Skip to main content

Homespun Songs Of The C.s.a.

March 2023
1min read

by Bobby Norton; Bobby Horton, 5245 Beacon Drive, Birmingham, AL 35210 .

Bobby Horton does not use the conventional language of the historian—he explains, for instance, that despite its Yankee genesis the lugubrious ballad “All Quiet along the Potomac Tonight” became popular around Southern campfires and thus was “a true crossover hit”—and yet his tape of Confederate Army war songs is an impressive and affecting piece of historical reconstruction.

Civil War soldiers were often poorly trained, poorly led, poorly fed, and poorly armed, but no two armies ever went into the field equipped with better songs. It is hard to say which side had the musical edge—the North may have had the best lyrics (“The Battle Hymn of the Republic”), but the South had the best tune (“Dixie”), and both sides sang it whenever they got the chance.

The songs, of course, reflected the temper of the armies: merry, homesick, melancholy, irreverent, and brave. The eighteen Horton has selected for his tape range from the sad and gorgeous “Lorena” to “Home Sweet Home”—another one popular with both armies—played on the hammer dulcimer. Here is “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” with stuffy lyrics trying to make this stirring Yankee song appropriate to the Southern cause, and a much more convincing transformation in which “Listen to the Mockingbird” becomes “Listen to the Minie Balls.” The postwar “I’m a Good Old Rebel,” with its chilling and childish grudge bearing (“Three hundred thousand Yankees are stiff in Southern dust/We killed three hundred thousand before they conquered us/ They died of Southern fever, of Southern steel and shot/I wish it was three million, instead of what we got”), is counterbalanced by the mellow lilt of “Long Ago,” a veterans’ celebration of the bold days of their youth sung to the tune of “When You and I Were Young, Maggie.”

The best of the songs are as rousing today as they were in the 1860s. Horton calls his renditions homespun because “I played and sang all of this music myself and recorded it here at my home on an old Teac four-channel tape recorder.” In fact, however, the performances are highly polished and full of verve and conviction. Horton brings us very close to the spirit of the army that, Stephen Vincent Benét wrote, “Swore and laughed and despaired and sang ‘Lorena,’/Suffered, died, deserted, fought to the end.… Who wept for the mocking-bird on Hallie’s grave/When you had better cause to weep for more private griefs.”

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Stories published from "September/October 1989"

Authored by: Avis Berman

American art was hardly more than a cultural curiosity in the early years of this century. Now it is among the world’s most influential, and much of the credit belongs to a self-made woman named Juliana Force.

Authored by: Robert Bendiner

A lifelong baseball fan recalls his early days and explains the rewards of abject loyalty

Authored by: The Editors

A History of America’s Civil Rights Movement

Authored by: The Editors

The Development of Jazz, 1930–1945

Authored by: Geoffrey C. Ward

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s honeymoon was a lavish grand tour through a sunny, hospitable Europe. It was also filled with signs of the mutual bafflement that would one day embitter their marriage.

Authored by: Robert L. O’connell

The urge to move documents as fast as possible has always been a national pre-occupation, because it has always been a necessity. Fax and Federal Express are just the latest among many innovations for getting the message across.

Featured Articles

Famous writers including Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and the Alcotts turned Sleepy Hollow Cemetery into our country’s first conservation project.

Native American peoples and the lands they possessed loomed large for Washington, from his first trips westward as a surveyor to his years as President.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.

A hundred years ago, America was rocked by riots, repression, and racial violence.

During Pres. Washington’s first term, an epidemic killed one tenth of all the inhabitants of Philadelphia, then the capital of the young United States.

Now a popular state park, the unassuming geological feature along the Illinois River has served as the site of centuries of human habitation and discovery.  

The recent discovery of the hull of the battleship Nevada recalls her dramatic action at Pearl Harbor and ultimate revenge on D-Day as the first ship to fire on the Nazis.

Our research reveals that 19 artworks in the U.S. Capitol honor men who were Confederate officers or officials. What many of them said, and did, is truly despicable.

Here is probably the most wide-ranging look at Presidential misbehavior ever published in a magazine.

When Germany unleashed its blitzkreig in 1939, the U.S. Army was only the 17th largest in the world. FDR and Marshall had to build a fighting force able to take on the Nazis, against the wishes of many in Congress.

Roast pig, boiled rockfish, and apple pie were among the dishes George and Martha enjoyed during the holiday in 1797. Here are some actual recipes.

Born during Jim Crow, Belle da Costa Greene perfected the art of "passing" while working for one of the most powerful men in America.