Local News

November 18, 2007

Songs of the soldiers

Confederate tunes share stories about homesickness, war

Tim Coker played the familiar tune “Yankee Doodle” on his guitar, but he didn’t sing the same lyrics you might remember.

Instead of “put a feather in his hat and called it macaroni,” out came the words “put a musket in my hand and showed me how to fire it.”

The song, “Valiant Conscript,” described a man forced to fight for the Confederacy in the Civil War. When first made to enlist the man thought he could become a general, but the song takes a humorous twist when he ends up being a coward, Coker explained on Sunday afternoon at the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society meeting at the Crown Garden and Archives.

Coker, a Murray County native, learned the songs popular in the Civil War era and those written by Confederate soldiers as a war re-enactor. He re-enacted for 10 years before quitting five years ago.

Re-enactors “would sit around and sing these songs and I thought I wanted to learn them too,” Coker said. So he began singing the tunes, but no one had a guitar. He bought one and learned how to play the songs that were important to soldiers during the Civil War.

Many times soldiers “took the melodies already popular and used them to tell their stories,” said Civil War enthusiast Marvin Sowder. “If you’re in camp, boredom is a big thing.”

Civil War soldiers fought an average of 10 days a year, Coker said. So making up new lyrics to songs was a way for them to pass the time.

Many camps formed glee clubs and traveled to other companies to perform, Sowder said.

Because many songs from the Civil War era told soldier’s stories, they were comprised of six to eight verses and some had more than that, Coker said.

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