Marching Through Georgia

Campaign songs and songs commemorating specific personalities and events enjoyed only a passing appeal during the war years and exist today primarily in the libraries of musical historians. The Fall of Sumter, the Bethlehem riot, and the siege of Vicksburg were celebrated in fervent but now-forgotten tunes; Stonewall Jackson, George B. McClellan, Jefferson Davis, and Abraham Lincoln gathered musical tributes and trashings which have passed quietly into the records of the era. Most of these wedded lofty phrases with undistinguished melodies, the outpourings of a fiery patriotism too hastily composed. Henry C. Work’s “Marching through Georgia,” however, is a notable exception.

This song both celebrates and justifies Sherman’s march to Savannah in 1864, a sixty-mile-wide devastation of Georgian rural life which destroyed communication and supply lines between Lee’s army and the lower Confederate states and heralded the approaching end of the war. The North’s jubilant mood expressed itself not only in the song’s driving melody but also in the righteous zeal and near-festive arrogance of its lyrics. What was certainly a bloody path littered with the victims of war’s most criminal behaviors becomes “a thoroughfare for Freedom and her train,” clearly a partisan view of the matter. Still, the song’s victorious swagger is infectious.

Not so for its hero, however. Sherman, ever the strict professional, preferred one of the inevitable sequels, a song by Lieutenants Samuel Hawkins and J.C. Rockwell entitled, “Sherman’s March To The Sea,” written when they were prisoners of war in Columbia, South Carolina. Of Work’s song Sherman said, “If I had thought when I made that march that it would have inspired anyone to compose such a piece, I would have marched around the state.” But despite its extravagances and inaccuracies, “Marching Through Georgia” exudes an admirable energy, and, to the dismay of many Southerners, has survived both world wars as a popular marching tune.

Marching Through Georgia

Bring the good old bugle, boys! we’ll sing another song –
Sing it with a spirit that will start the world along –
Sing it as we used to sing it, fifty thousand strong,
While we were marching through Georgia.

“Hurrah! Hurrah! we bring the Jubilee!
Hurrah! Hurrah! the flag that makes you free!”
So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea,
While we were marching through Georgia.

How the darkeys shouted when they heard the joyful sound!
How the turkeys gobbled which our commissary found!
How the sweet potatoes even started from the ground,
While we were marching through Georgia. (Chorus)

Yes, and there were Union men who wept with joyful tears,
When they saw the honor’d flag they had not seen for years;
Hardly could they be restrained from breaking forth in cheers,
While we were marching through Georgia. (Chorus)

“Sherman’s dashing Yankee boys will never reach the coast!”
So the saucy rebels said, and ’twas a handsome boast,
Had they not forgot, alas! to reckon with the host,
While we were marching through Georgia. (Chorus)

So we made a thoroughfare for freedom and her train,
Sixty miles in latitude – three hundred to the main;
Treason fled before us, for resistance was in vain,
While we were marching through Georgia. (Chorus)