Remembering The Old Songs:


by Bob Waltz
(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, February, 2008)

I once read a history that asserted that it was the American Civil War that made Minnesota a state (by unifying the settlers). Civil War histories, if they mention Minnesota at all, tend to mention the First Minnesota Regiment, which fought at every eastern battle from First Bull Run to Gettysburg, and at the latter battle gave "the last full measure of devotion," taking the highest rate of casualties of any regiment in a single battle in the entire war.

But the Civil War was not won in the east. It was won in the west, at places like New Orleans and Fort Donelson and Vicksburg and Chattanooga and Atlanta. And Minnesota troops had a great part in those battles, too.

The final war-winner was the Battle of Atlanta, and the March to the Sea which followed. U. S. Grant had already cut the Confederacy in half at Vicksburg; by taking Atlanta, the army of William Tecumseh Sherman deprived the Confederacy of its second-biggest industrial city and cut the last railroad line from Virginia to the west. And he went on to cut the Confederacy in half again by making his "March to the Sea." From there, he headed north toward Richmond. That started the final starvation of Robert E. Lee's army, and had Lee managed to stay in Richmond, Sherman would have come up and completed Grant's encirclement of his army, finishing the conquest of the South.

And Minnesotans were in the thick of the March. According to Jacob D. Cox's The March to the Sea • Franklin and Nashville, Appendix F, The Fourth Minnesota Regiment was in Tourtellotte's Brigade of Logan's army corps, the First Minnesota Battery was part of the artillery brigade in Blair's corps, and the Second Minnesota Regiment was in Doan's brigade of Jefferson Davis's corps (yes, there was a Union general named Jefferson Davis!). Other Minnesota troops were also part of the army that took Atlanta though they did not make the March to the Sea.

This song is by Henry Clay Work, author also of Grandfather's Clock and Lost on the 'Lady Elgin' and The Ship That Never Returned, which provided the tune for The Wreck of the 'Old 97'. It is said to have been the most-hated song in the Reconstruction South, which makes it ironic that I learned it mostly from the singing of Tommy Thompson. But there is another Minnesota connection: M. C. Dean, whose book The Flying Cloud is the closest thing there is to a Minnesota folk song collection, printed and presumably sang a version that differs in only a couple of words from Work's original text.


Complete Lyrics:
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 that our commissary found,
How the sweet potatoes even started from the ground,
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 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.

So we made a throroughfare 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.

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