DESCRIPTION: "The Twenty-third was drawn in line and ready for the strife, Each man for his country would freely give his life...." A toast to the soldiers who fought bravely "On the thirty-first of May in the Shenandoah lowlands, lowlands low...."
EARLIEST DATE: 1941 (Warner); 19C (see Wolf)
KEYWORDS: battle Civilwar
May 31-Jun 1, 1862: Battle of Fair Oaks/Seven Pines
FOUND IN: US(MA)
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Warner 36, "The Twenty-Third" (1 text, 1 tune)
Warner-Eastern, p. 69, "The Twenty-Third" (1 text)
WolfAmericanSongSheets, #2379, p. 160, "The 23D Penn'a Reg.'s Brave Action on the 31st of May, at the Battle of Fair Oaks" (5 references)
ST Wa036 (Partial)
NOTES [534 words]: The fragment given by the Warners (collected from Yankee John Galusha) is historically troublesome; I suspect it is damaged. There were no Civil War battles fought on May 31 in the Shenandoah valley!
The logical guess would be that the reference is to Jackson's Shenandoah campaign of 1862. Fighting was almost constant in May and June of that year -- but on May 31 Jackson was extracting his troops from between converging Federal columns.
The song does not really identify the regiment, but here we can make a better guess. Even though John Galusha was from New York, it is not the 23rd New York (which, unlike the formation in the song, did not have a colonel named Neal).
I suspect it is the 23rd Pennsylvania, which was commanded from February 1862 by Colonel Thomas Hewson Neill (1826-1885) until he received command of a brigade after Antietam. This regiment, however, was in the Peninsular Campaign, not the Shenandoah campaign (it was in Couch's first division of Keyes's Fourth Corps).
If it really is the 23 Pennsylvania, we have a "fit" for the battle: It was the battle of Fair Oaks/Seven Pines, May 31-June 1, 1862. At that time, according to BLII, p. 218, the 23rd Pennsylvania was in Abercrombie's second brigade of Couch's division. What's more, it played a major role in the battle -- Abercrombie's brigade suffered 624 casualties, which is probably in excess of 15% of its available strength, and the second-highest brigade total in the Union army. Abercrombie himself was wounded in the fighting. According to Boatner, p. 273, the 23rd and 61st Pennsylvania regiments were on the Federal right flank and so came under heavy Confederate attack.
All that sleuthing seems to be confirmed by the Wolf broadside (which I noticed only because I had done all the work to figure that out). It includes a number of Galusha's lyrics; it's much longer, but appears to be the same song. Where Galusha got the "Shenandoah" chorus I don't know; it's not in the broadsides. Thus we must suspect the "Shenandoah" reference to be in error -- though even it can be explained.
Later in the war, the 23 Pennsylvania was in the Sixth Corps (part of the first brigade, third division from Fredericksburg to Gettysburg; at the Wilderness, it was part of 4/1/VI), and the Sixth Corps was sent to the Shenandoah in 1864. We know, however, that that is not the battle mentioned; by that time Neill was commanding a brigade in a different division of the corps.
Still, it might explain the confusion: Originally the song was an ode to the 23 Pennsylvania, with references to its various exploits, and a chorus referring to the Shenandoah campaign was transferred to the section about Fair Oaks/Seven Pines.
Who Boggs was I cannot guess; there was no general by that name (according Warner and to pp. 247-343 of Phisterer), nor Pennsylvania colonel (according to Hunt), nor major Pennsylvania figure (according to PennsyvaniaBD) but odds are that he was a company officer anyway.
It's interesting to observe that John Galusha knew another song ("The Irish Sixty-Ninth") about a Pennsylvania regiment that fought at Fair Oaks. Did he at some point know someone with a large collection of Pennsylvania songs? - RBW
Last updated in version 4.2
- BLII: Clarence C. Buel and Robert U. Johnson, editors, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, four volumes, 1888 (reference here is to the second volume)
- Boatner: Mark M. Boatner III, The Civil War Dictionary, 1959 (there are many editions of this very popular work; mine is a Knopf hardcover)
- Hunt: Roger D. Hunt, Colonels in Blue: Union Army Colonels of the Civil War: The Mid-Atlantic States, Stackpole, 2007
- PennsyvaniaBD: (no author listed), Pennsylvania Biographical Dictionary, American Historical Publications, 1989
- Phisterer: Frederick Phisterer, Campaigns of the Civil War: Statistical Record of the Armies of the United States, 1883 (I use the 2002 Castle Books reprint)
- Warner: Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders, Louisiana Status University Press, 1964
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