Army of the Free, The
DESCRIPTION: "In the army of the Union we are marching in the van, And will do the work before us, if the bravest soldiers can." Porter's division is "the best division of a half a million souls." "'Twill never fail to honour our great Army of the Free."
AUTHOR: Words: Frank H. Norton (source: Silber-SongsOfTheCivilWar)
EARLIEST DATE: 1864 (Moore, Songs of the Soldiers, according to Silber-SongsOfTheCivilWar)
KEYWORDS: Civilwar soldier nonballad
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Silber-SongsOfTheCivilWar, pp. 32-34, "The Army of the Free" (1 text, 1 tune)
cf. "The Wearing of the Green (I)" (tune) and references there
NOTES [460 words]: There are many poems and songs known from the Civil War era which praised particular units. But most of them praised companies (Company G, First Minnesota) or regiments (the Irish 69th). This makes sense, since companies and regiments were all raised at the same time, in the same state, and were permanent formations that served together for the entire war (or until mustered out).
This song is unusual in that it praises an entire division -- a dozen or so regiments, and unlike regiments, they were not very permanent; they could have units added or subtracted and be transferred to different parts of the army. I know of no other song of this type.
As the song makes clear, the division's commander was [Fitz-John] Porter (1822-1904), and his brigadiers were [Daniel] Butterfield (1831-1901), [John Healy] Martindale (1815-1881), and George W. Morell [1815-1883). This allows us to identify the division with certainty, and the time relatively closely: It is Porter's first division of S. P. Heintzelman's III Corps of the Army of the Potomac. The date is late 1861 or (more likely) early 1862; on May 18, 1862, the division was transferred to become the first division of the newly-formed V Corps. Porter was given command of the corps, and Morell succeeded to command of the division, so the song was obsolete from May 1862 on.
The division deserves some of the praise lavished on it; the V Corps did the largest share of the fighting in the Seven Days' Battles, and was responsible for the victory at Malvern Hill. And one of its brigades, then under Col. Strong Vincent, would save the Union Army's position on Little Round Top on the second day at Gettysburg (although the Twentieth Maine, the regiment most responsible, was not yet part of the division).
The praise of the officers, however, is probably out of place. Porter remains the subject of much controversy, but he was drummed out of the army by a court-martial for failing to obey orders at Second Bull Run. (The fact that obeying the orders would have destroyed the army is somewhat beside the point.) Butterfield was liked by Joseph Hooker, and so became Chief of Staff of the Army of the Potomac when Hooker was in command -- but he was considered arrogant, and when he was injured on the third day at Gettysburg, General Meade seems to have been happy to be rid of him. He is now remembered mostly for composing "Taps," the bugle call. Martindale, after Malvern Hill, was placed on charges by Porter for saying that he would rather surrender than leave his wounded to be captured by the Confederates; he was acquitted but resigned his commission due to ill health. And Morell, although he remained in the army for two more years, was quietly left without an assignment from 1862 on. - RBW
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