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

§ 12. Anthologies

The popular melodies, the odes of Timrod, and the lyric cry of Randall—all of them the best illustrations of their various types—were prophetic of an outburst of poetry in all parts of the South. Such papers as the Charleston Mercury, the Richmond Examiner, the Louisville Courier, the New Orleans Delta, and such magazines as The Southern Literary Messenger, The Southern Field and Fireside, and The Southern Illustrated News published constantly poems written by men and women in all sections. As there were no general means of communication, many poems were attributed to various authors and many were published anonymously. On account of the lack of publishing houses practically no volumes of poetry were published during the war. The problem, therefore, of making anthologies of these poems was a difficult one—much more difficult than was the case in the North, where so many poets already famous were writing constantly during the war, and where there were so many means of communication and of publication. Southern readers had to be satisfied with scrap-books in which were treasured many of the poems that in this way became the common property of a good many people.

Of distinctly different quality from the poems already referred to, and all other “literary” poems, are certain crude vernacular verses. With some of the characteristics of popular ballads, they had much currency in the camps. A writer in the Southern Bivouac (July, 1885) recalls and characterizes some of these as follows:

  • As the long contest dragged on, and war, losing much of its earlier illusions, became a stern, bitter, and exceedingly monotonous reality, these “high-toned” lyrics were tacitly voted rather too romantic and poetical for the actual field, and were remitted to the parlor and the piano stool. The soldiers chanted in quite other fashion on the march or seated at the campfire. In these crude rhymes, some of them improvised for the moment, there was less of flourish but more of meaning, not so much bravado but a good deal more point. They were sappy with the homely satire of the camps, which stings friend and foe alike. Innumerable verses were composed and sung to popular refrains. The Army of Virginia and the Army of Tennessee had each its history rudely chronicled as fast as made in this rough minstrelsy. Every corps and command contributed some commemorative stanza. The current events of campaigns were told in improvised verse as rapidly as they occurred and were thereafter skillfully recited by the rhapsodist who professed to know the whole fragmentary epic.
  • Forms of such rhymed narratives may be seen in typical stanzas:

  • Marse Robert said, “My soldiers,
  • You’ve nothing now to fear,
  • For Longstreet’s on the right of them,
  • And Jackson’s in the rear.”
  • … …
  • The Fourteenth Louisiana,
  • They charged ’em with a yell;
  • They bagged them buck-tailed rangers
  • And sent ’em off to hell.
  • … …
  • O Morgan crossed the river,
  • And I went across with him;
  • I was captured in Ohio
  • Because I could not swim.
  • No matter where this song was sung, or by whom, or which of its multitude of stanzas happened to be selected by the minstrel, the following verse always closed it:
  • But now my song is ended,
  • And I haven’t got much time,
  • I’m going to run the blockade
  • To see that girl of mine.