The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

III. Poets of the Civil War II

§ 10. Randall: My Maryland

With the outbreak of hostilities in April, Timrod wrote his passionate lyric A Cry to Arms, and later, Carolina. But none of Timrod’s poems had the lyric quality that fits them for popular music. The union of music and poetry in a splendid impassioned utterance came from James Ryder Randall (1839–1909). Seldom in history have the man, the moment, and the word met in such happy conjunction as in the composition of My Maryland. Randall, a native of Baltimore—just from college in Maryland, and, as he said, full of poetry and romance—was teaching English literature in Poydras College at Pointe Coupee, Louisiana, when he read in the New Orleans Delta an account of the attack on the Massachusetts troops as they passed through Baltimore:

  • This account [he said in later years] excited me greatly; I had long been absent from my native city, and the startling event there inflamed my mind. That night I could not sleep, for my nerves were all unstrung, and I could not dismiss what I had read in the paper from my mind. About midnight I arose, lit a candle, and went to my desk. Some powerful spirit appeared to possess me, and almost involuntarily I proceeded to write the song of My Maryland. I remember that the idea appeared to first take shape as music in the brain—some wild air that I cannot now recall. The whole poem was dashed off rapidly when once begun. It was not composed in cold blood, but under what may be called a conflagration of the senses, if not an inspiration of the intellect.