For the Dear Old Flag I Die!
DESCRIPTION: "For the dear old flag I die, said the wounded drummer boy, Mother, press your lips to mine, O, they bring me peace and joy, 'Tis the last time on earth." After that maudlin opening, the boy tells his mother not to grieve because he died in a good cause.
AUTHOR: Words; George Cooper / Music: Stephen C. Foster
EARLIEST DATE: 1863 (sheet music)
KEYWORDS: Civilwar mother death
Jul 1-3, 1863 - Battle of Gettysburg
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Saunders/Root-Foster 2, pp. 321-324+449, "For the Dear Old Flag I Die!" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-CivWarFull, pp. 27-29, "For the Dear Old Flag I Die" (1 text, 1 tune)
NOTES: The subtitle on this piece is "The last words of a brave little drummer boy who was fatally wounded at the battle of Gettysburg." This (like a lot of the Cooper/Foster collaborations, which consisted of Cooper scribbling out some words and Foster writing out a tune without even playing it on piano or guitar) was very fast work; the Battle of Gettysburg took place in early July, and although we don't know just when the sheet music was published, Saunders/Root report that the song was advertised on October 5, 1863.
There is no sign that this ever went into tradition, and thankfully so. If you want a decent drummer boy song, try Will S. Hays's "The Drummer Boy of Shiloh." Frankly, I suspect that that song, not a report from Gettysburg, inspired Cooper to write this lyric.
Although it's interesting to note that Cooper himself just missed the Battle of Gettysburg; according to Harold Vincent Milligan, Stephen Collins Foster: A Biography of America's Folk-Song Composer, 1920 (I use the 2004 University of Hawaii reprint), p. 105, he was a member of the 22nd New York regiment, a unit raised in 1861 (although Cooper, according to Milligan, did not join until 1862) and mustered out upon expiration of its two year term of service on June 19, 1863 -- just two weeks before Gettysburg. Cooper was very lucky to get out when he did; the 22nd New York had been part of the union First Corps, which was slaughtered on the first day at Gettysburg. - RBW
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