Richmond is a Hard Road to Travel

DESCRIPTION: Singer, ostensibly a soldier in the Union army, sings of the difficulties involved in attempting to capture Richmond, VA. The Union generals have all failed badly. The singer wonders who will try next, as the Confederates, "fight like the devil"
AUTHOR: John R. Thompson? / Music: Daniel Emmett
EARLIEST DATE: 1863 (sheet music published by A. E. Blackmar, according to Silber-CivWarFull)
LONG DESCRIPTION: Singer, ostensibly a soldier in the Union army, sings of the difficulties involved in attempting to capture Richmond, VA. McDowell is defeated by Stonewall Jackson, Fremont gets lost, Banks loses his supplies, the Galena, Monitor and Naugatuck are driven off, McClellan finds it hard going. Lincoln issues his Emancipation Proclamation, Pope is defeated at the second battle of Manassas, and Burnside's men are slaughtered. The singer wonders who will try next, as the Confederates, "fight like the devil"
KEYWORDS: battle Civilwar war derivative
FOUND IN: US
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Silber-CivWarFull, pp. 331-334, "Richmond Is a Hard Road to Travel" (1 text, 1 tune)
Thomas-Makin', p. 67, (no title) (1 short text, perhaps this though it refers to Jordan rather than Richmond; it looks like a mix of the original and the parody)
DT, RCHMNDHR*

RECORDINGS:
New Lost City Ramblers, "Richmond is a Hard Road to Travel" (on NLCREP4)
BROADSIDES:
LOCSinging, as111720, "Richmond a Hard Road to Travel" or "The New Jordan," unknown, 19C
CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. "Jordan Am a Hard Road to Travel" (original song, tune)
SAME TUNE:
Jordan Am a Hard Road to Travel (File: R305)
NOTES: This parody of Emmett's "Jordan Am a Hard Road to Travel" was composed by an anonymous Confederate sympathizer, probably around 1864. - PJS
Actually, it was 1863. This is shown by the sheet music -- but also by the fact that the last battle mentioned is Fredericksburg (late 1862).
The verse which refers to McDowell is perhaps somewhat deceptive; McDowell was the first commander of what would later be the Army of the Potomac, and led it to defeat (over his protests) at First Bull Run/Manasses (July 21, 1861). The Confederates were commanded by Joseph E. Johnston, who arrived just before the battle with four brigades from the Shenandoah Valley, but the local commander was P.G.T. Beauregard, who usually gets most of the credit. (Though the real problem for the Unionists was that their troops were utterly raw.) Stonewall Jackson was only a brigade commander at Bull Run; his steadiness helped save the Confederates, but affected the overall battle only slightly.
"Wooley-Horse" Fremont and Nathaniel P. Banks commanded forces in the Shenandoah Valley in the Spring of 1862. Neither was competent, and there was no overall Valley strategy or commander, and as a result Stonewall Jackson was able to outmaneuver both (battles such as Kernstown, Mar. 23, 1862, though this was not part of the Valley Campaign proper, and a tactical defeat for the Confederates; McDowell, May 8, 1862; Front Royal, May 23; Winchester, May 25; Cross Keys/Port Republic, June 8-9).
Banks is called "Commissary Banks" because his supply wagons provided so much sustenance to Jackson's soldiers.
The verse about the 1862 campaign on the James River (mentioning the Galena, the Monitor, and the Naugatuck) also tells only part of the story -- omitting, e.g., the whole story of the blockade of Hampton Roads, including the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac/Virginia (for these, see "The Cumberland Crew" [Laws A18]).
Drewry's Bluff was a high head above the James River below Richmond. It was the key position guarding Richmond against river assault. Union ships started in this direction early in the Peninsular Campaign, but no serious assaults could be contemplated until the waters of Hampton Roads were safe for Union vessels.
It was only after Norfolk was captured and the Merrimac scuttled (May 11) that the Federals were able to sail in force up the James River toward Richmond. The battle at Drewry's Bluff took place on May 15, 1862. The fleet included the new light ironclad Galena as well as the Monitor. (The Naugatuck was a non-ironclad, and of no particular account; in any case, according to Stephen W. Sears, The Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign, Houghton Mifflin, 1992, one of her big guns soon burst and she was out of action) The Galena was anchored below the guns on the bluff -- but her armor plating was not up to the job, and she had to retire damaged after using up her ammunition. The problems with her armor proved so bad that it was later removed and she served the rest of the war as a wooden boat. James L. Nelson, Reign of Iron: The Story of the first Battling Ironclads, the Monitor and the Merimack, Perennial, 2004, p.89, records an officer writing of her, "She is not shot-proof; ball came through, and many men were killed with fragments of her own iron."
This was hardly a surprise; Sears, p. 94, says: "The Galena was something of a makeshift, a conventional wooden gunboat with layered armor made of iron bars and plates bolted to the sides. She looked to a Union nurse 'like a great fish with iron scales.' Flag Officer Goldsborough was appalled when he first saw the Galena, calling her 'a most miserable contrivance' and refusing to send her into action until shields of boilerplate were installed inside the bulwarks to prevent the armor-securing nuts from flying off from the concussion of a hit and decimating the gun crews. Even with the improvement, Goldsborough said, 'She is a sad affair.'"
The Monitor also tried to take part, but her turret-mounted guns could not elevate enough to hit the target. (The other ships also had trouble in this regard.)
Thus the real moral of this story was not that the Union ships were inferior (in fact, their performance was better than Confederate equivalents) but that seagoing vessels were not equipped to assault land targets well above river level.
The reference to McClellan and the Peninsula is a reference to the Peninsular Campaign of March-July 1862. McClellan took the Army of the Potomac by sea down to the "Peninsula" between the James and York rivers, and set it marching northwest to Richmond. He was delayed for a long time at Williamsburg, where he prepared a regular siege -- but the defender there was Magruder, not Longstreet.
The Peninsula Campaign ended when Robert E. Lee (newly appointed to command the Army of Northern Virginia) tricked McClellan to giving up the siege of Richmond in the Seven Days' Battles (June 25-July 1). It was here that Longstreet (then a senior division commander) and the Hills (A.P. Hill and D. H. Hill, also division commanders) first came to prominence.
Pope is John Pope, appointed to command large portions of McClellan's forces after the Peninsular campaign. He managed to produce an amazing amount of bombast about having his headquarters in the saddle and seeing the enemy's backs -- but had his forces enveloped and smashed at Second Bull Run (August 29-30, 1862). Pope was relieved and sent west.
The song omits the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862), in which McClellan threw back Lee's ill-advised invasion of Maryland, returning to the plot at the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 12, 1862), at which the new Federal commander Ambrose Burnside threw pontoon bridges across the Rappahannock River in order to attack Lee in a prepared defensive position. The result, unsurprisingly, was a slaugher.
The song concludes by asking who would be next; the answer was Joseph Hooker, who lost the Battle of Chancellorsville. He was succeeded by George Meade, who won Gettysburg and kept command of the Army of the Potomac until the end of the war.
The attribution of the words to John R. THompson is based on E. Lawrence Abel, Singing the New Nation: How Music Shaped the Confederacy, 1861-1865, Stackpole, 2000, p. 121. He reports that Thomson was the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger. This is apparently based on the 1863 sheet music, and we know how dubious those claims can be.... Abel observes that the poem gives most of the credit for the eastern victories to Stonewall Jackson rather than Robert E. Lee. - RBW
Last updated in version 3.7
File: RcRIHRTT

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2017 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.