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Vol. 24 No.9 - September 2011


Volume 24, No. 9
Editor: Stephen L. Seftenberg

Wednesday, September 14, 2011 Assembly

President's Message: In September 1988 Rodney Dillon, Robert Godwin, Dr. Joel Gordon, and Greg Parkinson met and discussed the Civil War. Within six months, the Civil War Round Table of the Palm Beaches was formed and it had twelve members. Over the past twenty-three years, the Round Table has grown into a productive, viable, and flourishing organization.

As one member told me, "I learn a new fact about the War at every meeting that I attend." We have been fortunate to have a wide variety of speakers with diverse topics and opinions. Past presenters have included: Tad Allen, Harold Holzer, Robert Macomber, and Craig Simons, as well as many from the Round Table membership roster. Whenever a member gives a program, we thoroughly appreciate all the time, effort, and research that it takes to prepare it. Sometimes there have been very heated discussions, but that is what the Round Table is all about. We are a nonpartisan study and discussion group and welcome varying points of view.

Understanding the people and the stories behind the War makes the past seem more meaningful and vivid. Having a deep appreciation of history and knowing where we have been as a nation encourages us and stimulates our desire to further our knowledge about the Civil War. Our outstanding attendance at every meeting demonstrates this point.

The Round Table has been here for Civil War enthusiasts. This year the Round Table requests your help. In order to continue inviting outstanding speakers for future programs donations are needed. Our dues are minimal and only cover the monthly rent for the meeting hall. Your financial support will be deeply appreciated. At the September meeting please give as generously as possible to the Speaker's Fund or mail a check to Stephen L. Seftenberg, at 2765 White Wing Lane, West Palm Beach, FL 33409.

Gerridine LaRovere, President

Program: An Evening with Justice David Davis

Justice David Davis (March 9, 1815 - June 28, 1888) will be interviewed by a member of the press. The discussion will range from his early life to being a Circuit Judge in Illinois, Lincoln's Campaign Manager, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Lincoln's Executor, US Senator, Presidential Candidate, President Pro Tempore, and finally, retirement.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 Assembly

Ed Palmer led eight singers (Steve Hammaker and Greg Scherba, tenors, Nathaniel Adams and Erik Borgen-Larrsen, tenor IIs, Jack Hughes and Alan Lin, baritones, and Daniel Lowery and Ed Palmer, basses), accompanied by a talented pianist, Joanne Nelson, in rounds of Civil War songs, some sentimental and some rousing.

singersThey sang Aura Lee, Lorena, Home Sweet Home, Stars of the Summer Night, Gentle Annie, The Vacant Chair, Tenting on the Old Camp Ground, When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again, and Dixie. A wonderful musical evening ended with a rousing rendition of God Bless America, in which the entire group joined in (even your tone deaf editor). Ed provided short backgrounds on each song, which added to our enjoyment. All these songs (except, perhaps, God Bless America) were popular on both sides of the trenches. Compared with songs still sung, such as Home, Sweet Home, When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again, and Dixie, some of the songs this group sang so artfully are not well known today, so their lyrics can be found below.

Aura Lee (Fosdick and Poulton)

As the blackbird, in the spring,
‘neath the willow tree, sat and piped,
I heard him sing, sing of Aura Lee,
Aura Lee, Aura Lee, maid of golden hair.


Sunshine came along with thee,
and swallows in the air

From my heart the answer came,
sweet and loud and dear
On my lips there breathes a name,
“Aura Lee,” my dear, -- “Aura Lee.”


Lorena (Webster and Webster)

The years creep slowly by, Lorena,
The snow is on the grass again.
The sun's low down the sky, Lorena,
The frost gleams where the flow'rs have been.
But the heart throbs on as warmly now,
As when the summer days were nigh.
Oh, the sun can never dip so low
Adown affection's cloudless sky.

A hundred months have passed, Lorena,
Since last I held that hand in mine,
And felt the pulse beat fast, Lorena,
Though mine beat faster far than thine.
A hundred months, 'twas flowery May,
When up the hilly slope we climbed,
To watch the dying of the day,
And hear the distant church bells chime.

We loved each other then, Lorena,
More than we ever dared to tell;
And what we might have been, Lorena,
Had but our lovings prospered well --
But then, 'tis past, the years are gone,
I'll not call up their shadowy forms;
I'll say to them, "Lost years, sleep on!
Sleep on! nor heed life's pelting storms."

The story of that past, Lorena,
Alas! I care not to repeat,
The hopes that could not last, Lorena,
They lived, but only lived to cheat.
I would not cause e'en one regret
To rankle in your bosom now;
For "if we try we may forget,"
Were words of thine long years ago.

Yes, these were words of thine, Lorena,
They burn within my memory yet;
They touched some tender chords, Lorena,
Which thrill and tremble with regret.
'Twas not thy woman's heart that spoke;
Thy heart was always true to me:
A duty, stern and pressing, broke
The tie which linked my soul with thee.

It matters little now, Lorena,
The past is in the eternal past;
Our heads will soon lie low, Lorena,
Life's tide is ebbing out so fast.
There is a Future! O, thank God!
Of life this is so small a part!
'Tis dust to dust beneath the sod;
But there, up there, 'tis heart to heart.

[Editor's note:  Bob Schuldenfrei found this YouTube video on the Internet.  While it is a rather poor video, the style and banjo rendition of Lorena may be very close to what the song sounded like in camp.]

Stars of the Summer Night (Longfellow and Woodberry)

Stars of the summer night, Far in yon azure deeps Hide, hide, your golden light;
She sleeps my lady sleeps, She sleeps, sleeps.

Moon of the summer night, far down yon western steeps sink, sink, in silver light;
She sleeps my lady sleeps, She sleeps, sleeps.

Wind of the summer night, where yonder woodbine creeps, fold, fold your pinnions light,
She sleeps; my lady sleeps, she sleeps, sleeps.

Dreams of the summer night, tell her her lover keeps, Watch while in slumbers light,
She sleeps, my lady sleeps, she sleeps, sleeps.

Gentle Annie (Stephen Foster)

1.  Thou wilt come no more, gentle Annie,
Like a flower thy spirit did depart;
Thou are gone, alas! like the many
That have bloomed in the summer of my heart.


Shall we never more behold thee;
Never hear thy winning voice again
When the Spring time comes, gentle Annie,
When the wild flowers are scattered o'er the plain?

2.  We have roamed and loved mid the bowers
When thy downy cheeks were in their bloom;
Now I stand alone mid the flowers
While they mingle their perfumes o'er thy tomb.


3. Ah! the hours grow sad while I ponder
Near the silent spot where thou are laid,
And my heart bows down when I wander
By the streams and the meadows were we strayed.



The Vacant Chair


We shall meet, but we shall miss him
There will be one vacant chair
We shall linger to caress him
While we breathe our evening prayer;
When a year ago we gathered
Joy was in his mild blue eye,
But a golden chord is severed
And our hopes in ruin lie.


We shall meet, but we shall miss him
There will be one vacant chair
We shall linger to caress him
While we breathe our evening prayer.

At our fireside, sad and lonely,
Often will the bosom swell,
At remembrance of the story
How our noble Willie fell;
How he strove to bear our banner
Through the thickest of the fight,
And uphold our country's honor
In the strength of manhood's night.


True, they tell us wreaths of glory
Ever more will deck his brow,
But this soothes the anguish only
Sweeping o'er our heartstrings now.
Sleep today, Oh early fallen,
In thy green and narrow bed,
Dirges from the pine and cypress,
Mingle with the tears we shed.


The crowd gave Ed Palmer and his singers a big round of applause. Only then did he confess that this group had never had an opportunity to rehearse! If he had not said this, we would never have known!

If 19th Century song lyrics interest you, there are many fine websites: ;; and , from which the following article is copied, with thanks:

Civil War Music by Wayne Erbsen

“As we approach the 150th or sesquicentennial anniversary of the start of the Civil War, let’s pause to remember an aspect of this tragic period beyond the roar of the cannons and the movement of soldiers across the battlefield. For soldiers on both sides of this conflict, it was the music that helped them carry on. No less an authority than General Robert E. Lee said “I don’t believe we can have an army without music.”

Music touched practically every aspect of soldiers’ lives. They were awakened in the morning with the first call of the bugle, riveted into step by drums and fifes, serenaded in camp by banjos, fiddles, harmonicas and jew’s harps and even put to sleep by a lone bugler. But although instrumental music was linked to almost every step the soldiers made, it was often the songs that mattered most. Sung by soldiers and by those who stayed behind, it was the songs that truly expressed the emotions, fired the patriotism and filled the emptiness felt by leaving loved ones at home and facing death at every turn.

Perhaps the most popular Civil War songs were actually those songs that were old or well known before the war. Far from home and loved ones, it is not all that surprising that the all-time favorite song of both sides was “Home! Sweet Home!” Ironically, of the two men who composed it, one was homeless and the other was known as a “home-wrecker.” The lyrics ... were written by John Howard Payne for an opera that was first produced on May 8, 1823. He eventually served time in a debtor’s prison. The melody ... was composed by Sir Henry Rowley Bishop, a well known English conductor who has known as “a notable reprobate, home-wrecker and spendthrift.” He died in poverty.

Certainly, one of the most popular Civil War songs that preceded the war was “Lorena.” It was written in 1857, long before the war tore soldiers from their wives and sweethearts. With little else to comfort them, “Lorena” reminded soldiers of the separation they endured through the war’s long years. The lyrics were written as a poem by Rev. Henry De Lafayette Webster and the melody by Joseph Philbrick Webster, who also wrote the music to “In the Sweet Bye and Bye.” Although “Lorena” was sung by soldiers on both sides, it was more widely sung by Southern soldiers. They didn’t seem to care that it was written by a Northerner and first published in Chicago. Many Southern soldiers who returned from the war went on to name their daughters “Lorena.” Some writers have even gone so far as to blame the loss of the war on “Lorena.” So many Southern soldiers grew homesick and deserted after singing it, that several Confederate Generals prohibited their soldiers from singing “Lorena,” but most soldiers disobeyed orders and sang it anyway.

Within three days of the firing on Fort Sumter, the first published song of the Civil War was already on the streets. Entitled “The First Gun is Fired! May God Protect the Right,” it was written by George F. Root and published by Root & Cady. Root would go on to become the single most important songwriter for the Union. His most popular songs include "Battle Cry of Freedom," “Just Before the Battle Mother,” “The Vacant Chair” and “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp.”

To satisfy the enormous demand for the lyrics of the most popular Civil War songs, printing presses on both sides of the conflict ran around the clock. In 1861 alone, an estimated 2,000 pieces of music were written and published in both the North and the South. By the war’s end, this figure had grown to some 10,000 songs.

Before the war, the South had relied mainly on the North for its supply of printed music. With the coming of secession, the South’s few music publishers sprang into action. They were severely handicapped by the shortage of ink, paper and type, which they had always imported from the North. Some Southern music publishers, like J. C. Schreiner of Macon, Georgia, resorted to smuggling a satchel of music type through Union lines in Tennessee. The Federal soldiers who inspected the satchel apparently had not heard the oft quoted phrase from 1839, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

As the Northern blockade of Southern ports exerted a strangle hold on the South, the quality of printed music in the South sharply deteriorated. At the beginning of the war, Southern music was printed on heavy paper with dark black ink. By the war’s end, music was printed on paper so thin that it collapsed when leaned against a music stand, and the ink was so light that one had to strain to read it. Even Southern newspapers suffered from a lack of paper. They were forced to use paper made of straw, corn husks and cotton. In contrast, Northern presses enjoyed abundant quantities of needed printing materials, and the quality of their printed work remained high throughout the war.

Although soldiers enjoyed instrumental music, by far the most common musical outlet was singing. Soldiers sang, whistled and hummed on marches, behind earthworks, while waiting for orders, in camp, and even on the eve of a battle, with their muskets primed and ready. They sang solo, in duets, trios, and they often formed glee clubs. Sometimes entire regiments, Generals and all, sang on marches. Some soldiers paid with their lives when their song tipped off their location to an enemy sharpshooter.

Although music certainly fanned the flames of patriotic zeal, soldiers on both sides were occasionally reminded of their common heritage. On the eve of the final day of battle at Murfreesboro, on July 1, 1863, Union and Confederate bands took turns playing tunes for their men. Finally, when one band struck up “Home! Sweet Home” both bands, and most of the soldiers on both sides joined in.

For many soldiers who had never traveled far from home, the Civil War changed their musical tastes forever. For the first time, many were exposed to instruments like the banjo, the harmonica, and the jew’s harp. By mixing with soldiers from other regions of the country, they learned new songs and became acquainted with musical styles they had never heard before. The memory of these new sounds lingered long after the din of battle had faded away.

*       *        *

As we mark the 150th or sesquicentennial anniversary of the start of the Civil War, let’s not forget to sing the songs that not only touched the heart of Civil War soldiers, but also those who stayed behind.”

Some summer reading for members of the Civil War Round Table of the Palm Beaches:

Adam Goodheart, 1861 [Living through secession and the early months of the Civil War]
The New York Times Complete Civil War (1861-65) -- book and DVD [100,000 articles!]
Amanda Foreman, A World on Fire [Britain’s crucial role in the Civil War]
David McCullough, The Greater Journey [France’s intellectual legacy]
David S. Reynolds, Mightier Than the Sword: ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and the Battle for America
Arthur T. Downey, Civil War Lawyers [role of the law and lawyers in the Civil War]
Arthur L. Rizer, III, Lincoln’s Counsel: Lessons from America’s Most Persuasive Speaker
Michael T. Bernath, Confederate Minds [intellectual and cultural overview of the pre-war South]
Judith A. Carney and Richard N. Rosomoff, In the Shadow of Slavery [Africa’s botanical legacy via slavery]

Last changed: 09/07/11

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