Home » Southern Soldier – Song Notes

Southern Soldier – Song Notes

Southern Soldier album cover (Civil War music)

Ol’ Dan Tucker Written by Dan Emmett in the 1830’s and first published in 1841, Ol’ Dan Tucker was one of the most consistently popular civilian tunes enjoyed by troops throughout the war and was a favorite with camp bands and field musicians alike.

McLeod’s Reel A traditional 18th century Scottish fiddle tune,  McLeod’s Reel was especially popular with the Scottish colonial settlers of the North Carolina-Appalachian Mountain regions. By the mid-19th century, the growth in popularity of the tune had made it a staple anywhere reels were danced, and it is still commonly performed in modern dance ensembles. It has been called the original Virginia Reel.

Oh! Lud Gals! This is one of the many popular comic tunes published in the 1855 Briggs Banjo Instructor. The original version was written by Charles White, with additional lyrics written in 1843 by one of the founders of the minstrel tradition, Dan Emmett.

Boatman’s Dance Another comic song attributed to Dan Emmett and first published in the early 1840’s. It was widely popularized throughout the eastern seaboard by the Virginia Minstrels. The phrase used in this version was a common one in the Lynchburg area of Virginia as well as up and down the James River, where a “big bateau” meant a large, flat-bottomed boat used to carry merchandise to market. Up north, the chorus was more often, “Floatin’ down de ribber ob de O-HI-O…”

Rickett’s Hornpipe / Fishar’s Hornpipe During the pre-war years, dance tunes such as Rickett’s Hornpipe were popular diversions in private homes and at public gatherings. In writing about antebellum home life, David Holt, later a private in the 16th Mississippi, mentions that his “father approved of dancing. He danced a remarkable minuet and ‘Fishar’s Hornpipe’.”* This version demonstrates the result when martial musicians would mix the fife and drum with the civilian fiddle and banjo in a military camp environment.

Zip Coon Better known today as the tune Turkey in the Straw, Zip Coon was itself derived from an earlier piece entitled Natchez Under the Hill. Published as Old Zip Coon in 1834 by the team of Bob Farrel and George Nickols, it was simultaneously claimed by songwriter George W. Dixon. It became one of the most popular minstrel tunes ever written and achieved great success in the performances of the Sweeney family, “Old Joe’s Minstrels.” By 1861, Dan Emmett had changed the tune slightly and rewrote the lyrics giving the new title, Turkey in the Straw.

Hard Times Come Again No More Another famous Stephan Foster melody produced in 1855. With the absence of dialect and humor, this tune was not intended as a minstrel piece, but rather as a serious and sentimental parlor song. The melody is based upon a hymn that Foster had heard in his youth while attending a black church in Lawrenceburg, Pennsylvania.

John Brown’s March / John Brown’s Dream These two traditional pieces are part of a group of fiddle tunes from the Civil War era, which are believed to have John Brown, the radical abolitionist, as a theme. Although of uncertain origin, these pieces are commonly found in the Appalachian region of North Carolina. An alternative interpretation is that the John Brown referred to was Sgt. John Brown of the 6th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, killed by a civilian mob as he led his men through the streets of Baltimore in 1861.

Oh, I’m A Good Old Rebel The melody of this song was borrowed from a pre-war minstrel tune, Joe Bowers. The words are of a somewhat obscure origin; published in 1866, credit for the lyrics was given to one Major Innes Randolph, a “cultivated Southerner of letters.” A cultivated Southerner he may have been, but a more bitter, venomous statement of the emotions felt by many Confederate veterans following the surrender would be hard to imagine. However, as humiliating as the Reconstruction years were to most Southerners, the angry, hate-filled opinions expressed in the words of this song would most certainly not have been shared by the majority of the military and political leadership of the Confederacy, nor by the vast majority of the rank and file. Overwhelmingly, most felt they had honorably acquitted themselves in a cause they believed in, and, having failed, returned peacefully to their homes and families, pledging themselves to honor and defend the very Constitution and Union they had fought so hard against. We have tried, in this presentation, to capture the emotion of that time. Few, then as now, would have embraced the sentiments expressed in this song. Ironically, the 1866 edition was dedicated to the radical Reconstructionist, the Honorable Thaddeus Stevens.

Palmetto Quickstep This medley of traditional military fife-and-drum tunes is drawn directly from the classic text for Civil War fifes-and-drummers by Bruce and Emmett. In this, the tunes are unique and very authentic interpretations of the most commonly heard music of the southern soldier. The set here is made up of The Girl I Left Behind Me, Liverpool Hornpipe/Kenderbecks, and  Biddy Oats. It should be duly noted that the Emmett credited above is the very same known far and wide as the famous minstrel.

Keemo Kimo The melody of this comic tune comes from an early 18th century fife-and-drum tune often referred to as Frog In the Well. By the mid-19th century, it had acquired a set of popular nonsense lyrics of a distinctly Southern flavor. Like many contemporary “plantation songs,”  Keemo Kimo has the lyrical construction of a “cadence-counting” piece, ideal for accompanying labor common to the plantation – or on the march. An individual would sing out the verse and the marching column or company would sing back the refrain en masse. Such songs, when sung on the march, often helped to keep morale high and make the “work” (and miles) pass more pleasantly.

Jackson in the Valley Freely adapted from the war-time “poetry” of Private John B. Driscoll, of the Gooch County Irregulars, Company J, and sung to the melody of the contemporary fiddle tune Cripple Creek, this rousing musical narrative recounts the early war achievements of “Stonewall” Jackson’s famous “Foot Cavalry,” as they miraculously defeat all prospective invaders of the Shenandoah Valley in the spring of 1862, then march to Lee’s support at Richmond during the Seven Days Campaign.

Johnny Boker / Circus Jig / Jim Along Josie Johnny Boker  is a wonderfully comic song attributed to “the father of American Minstrelsy,” Joel Sweeney, who performed in the 1850’s with his younger brothers, Dick and Sam, and his cousin, Bob Sweeney, in a troupe called simply “Old Joe’s Minstrels.” From 1862 to 1864, brother Sam served on the staff of the famous Confederate cavalryman, J.E.B. Stuart. In his book, The Wearing of the Grey, John Esten Cooke noted that Johnny Boker was a favorite and often heard in camp. Circus Jig and Jim Along Josie were popular banjo tunes of the day. Published in 1855 in Briggs’ Banjo Instructor, they are included here as an up-tempo contrast to the “clip-clopping” rhythm of Johnny Boker’s cart. Joel Sweeney, it should be noted, is generally credited with having made several important innovative changes to the African “banjar” – a stringed instrument made from an animal  skin stretched over a hollowed-out gourd, with a smooth stick for a neck – and popularizing the five-string banjo, as we know it today.

Rock the Cradle, Julie Pvt. John Dinkins, Co.C, 18th Mississippi Volunteer Infantry, described the march of McLaw’s Division – which included Kershaw’s South Carolina Brigade – toward Sharpsburg in September of 1862. Dinkins recalled, “The men moved along at a lively gait. As night came on, we sang all kinds of plantation songs, ‘Rock the Cradle, Julie’, ‘Sallie, Get Your Hoecake Done’, ‘I’m Gwying Down the Newburg Road’, and so on. The men … moved along the road. The woods rang with their melodies.”** It was this vivid scene that inspired us to produce Southern Soldier. The melody, the familiar Soldier’s Joy, has been traced back to traditional Scottish fiddle tunes of the 18th Century.

Jenny, Get Your Hoecake Done Published under its minstrel stage title, Jenny…, Pvt. Dinkins remembered it as “Sallie…” Whichever name is used, the song clearly shows the influence of the African rhythms of plantation life. It is easy to imagine a column of dusty, grey-clad Mississippians swinging along a Maryland road to the cadences of this song.

The Arkansas Traveler One of the best known of all American fiddle tunes. It achieved extensive popularity during the 1850’s, and retained its fame throughout the war. originally, the tune was published in 1847 by William Cumming, and several editions soon followed featuring comic lyrics. In the guise of a “comic song,” it built additional fame with travelling minstrel companies. Its irresistible appeal rings down to the present day.

Southern Soldier Produced in the Appalachian hills of the Carolinas in the latter part of the war and kept alive by oral tradition to the 21st century, this version was derived from the lyrics recalled by traditional singer, Miss Minta Morgan. It is probably the most articulate statement of why most Southern soldiers fought the war – as one Johnnie replied when so asked, “Why?” by his captors, “‘Cause you’uns are here!” Practically all of the expressions of Southern patriotism found in the verses of this song appear nearly verbatim in letters, journals, and diaries written by soldiers during the conflict.***

Dixie’s Land Originally entitled, I Wish I Was in Dixie’s Land, this is the most enduring and best loved of all Daniel Decatur Emmett’s compositions. Dixie’s Land was composed in New York City and premiered as a “walk-around” by Bryant’s Minstrels in New York’s Mechanics Hall on April 4th, 1859. Emmett himself wrote that following its debut , “…It made a tremendous hit and before the end of the week everybody in New York was whistling it!” It was later introduced to the South, and was played at Jefferson Davis’ inauguration ceremony in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1861. Subsequently, it was adopted as the unofficial national anthem of the Confederacy.


* Thomas D. Cockrell and Michael B, Ballard, A Mississippi Rebel in the Army of Northern Virginia: The Civil War Memoirs of Private David Holt. (Baton Rouge,1995)

** James Dinkins, By An Old Johnnie: Personal Recollections and Experiences in the Confederate Army (Morningside Bookshop, 1975)

*** See James M. McPherson’s For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War (New York, 1997)

Leave your response!

You must be logged in to post a comment.