General Scott and the Veteran
DESCRIPTION: "An old and crippled veteran to the War Department came" to volunteer his services in the Civil War: "I'm not so weak but I can strike, and I've got a good old gun...." "We will plant our sacred banner in each rebellious town...."
AUTHOR: Bayard Taylor?
EARLIEST DATE: 1922 (Dean); said to have been written May 13, 1861
KEYWORDS: Civilwar patriotic soldier
July 25, 1814 - Battle of Lundy's Lane (Bridgewater), at which the veteran is alleged to have fought. Winfield Scott was a brigadier at Lundy's Lane
1861-1865 - American Civil War. General Winfield Scott (1786-1866), who had been one of the leading generals in the Mexican war, was brevet Lieutenant General and commander in chief of Union forces until age forced him to retire in November 1861
FOUND IN: US(MA,MW)
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Warner 13, "General Scott and the Veteran" (1 text, 1 tune)
Dean, pp.128-129, "Billie Johnson of Lundy's Lane" (1 text)
WolfAmericanSongSheets, #728, p. 48, "General Scott and Corporal Johnson" (5 references)
ST Wa013 (Full)
NOTES: Wolf, p. 48, lists five Civil War-era broadside prints of this song. It appears all were titled "General Scott and Corporal Johnson."
For details on the Battle of Lundy's Lane, see "The Battle of Bridgewater."
The reference to "Pickens" is to Fort Pickens, the *other* fort (besides Fort Sumter) in Federal hands when the Confederacy seceded. Fort Pickens was in Pensacola Bay, and a handful of federal troops under Lt. Adam J. Slemmer occupied in on January 10, 1861 (Boatner, pp. 641, 764-765; Catton, pp. 276-280).
This part of the story is quite similar to that of Fort Sumter -- as is the sequel: The Confederates demanded the surrender of Pickens several times in early April. But the Federals reinforced Pickens as they did not reinforce Sumter. Some 400 reinforcements arrived on April 12, and Colonel Harvey Brown took charge on April 18. The Federals held Pensacola for the entire war, depriving the Confederates of an excellent if rather out-of-the-way harbor.
The veteran's disparagement of the "mini" (minie) ball demonstrates both his crustiness and his uselessness -- the rifle musket and minie ball were the first (relatively) rapid-fire rifle type in the world (McPherson, pp. 474-475) -- about four times as fast as previous rifles. The veteran had used either smoothbore muskets (which couldn't hit a brick wall at fifty paces) or the older rifles (which took roughly two minutes to load and fire). In neither case was he as effective as he thought.
"Arnold" is, of course, the traitor Benedict Arnold (for whom see "Major Andre's Capture" [Laws A2])
It is ironic to note that the song ends with the general (nowhere explicitly mentioned as Winfield Scott, but the description fits) turning down the veteran. By the end of the war, the Federals had formed an Invalid Corps of such tired and crippled old men. They needed every body they could get.
Several other high Union officers had experience in the War of 1812 (information from Boatner). John Wool (1879-1869), who commanded the key Union positio of Fort Monroe in late 1861, had raised a company of New York soldiers in 1812 and fought on the Canadian border. Robert Patterson (1792-1881) had served with the Pennsylvanis militia in 1812-1813, and at the start of the Civil War, he was in charge of forces in the Shenandoah Valley. His performance was poor enough that he was mustered out of the service on July 27, 1861. Neither of these two would have been at the War Department in 1861, however, and -- unlike Winfield Scott -- neither had performed noteworthy service at Lundy's Lane.
There is one fairly well documented instance of a War of 1812 veteran fighting (as opposed to manning a desk) in the Civil War: John Burns of Gettysburg allegedly came out and fought with Union soldiers after Confederates chased off his cows. He is said to have been wounded three times and captured. No one, however, seems to have been able to verify his previous war service (Sears, p. 204, declares that he had been a non-combatant) -- and, in any case, he was not a proper soldier, just sort of a one-man posse (Sears says he was "regarded by his fellow citizens as cantankerous and something of a town character). Jameson, p. 94, says that he fought at Plattsburg, Queenstown, and Lundy's Lane, but offers no evidence. He did earn mention in the report of General Abner Doubleday for his deeds, and even met President Lincoln (Sears, p. 204).
I don't know if this song was inspired by an actual incident, but it could have been. According to Woodworth, p. 6, at the start of the Civil War, a veteran of Lundy's Lane organized a company of men in their forties and fifties, and offered it to the State of Illinois -- only to be turned down because the men were too old. It's easy to imagine a songwriter turning a general incident into one about a particular soldier. - RBW
Last updated in version 3.5
- Boatner: Mark M. Boatner III, The Civil War Dictionary, 1959 (there are many editions of this very popular work; mine is a Knopf hardcover)
- Catton: Bruce Catton, The Coming Fury, being volume I of The Centennial History of the Civil War(Pocket, 1961, 1967)
- Jameson: J. Franklin Jameson, Dictionary of United States History 1492-1895, Puritan Press, 1894
- McPherson: James M. McPherson, The Battle Cry of Freedom (The Oxford History of the United States: The Civil War Era), Oxford, 1988
- Sears: Stephen W. Sears, Gettysburg, Houghton Mifflin, 2003
- Edwin Wolf 2nd, American Song Sheets, Slip Ballads, and Political Broadsides 1850-1870, Library Company of Philadelphia, 1963
- Woodworth: Steven E. Woodworth, Nothing But Victory: The Army of the Tennessee 1861-1865, Vintage Civil War Library, 2005
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