- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 19, 2002

Many soldiers tramping the dusty or muddy roads during the Civil War carried songsters in their knapsacks. These were little books containing the lyrics of tunes likely to appeal to men whose days were full of danger and whose nights were lacking comfort.

Simple songs, whether sad, romantic or humorous, were preferred. Many such volumes appeared and some were updated annually. Flimsy and much-thumbed, they are hard to find now, but a few have survived.

In the Confederacy, they were published in Augusta, Ga.; Mobile, Ala.; New Orleans; Raleigh; and Richmond. In the Union, they were compiled in New York City, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Johnny Reb might consult "The Dixieland Songster" (1863) or "Songs of Love and Liberty" (1864), while Billy Yank might peruse "The Flag of Our Union" (1861) or "The Campfire Songster" (1864). The songs these booklets contained were sung while the men were on the march and after a long and arduous journey had ended.

For all the companionship of their fellows, many were lonely men whose mothers, sisters, sweethearts and wives were far away. They thought of them as they sang "Lorena" and "Sweet Evalina." These were fictitious maidens and doubtless the soldiers assumed that another favorite, "Annie Laurie," was just another imaginary girl, in a charming old Scottish song. Annie Laurie, however, had been a real person.

Her father was Sir Robert Laurie of Maxwelton near Dumfries, Scotland, who had married Jean Riddle in Edinburgh in 1674. Annie was born Dec. 16, 1682. When she grew up, the story goes that William Douglas of Fingland, Kirkcudbrightshire (pronounced "Ker-koo-bree-shire," accent on the second syllable), wooed but did not win "Bonnie Annie Laurie." After rejecting his suit, and perhaps preferring financial security to adoration, she married wealthy Alexander Ferguson of Craigdarroch.

Douglas extolled the charms of the girl who had turned him down in his "Annie Laurie" verses one trusts he penned them before he married Elizabeth Clerc of Glenboig, by whom he had four sons and two daughters. Other versions exist of this tale of unrequited love, but what is certain is that Annie Laurie Ferguson died in 1764, age 82, and lies in the churchyard at Glencairn, Dumfriesshire.

"Annie Laurie" was rediscovered by Lady John Montagu Douglas Scott, who, as Alicia Ann Spottiswoode, was born at Lauder, Berwickshire, in 1810. In 1836, she married the son of the Duke of Buccleuch and was widowed in 1860. According to Lady Scott herself, she found Douglas' two-stanza poem, written in broad Scots, in a book called "Songs of Scotland," published in 1824. After softening the dialect, she added a third stanza of her own and then composed an unforgettable melody.

The song begins, "Maxwelton's braes are bonnie, where early falls the dew, / And 'twas there that Annie Laurie gave me her promise true. / Gave me her promise true, that ne'er forgot will be. / And for bonnie Annie Laurie I would lay me doun and dee."

Alas, it would seem that she made no such promise, and her rejected suitor did not "dee" for love of her. But he did paint a delightful word portrait of the maiden: "Her brow is like the snowdrift; her throat is like the swan; / Her face is as the fairest that e'er the sun shone on / That e'er the sun shone on; and dark-blue is her e'e. "

Lady Scott's own verse completes the song lyric: "Like dew on the gowans lying is the fall of her fairy feet; / And like winds in summer sighing, her voice is low and sweet; / Her voice is low and sweet; and she's all the world to me; / And for bonnie Annie Laurie I would lay me doun and dee." (Daisies are called gowans in Scotland.)

Published anonymously, as was the custom with female authors in those days, this lilting song appeared in 1838. Lady Scott wrote other long-forgotten songs, but may have written "The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond," although this is disputed. She died March 13, 1900.

Tired and homesick, the Johnny Rebs and Billy Yanks of the future knew only that here was a pretty song that was easy to sing. These men, who fought and fell at Chancellorsville and Antietam and in many another grim battle, loved "Annie Laurie" and this greatly changed world still does.

Peter Cliffe lives in Hertfordshire, England, and is a retired administrator for a multinational company and a student of the American Civil War.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide