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Manuscripts/Mixed Material When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again

When Johnny comes marching home again Hurrah! Hurrah!

The story of "When Johnny comes Marching Home" is also the story of Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore. Gilmore, an 1848 Irish immigrant to Boston, was considered by no less a musician than John Philip Sousa as the "Father of the American Band."

Gilmore led a number of bands in the Boston area, including Patrick Gilmore's Band. At the beginning of the Civil War, in September 1861, the band enlisted as a group in the Union Army and was attached to the 24th Massachusetts Infantry. Gilmore's band served both as musicians and stretcher bearers at such horrific battles as Bull Run, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Richmond. Gilmore was posted to occupied New Orleans, Louisiana in 1863 and, as Grand Master of the Union Army, ordered to reorganize the state military bands. It was at this time that he claimed to have composed the words and music to "When Johnny Comes Marching Home."

"When Johnny Comes Marching Home" bears a remarkable similarity to the melody of the Irish song "Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye," which might be considered a protest song in the vein of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" The Irish song concerns conscription into the British Army

Where are your legs that used to run, huroo, huroo,
Where are your legs that used to run, huroo, huroo,
Where are your legs that used to run when first you went for to carry a gun?
Alas, your dancing days are done, och, Johnny, I hardly knew ye.

It is possible that this air was written before Gilmore's "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" and that Gilmore unconsciously might have borrowed from it. For his part, Gilmore claimed that he had adapted an African-American spiritual.

Sheet music for "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" was first published by Henry Tolman and Company of Boston in 1863 and bore the dedication "To the Army and Navy of the Union." Gilmore published the song under the pseudonym Louis Lambert, although the title page also read "as introduced by Gilmore's Band."

During his tenure in New Orleans Gilmore showed himself to be not only a skilled musician but an extraordinary showman. He organized a musical extravaganza, with 500 musicians and 5,000 or more school children, many from Confederate families, and staged a monumental concert in that city's Lafayette Square. After the war Gilmore's flair for amassing large groups of musicians in spectacular productions reemerged. Perhaps sick of war's tragedy Gilmore organized a National Peace Jubilee in 1869 that featured over 1,000 instrumentalists and 10,000 singers. In 1872 he presented an even larger World Peace Jubilee with 2,000 instrumentalists and 20,000 vocalists, including the composer Johann Strauss and his orchestra. During this extravaganza Gilmore made use of an electrically controlled cannon and one hundred Boston firemen to pound out Verdi's Anvil Chorus on real anvils!

Gilmore's "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" became popular with northerners and southerners alike. Years later, in 1939, one child of the Civil War era remembered:

The songs we sang were all patriotic. My niece Mary Hill, or Mollie, as we called her, but two years younger than I, was a little songbird. She learned all the popular songs of the day and was ready to sing on any occasion. "Dixie Land" was one of her favorites. She earned the pet name of "Dixie" by this song. Other songs that were sung in school entertainments were "When Johnny comes marching home again," [and] "On the field of battle, mother."

-- Mrs. Hortense Applegate, February 21, 1939
American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers Project, 1936-1940

The song also gave rise to many a parody. The best known was the Confederate parody "For Bales." Union soldiers sang about Generals such as Burnside, McClellan and Mead in a parody titled "Boys of the Potomac"and northerners disgruntled by taxes, conscription and inflation sang "Johnny, Fill up the Bowl." During the Spanish American War in 1898, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" reached new heights of popularity.

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Related Web Sites
Print Bibliography
  1. Darlington, Marwood. Irish Orpheus: the life of Patrick S. Gilmore, bandmaster extraordinary. Philadelphia: Oliver-Maney-Klein, 1950. Call number: ML422 .G48 D3.
  2. Ewen, David, ed. American popular songs from the Revolutionary War to the present. New York: Random House, 1966. Call number: ML128 .N3 E9.
  3. Fellman, Michael, Lesley J. Gordon, and Daniel E. Sutherland. This terrible war: the Civil War and its aftermath. New York: Longman, 2002. Call number: E468 .F45 2002.
  4. Gilmore, Patrick S. When Johnny comes marching home. Edited by Ann Owen and illustrated by Todd Ouren. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Picture Window Books, 2003. Call number: ML3551.4 .G45 2003.
  5. Lawrence, Vera Brodsky. Music for patriots, politicians, and presidents: harmonies and discords of the first hundred years. New York: Macmillan, 1975. Call number: ML3551 .L29.
  6. The photographic history of the Civil War in ten volumes. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 2000. Call number: E468.7 .M64 2000

About this Item

When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again
Created / Published
Library of Congress, Washington, DC, 2002.
Subject Headings
-  Popular Songs of the Day
-  Songs and Music
-  Songs Collections
Online Format
online text
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Chicago citation style:

When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again. Library of Congress, Washington, DC, 2002. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, (Accessed October 26, 2016.)

APA citation style:

(2002) When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again. Library of Congress, Washington, DC. [Manuscript/Mixed Material] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

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When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again. Library of Congress, Washington, DC, 2002. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.