This product was added to our catalog on Thursday 12 May, 2011.
his was remembered as one of the songs associated with the very start of the war: many, many accounts mention it being played by bands in 1861. Surprisingly, the song was not all that recent: it was composed in 1858. Its popularity was earned by a catchy melody (whose prominent syncopation would have been even more striking to their ears than to ours) rather than mere novelty. John Rogers Thomas was a prolific composer of parlor songs; this was one of his most successful productions. The song’s obvious setting in New York State might lead one to believe its popularity would be limited to the North; but such was not the case. A “Southern Edition” published in Augusta Georgia (with distributors listed in Richmond and Petersburg Virginia; Macon and Atlanta Georgia; Columbia South Carolina; Raleigh North Carolina; and Montgomery, Mobile, and Selma Alabama) was entered at the District Court of the C.S. for the District of Louisiana in 1861. A facsimile of this Confederate edition can be seen at <https://jscholarship.library.jhu.edu/handle/1774.2/4085> from which the musically literate can also learn the excellent melody.
This ballad sheet version sports a colophon with the unusual phrase “Sold by Charles Emerson, with B. Leverett Emerson…Bookseller”; no printer is mentioned. B. Leverett Emerson was a reputable publisher specializing in medical texts—ballad sheets seem far removed from his usual production. Who Charles Emerson was is harder to determine: there were several in Boston at the time, none of them obviously connected with publishing. It is tempting to associate him with the Charles Emerson of Charlestown who patented and sold a razor strop in 1863. Whoever was responsible for its execution, the showy display type is just as eye-catching today as when first printed.
The principal use of ballad sheets was, of course, to learn and/or sing songs from; then as now, not everyone had a good memory. Ballad sheets allowed purchasers to either learn a song in the privacy of their own chambers (or tent) and then spring it on the rest of the crowd at an after-dinner social gathering, the oyster rooms, or around the camp-fire; or to just sing the song with sheet in hand to help a defective memory (in the Irish tradition, when a singer gets stuck in the middle of a song, we say "there's a hole in the ballad"!).
But these sheets also had an important secondary use: they were cheap decor. While especially true of illustrated ballads (like this one), even sheets with nothing but words were pasted or pinned up in public and private rooms as mirthful or improving decoration. Mr. M'Dermott has seen ballad sheets pasted inside trunk lids, books, instrument cases, portfolios and such; doubtless they were stuck up in winter quarters, and they might well have been pasted inside the odd knapsack. Other locations for this item, folded up, are in the corner of a knapsack, stuck into the sweatband of your cap or hat, or in the wallet. They have served as impromptu letter paper when nothing better was to hand, and can again. While these ballad sheets are quintessential ephemera—cheap when bought, and not likely to survive very long—Mr. M'Dermott has been lucky enough over the years to see two examples of what mid-19C purchasers did to keep their prized clutch of ballads handy: one sheaf was pinned with a straight pin along the long side; another had been sewn together with thread, like a side-sewn pamphlet: a home-made "song book."