- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 10, 2001

The soldiers of the Civil War, North and South, marched to music and relaxed to it, and civilians in both the Union and the Confederacy were inspired and entertained by the melodies and lyrics that were a significant part of the popular culture of the period.
Indeed, music went to war, with both men and women among the creators.
Harry Macarthy's "The Bonnie Blue Flag" (1861) was set to a traditional tune, "The Irish Jaunting Car." Another song with the same title, by Mrs. Annie Chambers Ketchum, appeared a little later. While Macarthy wrote of "The Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star" (the original Confederate flag), Ketchum's version, based on her poem "The Gathering," had "The Bonnie Blue Flag that bears the cross and star." Clearly, not the same flag. (The identity of the composer seems to be unknown.)
Inevitably, there appeared a Union "Reply to the Bonnie Blue Flag," the work of Mrs. C. Sterrett and M.H. Frank: "We're in the right and will prevail: The Stars and Stripes must fly,/The Bonnie Blue Flag be hauled down and every traitor die."
This vitriolic effusion of 1863 quickly faded, as had Mrs. E. Hundsley's "Farewell to the Star-Spangled Banner," published the previous year: "Farewell forever, 'The Star-Spangled Banner.'/No longer shall wave o'er the land of the free."
The sheet-music cover for "The Southrons' Chaunt of Defiance" (1861) claimed that "A Lady of Kentucky" had penned it, but it actually was Catherine M. Warfield's poem "You Can Never Win Us Back," set to music by A.E. Blackmar (1826-1888). Blackmar was a fervent Confederate originally from Vermont who published many songs. This one rang with defiance: "Every hand is on its knife; every gun is primed for strife."
Carrie Bell Sinclair lived in Augusta, Ga., and when the Union blockade began to bite, with luxuries and necessities alike becoming scarce and prices rocketing, she wrote "The Homespun Dress": "My homespun dress is plain, I know; my hat's palmetto too;/But still it shows what Southern girls for Southern rights will do./We scorn to wear a bit of silk, a bit of Northern lace,/But make our homespun dresses up and wear them with a grace." It too was set to "The Irish Jaunting Car."
Her "Strike for the South" (1863) was more militant. "Strike for the South/For the weapons are bright and the heroes who wield them are strong./Let her name brightly glow on the record of fame/And hers be the proudest in song." It was set to music by James S. Pierpont (1822-1893), composer of "Jingle Bells," a favorite since 1857.
In a lighter vein, she wrote "The Soldier's Suit of Grey" (1864) to a tune by E. Clarke Ilsley. "Brass buttons and gold lace, I know, are beautiful to view,/And then, to tell the honest truth, I own I like them too./Yet should a thousand officers come crowding round today,/I'd scorn them for a lad who wears a simple suit of grey." How did this Southern patriot fare when the heavy hand of Reconstruction fell upon her beloved Georgia?
Carrie Bell Sinclair was not the only Georgian to write a successful song. With "Somebody's Darling," Marie Ravenel de la Coste of Savannah brought tears to Southern and Northern eyes. "Into the ward with its clean, white-washed walls,/Where the dead slept and the dying lay,/Wounded by bayonets, sabers and balls,/Somebody's darling was borne that day."
John Hill Hewitt provided a simple but effective tune, and possibly the unforgettable two-line chorus, which is not in the original poem: "Somebody's darling; somebody's pride;/Who'll tell his mother where her boy died?"
"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" made Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910) famous, of course, although it was first published anonymously in the February 1862 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. Set to William Steffe's stirring old tune, it still rings out valiantly, as significant now to America as when it roused a Union fighting for its survival.
In very different mood, another song began as an anonymous poem: "The Picket-Guard," published in Harper's Weekly on Nov. 30, 1861. When Hewitt composed a lovely and haunting tune for it (and gave it a change of title), its success was assured. Sheet-music covers credited the lyric to Maj. Lamar Fontaine, a Confederate officer who had not written it. (He also claimed authorship of James Ryder Randall's bellicose "Maryland.")
The poem actually was the work of Ethel Lynn Beers, an obscure contributor to various journals whose verses evoked an almost unbearable sense of danger and tragedy, inspired by a newspaper headline. "All quiet along the Potomac tonight,/No sound save the rush of the river,/While soft falls the dew on the face of the dead:/The picket's off-duty for ever."
Beers Ethelinda Eliot was born in Goshen, N.Y., on Jan. 23, 1827, a descendant of John Eliot, who was born in 1604 in Hertfordshire, England, and became a missionary to the Indians. She was the daughter of a druggist and justice of the peace. After marrying W.H. Beers in 1846, she began to write as Ethel Lynn Beers, but why she preferred anonymity on this occasion is anybody's guess. She died in New York City on Oct. 11, 1879. Her collected verse, "All Quiet Along the Potomac and Other Poems," had been published just the previous day.


Peter Cliffe, who lives in Hertfordshire, England, is a retired administrator for a multinational corporation. He became interested in the Civil War while working in North America.



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