Our Hearts, Our Arms, Our Lives was written in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the one of the major engagements of the American Civil War, the Battle of Shiloh, fought in southwestern Tennessee on April 6-7, 1862. More American lives were lost in two days at Shiloh than had been lost in all previous American wars combined. It profoundly shaped the perception of the war on both sides, causing both to fully realize the struggle would be long and very costly.
The title is taken from “Cheer Boys, Cheer!” a war song of Southern Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan’s Raiders:
Cheer boys, cheer! We’ll march away to battle!
Cheer boys, cheer, for our sweethearts and our wives!
Cheer boys, cheer! We’ll nobly do our duty,
And give to the South our hearts, our arms, our lives.
For his help in identifying source material for this composition, I am indebted to Bobby Horton, a Birmingham, Alabama, folk musician and Civil War historian.
The Battle of Shiloh Hill
Set to the folk tune “Wandering Sailor,” the lyrics are attributed to M. B. Smith, a soldier in Company C, 2nd Regiment of the Texas Volunteers. The song is substantially a first-person narrative of the battle from the perspective of a Southern foot soldier.
The Drummer Boy of Shiloh
This is a composed song by William Shakespeare Hays, a Civil War era composer who sold millions of copies of his music, largely due to the tearful sentimentality of his lyrics. His friends long promoted him as the “True American Composer Laureate,” in order to downgrade Stephen Foster.
Cheer Boys, Cheer! or Morgan’s War Song
The author and composer of this song are unknown, although it is believed that the song is of English origin, taught to Morgan’s Raiders by a British member of Morgan’s staff, and subsequently given new American lyrics.
November 14, 2011