- Historic Sites
Music Had Charms
Homely sentiment and crude humor—in delightful covers—helped soothe the mid-nineteenth-century breast
April 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 3
On Shiloh’s dark and bloody ground , The dead and wounded lay , Amongst them was a drummer boy , That beat the drum tlitil day . A wounded soldier raised him up , His drum was by his side , He clasped his hands and raised his eyes And prayed before he died .
Oh the fireman’s heart is bold and free , His motto is to save , He works without reward or fee , Hurrah! for the fireman brave .
On, and on, and on he goes , Never a doubt or danger knows , King of the Road, he’s nothing to fear , Ho, for the faithful Engineer .
Although presented to the public in delightful gift wrappings, now collectors’ items, the songs themselves generally laded rapidly into obscurity. A few caught on to live as part of the folk music of America. One famous survivor, “The Flying Trapeze” (1868) became a favorite with circus clowns and later enjoyed a revival by such popular singers as Walter O’Keefe and Rudy Vallee. It is still familiar to singing Americans everywhere and, with the possible exception of “The Drummer Boy of Shiloh,” a favorite of Civil War buffs, is the only song from this selection to have passed the test of the years. Musical Americana publications have published a facsimile of this classic in their scries of One Hundred Great American Songs . The version at left is one of three which appeared during the song’s first year—a not uncommon publishing occurrence in those days before copyright. The parody is apparent in the substitution of a girl for the man on the trapeze. The last chorus goes:
She floats through the air with the greatest of ease , You’d think her a man on the flying trapeze , She does all the work while he takes his ease , And that’s what’s become of my love .
In pre-Freudian days, when an ankle was an aphrodisiac, “Matilda Toots or You Should Have Seen Her Boots” enjoyed its brief moment. The heroine was having her boots laced on when she fell in; she married her rescuer—still in the same boots. Time has mercifully forgotten Matilda.