I have been listening to my CD from the 2nd South Carolina String Band on the way to and from work. Nothing like hearing Jine the Cavalry as you are crossing the Potomac. I am always struck at how some of the songs could have come from the folk tradition of the Vietnam War era -- think Peter, Paul, and Mary or Pete Seeger, who actually covered a few Civil War songs that I have downloaded on my iPod. The final verse and chorus from The Vacant Chair, for example, laments:
True they tell us wreaths of glory
Ever more will deck his brow,
But this soothes the anguish only
Sweeping o’er our heartstrings now.
Sleep today, O early fallen,
In thy green and narrow bed,
Dirges from the pine and cypress,
Mingle with the tears we shed.
We shall meet, but we shall miss him.
There will be one vacant chair.
We shall linger to caress him
While we breathe our ev'ning prayer.
Sheet Music, The Vacant Chair (courtesy of Project Gutenberg)
Sheet Music, Tenting on the Old Campground (courtesy of Wikipedia)
Or, take the chorus from Tenting on the Old Campground:
Many are the hearts that are weary tonight,When we think of Civil War songs, we often recall rousing patriotic tunes like Battle Cry of Freedom, or humorous numbers like Goober Peas. But sentimental ballads, with anti-war overtones, were equally as popular among the soldiers. In fact, as Bruce Catton relates in Mr. Lincoln's Army, some commanding Union officer in the Army of the Potomac banned the singing of When This Cruel War is Over out of concern that it would negatively affect morale in the ranks and lead to desertion. The popularity of such songs tells us that although soldiers may have been motivated to fight out of a sense of duty, honor, and patriotism, they recognized that war was a violent and terrible experience, and that the sooner they could bring it to a close, the better. I can't help but listen to these songs and think how the soldiers used them to express sentiments that may have otherwise gone unspoken out of adherence to Victorian notions of bravery and manhood. These songs, speaking to us from the past, remove the romantic gloss from our remembrance of the Civil War, and capture the sense of loss and the longing for an end to the violence that many soldiers must surely have felt.
Wishing for the war to cease;
Many are the hearts looking for the right
To see the dawn of peace.
Tenting tonight, tenting tonight,
Tenting on the old camp ground.