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Civil War soldiers longed for ‘Home, Sweet Home’

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John H. Payne
“Home! Home! Sweet, sweet home!
There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”

While the Civil War produced a number of songs still popular today, one piece of music was deeply treasured by soldiers from both the North and the South.

The melancholy song, “Home, Sweet Home” had such an impact on homesick troops that many commanding generals banned it.

But many regimental bands from both armies played the song, which was a particular favorite of President Lincoln, who like many of the soldiers, was far away from home.

Italian opera star Adelina Patti was invited to the White House in 1862 to perform for the Lincolns who were still mourning the death of their 12-year-old son, Willie, from typhoid fever.

Patti, who along with Jenny Lind was one of the most popular sopranos in the world, performed her usual repertoire, ending with one of the saddest songs of the day, “The Last Rose of Summer.” Concluding that number, she saw Mrs. Lincoln in tears and the president covering his face with his hands. When she offered to perform a cheerful song, Lincoln requested “Home, Sweet Home,” as the only song that could give them any solace from their grief.

The song concluded a moving interlude on Dec. 30, 1862 as Federal and Confederate troops awaited the outbreak of fighting outside of Murfreesboro.

“The Battle of the Bands” was a unique moment and one of many reasons Stones River is still remembered.

Both the Federal Army of the Cumberland and the Confederate Army of Tennessee had settled in for the night. A no-man’s land of only 700 yards separated the 83,000 combatants. At some points, the lines were within 300 yards of each other.

It was a typical Middle Tennessee winter evening – cold, damp and wet. The day of the 30th had been sunny, but cold.

“Every soldier on that field knew when the sun went down on the 30th that on the following day he would be engaged in a struggle unto death, and the air was full of tokens that one of the most desperate of battles was to be fought,” wrote Brig. Gen. Henry M. Cist, Army of the Cumberland.

As dread deepened, the various military bands attached to both armies tried to lift the oppressive mood by playing some of their favorite compositions. A musical battle between the bands soon ensued with Union and Confederate bands trying to drown out the other side.

The Confederate’s “Bonny Blue Flag” was answered by “Hail, Columbia.” “Yankee Doodle” echoed “Dixie”.

Eventually, lively patriotic tunes faded away as one brass band began the lonesome strains of “Home, Sweet Home.”

“To thee, I’ll return, overburdened with care,
The heart’s dearest solace will smile on me there.
No more from that cottage again will I roam,
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”

Then bands from both sides ended the North-South competition and joined in on the mournful song with thousands of troops stopping to sing the chorus:

“Home! Home! Sweet, sweet home!
There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”

While the story behind the song is interesting, the background and life of the man who wrote it are almost forgotten.

Henry Rowley Bishop is credited with the music, which apparently had its origins as a Sicilian folk tune. But John Howard Payne penned the words that gave it worldwide fame.

Payne was living in England, when he wrote the words for his play “Clari” in 1822. Homesick for his native America, Payne wrote the song about his grandfather’s cottage in East Hampton, Long Island, NY.

Payne, who died in 1852, was an American actor, playwright, author and statesman.

He first earned fame as a teenager. While working full-time as a clerk, the 14-year-old Payne published the first issue of “The Thespian Mirror,” a weekly journal of theater criticism. During this same period, he wrote his first play, “Julia: or The Wanderer, a comedy in five acts.” The play, loaded with double entendres and the word “damn,” was controversial and closed quickly at the Park Theater in New York.

But when he was 17, Payne decided to forego his education at Union College and to become a full-time actor. This decision was precipitated by the death of his mother and the failure of his father’s business.

His fame continued to grow and prompted him to seek roles in England. There he was savaged by the critics, but continued to have some success particularly in the area of writing and composing. He also performed in Europe where he became infatuated with Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. Shelley was interested in Payne’s friend, author Washington Irving, who had no interest in her.

That little song from his opera, “Clari, the Maid of Milan,” made Payne internationally famous, but he didn’t profit from “Home, Sweet Home.” He sold the rights to the song and the play for less than £100. The song made the publishers rich.

After 20 years of knocking around Europe, Payne decided to return home where he toured the country in triumph, traveling with artist John James Audubon.

During this period, he took up an interesting cause, Indian removal, even lobbying Congress to keep the Cherokees from being forced from their home in East Tennessee and Georgia.

Shortly after returning to America, Payne went to Georgia to live with the famous Cherokee Chief John Ross.

Payne collected and recorded the myths, traditions and even recipes of the Cherokees. He penned several newspaper articles and assembled once of the greatest collection of materials on the tribe.

He contended the Cherokees were descendants of the lost tribe of ancient Israel, and he attempted to link the Cherokee religion to Hebrew origins. His ideas did gain some acceptance, but were ultimately disproved, casting some doubt on his research on Native Americans.

At one point, Georgia militia held both Payne and Ross prisoner for several weeks until Secretary of War Lewis Cass ordered them freed. Ironically, one of Payne’s captors frequently whistled, “Home, Sweet Home.”

Ultimately, Payne was appointed U.S. counsel general in Tunisia by President John Tyler thanks to the support of Daniel Webster, who had been moved to tears by “Home, Sweet Home,” and William Marcy. He was recalled in 1845, but reappointed in 1851. He died the following year in Tunis.

Banker and philanthropist W.W. Corcoran was ultimately responsible and paid for Payne’s reinternment in the U.S. Corcoran, who gave the Corcoran art collection to the people of the United States, lobbied with the State Department for Payne’s return.

“It has seemed to me that the precious dust of an American citizen who sang so sweetly in praise of ‘Home, Sweet Home’ should not be left to mingle with any soil less dear to him than that of the land which gave him birth,” Corcoran wrote Secretary of State Frederick T. Freylinghuysen.

Payne’s body was reburied in Oak Hill Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Corcoran founded the cemetery, which is also the last resting place of many Civil War notables and of Sen. John Eaton of Tennessee, Andrew Jackson’s friend and cabinet member. Peggy O’Neal Eaton, the tavern keeper’s daughter who married Eaton, is buried there as well. Her conduct caused a split in Jackson’s cabinet. Reportedly, she wanted her tombstone to read, “She was never dull.” She has no tombstone.

Tagged under  CIVIL WAR

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