This product was added to our catalog on Thursday 19 May, 2011.
he tune (Annie Lisle) was a popular parlor ballad written in 1857 by Hunter S. Thompson; it is still sung today as many colleges (following the lead of Cornell University’s “High above Cayuga’s waters”) have adopted it as their anthem.
This sheet was printed by A.W Auner of Philadelphia, one of the nation’s most prolific—and technically best—ballad printers. His sheets during the war period are immediately identifiable by their almost unvarying use of the same typographic border.
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."
Ballad sheets were quick to capitalize on sensational news so it is unsuprising that reactions to the death of an early-martyr of the war (on May 24th, 1861) appeared in this format. The material abstracted below regarding the writing and early history of the song is found on pages 17–19 of Capt. Eugene Arus Nash’s HISTORY OF THE FORTY-FOURTH REGIMENT OF NEW YORK VOLUNTEER INFANTRY IN THE CIVIL WAR, 1861–1865; the full work can be read at
History of the 44th New York Volunteers
The history quotes an item published in an Albany paper during August, 1861: “‘The regiment is steadily filling up every day…Their leisure hours are devoted in great part to athletic exercises, fencing, boxing and ball playing, while their evenings are passed in singing, a glee club having been formed in aid of which some tuneful citizen has furnished them with a melodeon and a hundred song books’…Soon after the advance members of the regiment arrived in the barracks, a generous supply of copies of a song appeared. It was entitled Ellsworth Avengers, and was written by A. Lora Hudson, a young lady who resided not far from Albany. The text was soon known to all and sung by many. A short time after the above song appeared in camp the following proceedings were published in the city papers:
‘Ellsworth Regiment. At a meeting of the People's Ellsworth Regiment at the barracks, on Monday last, Messrs. I. Russell, S. W. Tanner and E. A. Nash were appointed a Committee to draft resolutions expressive of the sense of the meeting. The following preamble and resolutions were presented and adopted: …Resolved, That we, the members of the People's Ellsworth Regiment, hereby express our approbation of the ballad entitled Ellsworth Avengers, and tender our sincere thanks to A. Lora Hudson, its talented author. The song finds a ready response in every heart, and is worthy of him of whom it is written, and
Resolved, That we extend our thanks to George S. Dawson for his generous donation of a sufficient number of copies of the Ellsworth Avengers for the glee club of the regiment, and
Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be forwarded to A. Lora Hudson and a copy of the same be published in the city papers.
Albany, August 15th, 1861.’”
George Dawson, who earlier in his career had been a practical printer, had easy access to the presses needed to produce those “sufficient numbers” of Miss Hudson’s ballad: he had succeeded Thurlow Weed as editor of the Albany Evening Journal in 1858, which at the time in question, was published by the firm of Weed & Dawson.
A fuller view of the poetess (printed under her war-period portrait in the same regimental history) reveals that—however uninspired her poem might appear—the sentiments she expressed in it were heart-felt and her patriotism not confined to her escritoire: “Mrs. Bissell, best known to the 44th Regiment as A. Lora Hudson, was born near Albany, Aug. 4, 1839, the daughter of a Baptist clergyman. Early left an orphan, she followed the vocation of school teacher until she began her work as an Army nurse. It was at her desk after school hours that she wrote the words of the ‘Ellsworth Avengers.’ This song came to the notice of the regiment. A committee called on Miss Hudson, asked her permission to adopt the words as its regimental song, and learning of her desire to serve her country actively, invited her to accompany them as the Daughter of the Regiment. This she did, being with the regiment during her entire service. While matron of the 3d Brigade Hospital in 1861 at Hall’s Hill, Va., she met Dr. Bissell, then Assistant Surgeon of the Regiment, to whom she was married in 1864 while she was still in the service. After the War Mrs. Bissell resided in Buffalo, N. Y., until her death in 1899. She was an efficient and self sacrificing hospital nurse and never lost her love for ‘her boys’ as she always called the men of the 44th, and they were as loyal to her as she to them. It was her great pride that her name is engraved on the Gettysburg Monument.”