I am a Union Man, Note 2

"Marching Through Georgia"


One aspect of the romanticization of the South that interests me is the fate of the great Union song, "Marching Through Georgia."
Marching Through Georgia
by Henry C. Work

Bring the good old bugle, boys, we'll sing another song;
Sing it with a spirit that will start the world along,
Sing it as we used to sing it, fifty thousand strong,
While we were marching through Georgia.

"Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the jubilee!
"Hurrah! Hurrah! The Flag that makes you free!"
So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea,
While we were marching through Georgia.

How the darkeys shouted when they heard the joyful sound!
How the turkeys gobbled which our commissary found!
How the sweet potatoes even started from the ground,
While we were marching through Georgia.

"Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the jubilee!
"Hurrah! Hurrah! The Flag that makes you free!"
So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea,
While we were marching through Georgia.

Yes, and there were Union men who wept with joyful tears,
When they saw the honored Flag they had not seen for years;
Hardly could they be restrained from breaking forth in cheers,
While we were marching though Georgia.

"Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the jubilee!
"Hurrah! Hurrah! The Flag that makes you free!"
So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea,
While we were marching through Georgia.

"Sherman's dashing Yankee boys will never reach the coast!"
So the saucy Rebels said, and 'twas a handsome boast;
Had they not forgot, alas! to reckon with the host,
While we were marching through Georgia.

"Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the jubilee!
"Hurrah! Hurrah! The Flag that makes you free!"
So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea,
While we were marching through Georgia.

So we made a thoroughfare for Freedom and her train,
Sixty miles in latitude, three hundred to the main;
Treason fled before us, for resistance was in vain,
While we were marching through Georgia.

"Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the jubilee!
"Hurrah! Hurrah! The Flag that makes you free!"
So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea,
While we were marching through Georgia.
When I was a child, and a Civil War buff, I heard "Dixie" a lot, and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" occasionally, but "Marching Through Georgia" never. Indeed, I never even heard of it until many years later, when there was some talking head comment that a Southern politician would rather sing "Marching Through Georgia" than support a certain policy. Then I did not hear the actual tune until the popular documentary on the Civil War by Ken Burns (1989, Florentine Films). That had the music which should play in the background of this file (if it doesn't, hit the popup), with some narration (by David McCullough), but no words. At that point, I went looking for records of Civil War songs. Collection after collection was innocent of "Marching." Finally, "Songs of the Civil War" had it [Columbia, Sony Music Entertainment, Inc., 1991, a piece can be loaded here], but only the first verse and the chorus. This was disappointing, since the first verse is more like a preface than a proper part of the song. I finally found all the words to the song on the internet, where several pages treat of the song, with some apparent disagreement about the precise words, and even the precise music. The actual soundtrack of Burns' Civil War documentary (Elekra Nonesuch, 1990), which is almost all instrumental, does not contain the version of "Marching" in the clip here. It only has a version with violins, like the "Songs of the Civil War" album. Brass band music, however, is more appropriate, since it is a marching song.

The "Songs of the Civil War" also had a slow, mournful version of the music, which Ken Burns also had for his documentary (called a "lament" on the soundtrack), to indicate how Southerners felt about the march. The "Songs" record, as it happened, was co-produced by Burns himself, apparently as a spin-off of the documentary. But the jaunty, marching air of the song is what it is all about. The "bummers" were raising hell, having fun, freeing slaves, looting, wrecking railroads, and not doing much fighting. Indeed, there was not much of a real battle the whole rest of the War.

Since we don't see much in the way of arrangements of "Dixie" to indicate how black people feel about that song, it is curious that "Marching Through Georgia" should receive such treatment, and so little exposure over all. But it is all of a piece with the hostility and forgetfullness, even among knee-jerk "civil rights" leftists, for the Union cause. After the civil rights movement, one would expect more recognition for Unionist expressions, and that U.S. Grant might get more of the respect he deserves for his Presidency, but the inertia of the Segregation era is apprently not easily overcome, or the many judgments it poisoned easily revised. Sherman himself got sick of the song, since it was played every time he appeared anyplace, sometimes over and over again. In the South, however, the deep hatred of the song was for obvious other reasons.

Another place I found "Marching Through Georgia," though only the first verse and chorus again, is in the 1939 movie Dodge City with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland [Warner Brothers; United Artists, 1967; MGM/UA Home Video, 1991]. This is especially revealing because the Union men in the movie are the bad guys. The heroes are former Confederates, who cut short the singing of "Marching" with their own singing of "Dixie." A fight ensues, and the nasty "blue bellies" are put in their place. This was, of course, the year of Gone With The Wind, which stands with Birth of a Nation as the most important celebration of the South in movie history. Gone With The Wind contains its own bit of "Marching," as sung by a black carpetbagger who nastily refuses to give a ride to wounded Confederate veterans. We don't see the Klan murdering anybody in this movie.

Finally, most of the song can now be found sung by Keith & Rusty McNeil in their Civil War Songs, with historical narration [audio cassettes, WEM Records, Riverside, CA]. They only skip the verse with the "darkies." All the words and more can be found in their corresponding paperback Civil War Songbook, with historical commentary [WEM Records, Riverside, CA, 1999, pp.94-96]. Slight differences in wording can found for the song. In the first verse, "as we used to sing it" occurs instead of "like we used to sing it" in Dodge City and in Keith & Rusty McNeil. The McNeils also have "chorus" instead of "spirit" in the first verse, give "Sherman's dashing Yankee boys" as the second verse, rather than the fourth, don't have "and" before "'twas a handsome boast," and do have an "and" before "so we made a thoroughfare." On the internet "ring" is sometimes found for "bring" in the first verse, but this must originate in a typo.

These puzzles can be solved, however, with Dover Publications The Civil War Songbook, Complete Original Sheet Music for 37 Songs, selected and with an introduction by Richard Crawford [1977, pp.34-37]. Here we have facsimilies of the original songsheets from 1865, so all uncertainties can be laid to rest. The first verse has "as" and "spirit"; "Sherman's dashing Yankee boys" is the fourth verse, with "and 'twas"; and the fifth verse begins with "So." The McNeils credit Crawford's Songbook, so it is surprising to find several small errors like these.

The most revealing lines in the song may be "The Flag that makes you free," "How the darkies shouted," and "Treason fled before us." The soldiers knew that they were there to free slaves, and up to 25,000 freedmen ended up following the Army. That wasn't too good, since the Army itself was living off the land, and some of the blacks starved when they couldn't get enough themselves. But they knew who was for them. I do doubt that the Army encountered very many white "Union men"; and some of the numbers are not quite right. Sherman had more like 62,000 men, not just 50,000; and it is 225 some miles from Atlanta to Savannah, not 300 -- though it had been 330 miles from Chattanooga. That probably just means that Mr. Work, back in Chicago (though he was from Connecticut), was less a historian than a song writer.

The "jubilee" in the song is a Biblical reference that occurs in other Union Civil War songs, like "John Brown's Body," "Kingdom Coming," and, obviously, "Sixty-Three is the Jubilee." The description of the jubilee begins at Leviticus 25:8. At 25:10 we find, "And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his family." The latter provision all by itself was of great significance in the context, when many slave families had been broken up. After the War, freedmen could be seen wandering the roads trying to "return to his family." Also, at Leviticus 25:39 we find:

And if your brother becomes poor beside you, and sells himself to you, you shall not make him serve as a slave: [40] he shall be with you as a hired servant and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee; [41] then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him, and go back to his own family, and return to the possession of his fathers.

Whether as slave or servant (Latin servus meant both), the jubilee thus promised freedom and a return to family. The slave masters, of course, did not regard Africans as their "brothers," so this meant nothing to them. In this, they could feel equally well motivated Biblically, since the passage in question clearly refers only to Israelites, "For they are my servants, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves" [25:42], and is immediately followed by "you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are round about you" [25:44]. However, it was a long standing principle of Christian theology that all Christians are the Nation of Israel under the New Covenant. This passage, so interpreted, would therefore prohibit the holding of Christians as slaves and would require that anyone "bound to service" (the phrase used in the Constitution, Article I, Section 2) should be liberated at the jubilee. The piety of Southerners cannot be disputed, but as Gandhi said of the Boers, it is not clear that they had ever read the New Testament. Even in terms of Old Testament imagery, however, they were at a disadvantage. No Southern song could be as moving and poignant as "Go Down Moses." The second verse of that song says:

Thus saith the LORD, bold Moses said, let my people go;
If not I'll smite your first-born dead, let my people go.

This is not unlike what the Civil War did to the South; but even a century later, most Southerners still did not think of black people as their brothers. Beaten but not chastened, they never did see General Sherman as the Wrath of God. When they finally were sufficiently shamed, in the 1960's, their own Segregation laws stood as the precedent for anti-discrimination laws that similarly violated fundamental rights of private property and voluntary association.

 
Now the traitors to our cause have gone to Washington;
Thanks to them our Freedom's work is nearly all undone;
But with Uncle Billy we could put them on the run,
When we come marching from Georgia.

"Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the jubilee!
"Hurrah! Hurrah! The Flag that makes you free!"
So we'll sing the chorus from Savannah to the Hill,
When we come marching from Georgia.
Considering how faithless and vicious the government of the United States has now become, an extra verse for "Marching Through Georgia" seems in order. We can imagine Sherman's army resting in spirit in Savannah, and instead of just heading into South Carolina as did the real one, now proceeding all the way to Washington to free us all from the slavery that has been criminally devised against us. "Uncle Billy," of couse, was Sherman, and the "Hill" is Capitol Hill, i.e. Congress. I suspect that the Georgia Libertarian Party in general has no love for General German, the March, or the North; but, if they thought better of it, this would bring the song up to date for them in the best way.

There are precedents from the Civil War for such topical extra verses. Even "The Yellow Rose of Texas," which was a love song with no relation whatsoever to the Civil War, except that it was popular, got an extra verse commenting on the final days of the war.
Oh, my heart is feeling weary
And my head is hanging low
I'm goin' back to Georgy
To find my Uncle Joe.
You may talk about your Beauregard
And sing of Bobby Lee
But the Gallant Hood of Texas
He raised Hell in Tennessee.
John Bell Hood, "Old Wooden Head," raised Hell in Tennesee mainly for the Confederacy, since he ruined his own army with a foolish frontal assault at Franklin. This left him too weak to actually attack George Thomas, the "Rock of Chickamauga," in Nashville. So he just waited around until Thomas attacked him and destroyed the Confederate force, knocking it out of the War. This left no effective Confederate field army besides (Bobby) Lee's in Virginia. Hood was relieved of command, but was much later (in 1942) honored with an army post, Fort Hood, in Texas.


Marching Through Georgia

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Copyright (c) 2000, 2003, 2004 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D., Postumus Friesianorum, All Rights Reserved