July 28 , 2014
Marching Through Georgia
When Carl Sandburg was growing up in Galesburg, there were a good many Civil War veterans living in the city. From 1861 to 1865 nearly eighteen percent of the male population of Knox County had volunteered to serve in the Union Army.
After the war many of the veterans of the Civil War joined the Grand Army of the Republic. Posts were organized in Galesburg as well as six other communities in the county. Biweekly meetings were held to carry on the business of the organization. A county-wide reunion was held annually. A woman's auxiliary, named the Woman's Relief Corps, was attached to some of the G.A.R. Posts. A state encampment was held every year. Galesburg hosted the convention three times.
The campfire held special significance with the veterans. During the war they spent many hours around a campfire to cook their meals and keep warm between battles. Campfires, without the actual fire, were held at local, county and state events. They were occasions for telling stories, sharing experiences and reminiscing about the Civil War. These meetings always ended with the singing of “Marching Through Georgia.”
The song was written by Henry Clay Work in 1865. He was born in Middletown, Connecticut, October 1, 1832. His father, Alanson Work, was a radical abolitionist. The family moved to Quincy, Illinois, in 1834, in order for the elder Work to assist Reverend David Nelson. Nelson established the Mission Institute east of the city to train missionaries to convert slave owners and slaves. He also conducted an underground railroad station for escaping slaves from Missouri.
It has been said that nearly 3,000 slaves were assisted through the Quincy station. Two students of the Institute and Alanson Work were caught in Missouri trying to help slaves escape across the Mississippi River. They were sentenced to twelve years in the state penitentiary. The men were pardoned more than three years later. As a condition of his pardon, Alanson Work was required to move back to Connecticut. He worked in the Colt and Sharpe gun factories until he was seventy-five years old. As a young man he had been trained as a carpenter and gunstock maker.
Henry C. Work was an abolitionist as well, but he directed his talents in another way. He became a printer and taught himself music. Ironically, he began to write songs for minstrel shows. He was good at fitting words to music. It took him two or three weeks to write a song.
His first published song appeared in 1853. It was titled “We Are Coming, Sister Mary.” He continued writing songs for minstrel shows. During the Civil War he wrote a number of songs which became very popular. In 1865 he wrote “Marching Through Georgia,” after General William Sherman and his troops had laid waste to several states in the South. The campaign resulted in the complete defeat of rebel forces. The song was a march and expressed the feelings of the public at the time. A million copies of the sheet music were sold.
In 1875 Work wrote “Grandfather's Clock,” another million-seller. It became so famous that even today we call a longcase clock by the name Work gave it in the song. He also patented a knitting machine, a walking doll and a rotary engine. Henry Clay Work died June 8, 1884, in Hartford, Connecticut.
It is fitting a bust of Henry Clay Work stands near his place of birth in Middletown. His Civil War songs expressed the thoughts and feelings of supporters of the North. They suited the time in which they were written. Even today, “Marching Through Georgia” evokes the emotions of that time.