear, that wary General retreated, leaving all the ‘wild hills’ in the possession of the Federals.

[168] its troubled lines the eager ears and eyes of the starved men read hope and coming freedom.

another prisoner, Lieutenant Rockwell, heard the poem and under the floor of the hospital building, where a number of musical prisoners quartered themselves on mother earth, wrote the music. It was first sung by the prison glee club, led by Major Isett, where, intermingled with the strains of ‘Dixie’ and kindred airs to adapt it to audiences of Southern ladies, it was heard with applause.

it May be added that Henry Clay work's marching through Georgia was sung at the Grand review in Washington on May 24, 1865, and soon became indispensable at all encampments of Grand Army veterans. But General Sherman could never abide the more popular production, always expressing his preference for the poem here reprinted.

Our camp-fires shone bright on the mountains
That frowned on the river below,
While we stood by our guns in the morning,
And eagerly watched for the foe;
When a rider came out from the darkness
That hung over mountain and tree,
And shouted: ‘Boys, up and be ready!
For Sherman will march to the sea.’

Then cheer upon cheer for bold Sherman
Went up from each valley and glen,
And the bugles re-echoed the music
That came from the lips of the men;
For we knew that the stars in our banner
More bright in their splendor would be,
And that blessings from Northland would greet us
When Sherman marched down to the sea.

Then forward, boys! forward to battle!
We marched on our perilous way,
And we stormed the wild hills of Resaca
God bless those who fell on that day!
Then Kenesaw, dark in its glory,
Frowned down on the flag of the free,
But the East and the West bore our standards
And Sherman marched on to the sea. [169]

‘When Sherman marched down to the sea’ This somber view of Fort McAllister, on the Great Ogeechee River, was taken soon after the termination of Sherman's famous march. As Byers sings of the achievement, the movement began in May, 1864, with the advance against Johnston, but the usual understanding is of the march from Atlanta, which began on November 15th. On December 10th, Sherman's army had closed in on the works around Savannah. The general's first move was to make connections with the fleet and its supplies. The country about Savannah afforded nothing but rice, which did not satisfy an army that for a month had been living on pigs, chickens, and turkeys. But the only convenient channel of communication was the Great Ogeechee, guarded by the Fort that had defied the navy for two years. Its storming by Hazen, on December 17th, was welcome to Sherman's men above most victories. A foraging party had rowed down the river into Ossabaw Sound and met a steamer coming in, the crew of which said that it was the Nemeha and had Major-General Foster on board. The party answered: ‘Oh, we've got twenty-seven major-generals up at camp. What we want is hardtack!’ On December 21st, the army entered Savannah. Sherman's achievement was world-famous.


‘Our camp-fires shone bright on the mountain’ The war-time view of the Chattanooga River, from Lookout Mountain, gives a good notion of the country through which Sherman advanced on the first half of his ‘march to the sea.’ Byers reckons this famous military operation as beginning with the campaign against Joseph E. Johnston. Sherman's forces were centered at Ringgold, a little south of the point here pictured. The fighting in this campaign was of the most picturesque variety. Johnston was a master of defensive warfare. The mountainous nature of the country enabled him to entrench his forces at every step. He could always wait to be attacked, could always be sure of having the advantage in position, and could retreat through the passes to a new stand before the Federal forces could arrive. The Union troops, on the other hand, must advance along the railway to keep in touch with their base of supplies in the rear, must fight their way through forests, over boulders, across torrents and broad rivers, ever in the face of a vigilant foe. Thus from May 6th to September 2d, 1864, Sherman fought every foot of his way into the city of Atlanta. ‘Each valley and glen’ had seen some of his sturdy followers fall, but his victorious banners fluttered in the breeze on every mountain side.


‘But to-day fair Savannah is ours’ Byers' line celebrates a triumph fresh when this charming view of the Savannah River was taken. Drooping live-oaks and tangled vines give the scene an air of almost tropical luxuriance. The far gleam of the river from across the level marshes adds just the picture to accompany the song ‘that echoed o'er river and lea.’ The march from Atlanta to Savannah is the operation usually thought of when the famous phrase, ‘March to the Sea’ is uttered. It was November 15, 1864, when Sherman's army ‘swept out from Atlanta's grim walls’ after the total destruction of the military resources of the city. The undertaking was considered one of unparalleled daring. For more than a month the North heard not a word of Sherman and his men. Conjectures as to his whereabouts and activities were of the wildest. But, as a matter of fact, the undertaking was proving one long holiday. There were no Confederate troops sufficient to check the Northern forces. Their foraging parties provided all the soldiers could desire. Indeed, Sherman wrote his wife, ‘We have lived sumptuously,—turkeys, chickens, and sweet potatoes all the way.’ Yet the greatness of the expedition grew on him. Before the end of the year he wrote, ‘Like one who has walked a narrow plank, I look back and wonder if I really did it.’ He did well to wonder. The journals of the civilized world were loud in his praise. Scores of poems heralded him. Byers' song gave additional fame by its captivatingly romantic title.


Still onward we pressed till our banners
Swept out from Atlanta's grim walls,
And the blood of the patriot dampened
The soil where the traitor flag falls.
We paused not to weep for the fallen,
Who sleep by each river and tree,
But we twined them a wreath of the laurel,
And Sherman marched on to the sea.

Oh, proud was our army that morning,
That stood where the pine darkly towers,
When Sherman said, ‘Boys, you are weary,
But to-day fair Savannah is ours.’
Then sang we a song for our chieftain,
That echoed o'er river and lea,
And the stars in our banner shone brighter
When Sherman marched down to the sea.

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