Last Fierce Charge, The [Laws A17]
DESCRIPTION: Two soldiers, boy and man, are about to ride into battle (at Fredericksburg?). Each asks the other to write to his home should he die. Both are killed; no letter is sent to mother or sweetheart
EARLIEST DATE: 1863 (February 7, 1863 edition of Harper's Weekly)
KEYWORDS: war battle death farewell Civilwar
June 17, 1775 - Battle of Bunker Hill (fought on Breed's Hill, and won by the British, though at heavy cost)
Dec 13, 1862 - Battle of Fredericksburg. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, well-positioned and entrenched, easily throws back the assault of Ambrose Burnside's Army of the Potomac
July 1-3, 1863 - Battle of Gettysburg. George Gordon Meade's Army of the Potomac holds off Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia
June 25, 1876 - Battle of the Little Bighorn. Lt. Colonel George A. Custer (who had been a Major General during the Civil War) is killed, along with the entire force of cavalry (five companies with somewhat over 250 men) with him.
FOUND IN: US(MA,MW,Ro,SE,So) Canada(Mar,Newf) Britain(Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (23 citations):
Laws A17, "The Last Fierce Charge (The Battle of Fredericksburg, Custer's Last Charge)"
GreigDuncan1 105, "The Two Soldiers" (1 text, 1 tune)
Belden, pp. 383-387, "The Last Fierce Charge" (2 texts plus mention of 1 more, 1 tune)
Randolph 234, "That Last Fierce Fight" (2 texts, 1 tune)
High, pp. 7-8, "Custers... Charge" (1 text)
AbrahamsRiddle, pp. 69-72, "Custer's Last Fierce Charge" (1 text, 1 tune)
Moore-Southwest 132, "Custer's Last Fierce Charge" (1 text, 1 tune)
Owens-1ed, pp. 120-121, "Custer's Last Charge" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hubbard, #148, "Death in Battle" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fuson, pp. 94-96, "The Soldier Boy with Curly Hair" (1 text)
Eddy 139, "The Last Fierce Charge" (2 texts)
Dean, pp. 14-16, "The Charge at Fredricksburg" (1 text)
BrownII 231, "The Last Fierce Charge" (1 text plus mention of 1 more)
BrownSchinhanIV 231, "The Last Fierce Charge" (1 excerpt, 1 tune)
Peacock, pp. 1004-1006, "The Last Great Charge" (1 text, 1 tune, a conflate version)
Creighton-Maritime, pp. 156-157, "Balaclava" (1 text, 1 tune)
Mackenzie 118, "The Battle of Fredericksburg" (1 text)
Dibblee/Dibblee, pp. 86-87, "The Last Fierce Charge" (1 text, 1 tune)
Friedman, p. 295, "The Last Fierce Charge" (1 text)
FSCatskills 14, "The Battle of Gettysburg" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fife-Cowboy/West 45, "Custer's Last Charge" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cohen-AFS1, pp. 196-197, "The Last Fierce Charge" (1 text)
DT 692, LASTFIER
cf. "The Soldier's Letter" (plot)
cf. "Just as the Sun Went Down" (theme of two farewells to mother and lover)
cf. "I'll Be With You When the Roses Bloom Again" (plot)
cf. "Custer's Last Charge (I)" (subject)
Fight at Bunker Hill
The Last Fierce Charge of the French at Waterloo
NOTES: As the list of song titles shows, this piece could be particularized to deal with almost any battle (as, indeed, Belden has a text called "Fight at Bunker Hill," after the Revolutionary War battle. This, however, is historically impossible; the Americans weren't doing any charging at Bunker Hill. In any case, the "Bunker Hill" text never mentions that battle).
Since, however, the second-earliest (and perhaps least famous) event commemorated was the Battle of Fredericksburg, it seems quite likely that the song was originally about that conflict.
Phillips Barry had two texts credited to Virginia F. Townsend -- but even if this is accurate, it may apply only to an adaption; both were "Gettysburg" texts. - RBW
Creighton-Maritime names this "Balaclava" -- I assume the name the singer assigned -- though that is never mentioned in the ballad; Creighton also has a fragment naming the battle as Waterloo, referenced as in ms. as "The Last Great Charge." - BS
Jim Dixon recently pointed out to me a publication that may be the original. It was found in the February 7, 1863 edition of Harper's Weekly. It is titled "At Fredericksburg," and signed L.C.M. There is no tune (unless "L.C.M." is a reference to the meter -- the song does fit the standard definition of Common Meter and at least on definition of Long Meter, sometimes abbreviated LCM). The fact that it appeared just a couple of months after Fredericksburg would seem to imply that it was indeed inspired by that battle.
It is very similar to some of the traditional versions. Despite the title, there is absolutely no explicit reference to Fredericksburg, although the circumstances fit (the Union soldiers charge up a hill and take dreadful casualties). This lack of specificity no doubt made it easier to adapt the song to other circumstances.
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