Homespun Songs Of The Union Army

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Readers who enjoyed Bobby Horton’s Homespun Songs of the C.S.A. , which was reviewed in these pages a few issues ago, will be pleased to know that he has produced a Union counterpart. This shows considerable breadth of spirit; Horton is a sixth-generation AIabamian, and his ancestral ties to the Confederacy are very strong. “I had never considered doing a collection of Union tunes; however, at the request of several Northern friends I decided to give it a shot. As I studied Union lyrics, I discovered one strong trait shared by the Yankee and Rebel soldiers: they both sacrificed their youth and, all too often, their lives for a cause they believed was right and just.” Thus he dedicates his tape to both North and South, and in fact brings to his Union songs the same lilt, spirit, and sincerity that inform his ballads of the Lost Cause.

As with his other tapes (he has done four volumes of Confederate songs and one of Christmas carols), Horton played all the instruments—drums, banjo, fiddle, piano—and had them mixed in his friend Brant Beene’s garage. The result, however, is considerably more sophisticated than this down-home approach might suggest.

Some of the tunes are well known—“Tenting on the Old Camp Ground” and the great “Battle Cry of Freedom”—while others are less so but just as interesting and occasionally as stirring. “Pat Murphy of the Irish Brigade” seems to begin as yet another of the era’s musical jibes at the Irish but then turns into a somber and impressive lament for that brave and hard-used outfit. “The Army of the Free” is a rousing adaptation of “The Wearing of the Green,” and “Good-bye, Old Glory” manages in one sweeping summation to be humorous (about army food), to offer a grand statement about validating the sacrifices of the dead (“where e’er your blood has sealed the faith, we rode in triumph through”), and even, in a moment of truculent self-satisfaction, to threaten war with England for Confederate sympathies. Horton’s passion and high spirits bring us very close to what must have been the voice of an army.