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Chapter 44


I have before mentioned as among the things that grew upon one with
increasing acquaintance with the Rebels on their native heath, was
astonishment at their lack of mechanical skill and at their inability to
grapple with numbers and the simpler processes of arithmetic. Another
characteristic of the same nature was their wonderful lack of musical
ability, or of any kind of tuneful creativeness.

Elsewhere, all over the world, people living under similar conditions to
the Southerners are exceedingly musical, and we owe the great majority of
the sweetest compositions which delight the ear and subdue the senses to
unlettered song-makers of the Swiss mountains, the Tyrolese valleys, the
Bavarian Highlands, and the minstrels of Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

The music of English-speaking people is very largely made up of these
contributions from the folk-songs of dwellers in the wilder and more
mountainous parts of the British Isles. One rarely goes far out of the
way in attributing to this source any air that he may hear that
captivates him with its seductive opulence of harmony. Exquisite
melodies, limpid and unstrained as the carol of a bird in Spring-time,
and as plaintive as the cooing of a turtle-dove seems as natural products
of the Scottish Highlands as the gorse which blazons on their hillsides
in August. Debarred from expressing their aspirations as people of
broader culture do--in painting, in sculpture, in poetry and prose, these
mountaineers make song the flexible and ready instrument for the
communication of every emotion that sweeps across their souls.

Love, hatred, grief, revenge, anger, and especially war seems to tune
their minds to harmony, and awake the voice of song in them hearts. The
battles which the Scotch and Irish fought to replace the luckless Stuarts
upon the British throne--the bloody rebellions of 1715 and 1745, left a
rich legacy of sweet song, the outpouring of loving, passionate loyalty
to a wretched cause; songs which are today esteemed and sung wherever the
English language is spoken, by people who have long since forgotten what
burning feelings gave birth to their favorite melodies.

For a century the bones of both the Pretenders have moldered in alien
soil; the names of James Edward, and Charles Edward, which were once
trumpet blasts to rouse armed men, mean as little to the multitude of
today as those of the Saxon Ethelbert, and Danish Hardicanute, yet the
world goes on singing--and will probably as long as the English language
is spoken--"Wha'll be King but Charlie?" "When Jamie Come Hame," "Over
the Water to Charlie," "Charlie is my Darling," "The Bonny Blue Bonnets
are Over the Border," "Saddle Your Steeds and Awa," and a myriad others
whose infinite tenderness and melody no modern composer can equal.

Yet these same Scotch and Irish, the same Jacobite English, transplanted
on account of their chronic rebelliousness to the mountains of Virginia,
the Carolinas, and Georgia, seem to have lost their tunefulness, as some
fine singing birds do when carried from their native shores.

The descendants of those who drew swords for James and Charles at Preston
Pans and Culloden dwell to-day in the dales and valleys of the
Alleganies, as their fathers did in the dales and valleys of the
Grampians, but their voices are mute.

As a rule the Southerners are fond of music. They are fond of singing
and listening to old-fashioned ballads, most of which have never been
printed, but handed down from one generation to the other, like the
'Volklieder' of Germany. They sing these with the wild, fervid
impressiveness characteristic of the ballad singing of unlettered people.
Very many play tolerably on the violin and banjo, and occasionally one is
found whose instrumentation may be called good. But above this hight
they never soar. The only musician produced by the South of whom the
rest of the country has ever heard, is Blind Tom, the negro idiot. No
composer, no song writer of any kind has appeared within the borders of

It was a disappointment to me that even the stress of the war, the
passion and fierceness with which the Rebels felt and fought, could not
stimulate any adherent of the Stars and Bars into the production of a
single lyric worthy in the remotest degree of the magnitude of the
struggle, and the depth of the popular feeling. Where two million
Scotch, fighting to restore the fallen fortunes of the worse than
worthless Stuarts, filled the world with immortal music, eleven million
of Southerners, fighting for what they claimed to be individual freedom
and national life, did not produce any original verse, or a bar of music
that the world could recognize as such. This is the fact; and an
undeniable one. Its explanation I must leave to abler analysts
than I am.

Searching for peculiar causes we find but two that make the South differ
from the ancestral home of these people. These two were Climate and
Slavery. Climatic effects will not account for the phenomenon, because
we see that the peasantry of the mountains of Spain and the South of
France as ignorant as these people, and dwellers in a still more
enervating atmosphere-are very fertile in musical composition, and their
songs are to the Romanic languages what the Scotch and Irish ballads are
to the English.

Then it must be ascribed to the incubus of Slavery upon the intellect,
which has repressed this as it has all other healthy growths in the
South. Slavery seems to benumb all the faculties except the passions.
The fact that the mountaineers had but few or no slaves, does not seem to
be of importance in the case. They lived under the deadly shadow of the
upas tree, and suffered the consequences of its stunting their
development in all directions, as the ague-smitten inhabitant of the
Roman Campana finds every sense and every muscle clogged by the filtering
in of the insidious miasma. They did not compose songs and music,
because they did not have the intellectual energy for that work.

The negros displayed all the musical creativeness of that section.
Their wonderful prolificness in wild, rude songs, with strangely
melodious airs that burned themselves into the memory, was one of the
salient characteristics of that down-trodden race. Like the Russian
serfs, and the bondmen of all ages and lands, the songs they made and
sang all had an undertone of touching plaintiveness, born of ages of dumb
suffering. The themes were exceedingly simple, and the range of subjects
limited. The joys, and sorrows, hopes and despairs of love's
gratification or disappointment, of struggles for freedom, contests with
malign persons and influences, of rage, hatred, jealousy, revenge, such
as form the motifs for the majority of the poetry of free and strong
races, were wholly absent from their lyrics. Religion, hunger and toil
were their main inspiration. They sang of the pleasures of idling in the
genial sunshine; the delights of abundance of food; the eternal happiness
that awaited them in the heavenly future, where the slave-driver ceased
from troubling and the weary were at rest; where Time rolled around in
endless cycles of days spent in basking, harp in hand, and silken clad,
in golden streets, under the soft effulgence of cloudless skies, glowing
with warmth and kindness emanating from the Creator himself. Had their
masters condescended to borrow the music of the slaves, they would have
found none whose sentiments were suitable for the ode of a people
undergoing the pangs of what was hoped to be the birth of a new nation.

The three songs most popular at the South, and generally regarded as
distinctively Southern, were "The Bonnie Blue Flag," "Maryland, My
Maryland," and "Stonewall Jackson Crossing into Maryland." The first of
these was the greatest favorite by long odds. Women sang, men whistled,
and the so-called musicians played it wherever we went. While in the
field before capture, it was the commonest of experiences to have Rebel
women sing it at us tauntingly from the house that we passed or near
which we stopped. If ever near enough a Rebel camp, we were sure to hear
its wailing crescendo rising upon the air from the lips or instruments of
some one more quartered there. At Richmond it rang upon us constantly
from some source or another, and the same was true wherever else we went
in the so-called Confederacy.

All familiar with Scotch songs will readily recognize the name and air as
an old friend, and one of the fierce Jacobite melodies that for a long
time disturbed the tranquility of the Brunswick family on the English
throne. The new words supplied by the Rebels are the merest doggerel,
and fit the music as poorly as the unchanged name of the song fitted to
its new use. The flag of the Rebellion was not a bonnie blue one; but
had quite as much red and white as azure. It did not have a single star,
but thirteen.

Near in popularity was "Maryland, My Maryland." The versification of
this was of a much higher Order, being fairly respectable. The air is
old, and a familiar one to all college students, and belongs to one of
the most common of German household songs:

O, Tannenbaum! O, Tannenbaum, wie tru sind deine Blatter!
Da gruenst nicht nur zur Sommerseit,
Nein, auch in Winter, when es Schneit, etc.

which Longfellow has finely translated,

O, hemlock tree! O, hemlock tree! how faithful are thy branches!
Green not alone in Summer time,
But in the Winter's float and rime.
O, hemlock tree O, hemlock tree! how faithful are thy branches! Etc.

The Rebel version ran:


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

Hark to the wand'ring son's appeal,
My mother State, to thee I kneel,
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 duet,
Thy beaming sword shall never rust
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,
Come! with thy panoplied array,
With Ringgold's spirit for the fray,
With Watson's blood at Monterey,
With fearless Lowe and dashing May,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Comet for thy shield is bright and strong,
Come! for thy dalliance does thee wrong,
Come! to thins own heroic throng,
That stalks with Liberty along,
And give a new Key to thy song,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Dear Mother! burst the tyrant's chain,
Virginia should not call in vain,
She meets her sisters on the plain--
'Sic semper' 'tis the proud refrain,
That baffles millions back amain,
Arise, in majesty again,
Maryland! My Maryland!

I see the blush upon thy cheek,
But thou wast ever bravely meek,
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.
Thou wilt not crook to his control,
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 hem,
The Old Line's bugle, fife, and drum.
She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb--
Hnzza! she spurns the Northern scum!
She breathes--she burns! she'll come! she'll come!
Maryland! My Maryland!

"Stonewall Jackson Crossing into Maryland," was another travesty, of
about the same literary merit, or rather demerit, as "The Bonnie Blue
Flag." Its air was that of the well-known and popular negro minstrel
song, "Billy Patterson." For all that, it sounded very martial and
stirring when played by a brass band.

We heard these songs with tiresome iteration, daily and nightly, during
our stay in the Southern Confederacy. Some one of the guards seemed to
be perpetually beguiling the weariness of his watch by singing in all
keys, in every sort of a voice, and with the wildest latitude as to air
and time. They became so terribly irritating to us, that to this day the
remembrance of those soul-lacerating lyrics abides with me as one of the
chief of the minor torments of our situation. They were, in fact, nearly
as bad as the lice.

We revenged ourselves as best we could by constructing fearfully wicked,
obscene and insulting parodies on these, and by singing them with
irritating effusiveness in the hearing of the guards who were inflicting
these nuisances upon us.

Of the same nature was the garrison music. One fife, played by an
asthmatic old fellow whose breathings were nearly as audible as his
notes, and one rheumatic drummer, constituted the entire band for the
post. The fifer actually knew but one tune "The Bonnie Blue Flag"
--and did not know that well. But it was all that he had, and he played it
with wearisome monotony for every camp call--five or six times a day,
and seven days in the week. He called us up in the morning with it for a
reveille; he sounded the "roll call" and "drill call," breakfast, dinner
and supper with it, and finally sent us to bed, with the same dreary wail
that had rung in our ears all day. I never hated any piece of music as I
came to hate that threnody of treason. It would have been such a relief
if the old asthmatic who played it could have been induced to learn
another tune to play on Sundays, and give us one day of rest. He did
not, but desecrated the Lord's Day by playing as vilely as on the rest of
the week. The Rebels were fully conscious of their musical deficiencies,
and made repeated but unsuccessful attempts to induce the musicians among
the prisoners to come outside and form a band.

John McElroy