“Do You Remember, When We Last Did Meet?”

We like to spotlight the courageous “women who went to the field,” advocated for equality, influenced politics, marched to the battlefields, or did other unique and trailblazing things. While those exceptional women certainly deserve to be remembered and memorialized, I’ve been thinking about the silent, forgotten women of the Civil War.

As I scroll through Twitter this Women’s History Month, I see wonderful articles and photographs of remarkable women. That pleases my historian heart greatly. But when I think of the thousands of women who did not set foot on a battlefield, could not write letters, and did not necessarily have a strong view on politics, I feel disappointed that they are not frequently mentioned. Their struggles, fears, and triumphs seem forgotten. Maybe their stories are not as exciting. Maybe we have to page through graveyard records or their male relatives’ letters to find pieces of their lives. But they still matter.

Here are some photographs from the Library of Congress Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs, paired with the words to a popular sentimental song from the Civil War. Both sides sang it and there are several versions. (The Confederates changed the lyrics to “faded coat of gray” in the first stanza). We have records of women playing this on grand or out-of-tune instruments.

To the modern ear, the song may seem depressingly sad. But keep reading it or listening. There is a desperately proud undertone to the words. A feminine strength. An admission of deep affection. A hope that wants to survive the frightening news and casualty lists from each new battle.

The song’s popularity evidences that it reflected sentiments of the homefront and perhaps it gives a voice to the “lost voices” of women’s Civil War history.

Unidentified soldier in Union uniform next to unidentified woman (LOC)

Dearest love, do you remember,
When we last did meet,
How you told me that loved me,
Kneeling at my feet?
Oh! how proud you stood before me
In your suit of blue,
When you vowed to me and country
Ever to be true.

[Chorus]
Weeping sad and lonely,
Hopes and fears how vain!
When this cruel war is over,
Praying that we meet again!

Unidentified soldier in Union infantry uniform and wife (LOC)

When the summer breeze is sighing
Mournfully along;
Or when autumn leaves are falling,
Sadly breathes the song.
Oft in dreams I see thee lying
On the battle plain,
Lonely, wounded, even dying,
Calling but in vain.

[Chorus]
Weeping sad and lonely,
Hopes and fears how vain!
When this cruel war is over,
Praying that we meet again!

Unidentified woman wearing mourning brooch and displaying framed image of unidentifed soldier (LOC)

If amid the din of battle
Nobly you should fall,
Far away from those who love you,
None to hear you call,
Who would whisper words of comfort,
Who would soothe your pain?
Ah! the many cruel fancies
Ever in my brain.

[Chorus]
Weeping sad and lonely,
Hopes and fears how vain!
When this cruel war is over,
Praying that we meet again!

Mary Bannister, wife of Private George H. Bannister of Company H, 13th New Hampshire Infantry Regiment (LOC)

But our country called your, darling,
Angels cheer your way;
While our nation’s sons are fighting,
We can only pray.
Nobly strike for God and liberty,
Let all nations see,
How we love the starry banner,
Emblem of the free.

[Chorus]
Weeping sad and lonely,
Hopes and fears how vain!
When this cruel war is over,
Praying that we meet again!

Unidentified young women in dresses in front of American flag

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, editor, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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1 Response to “Do You Remember, When We Last Did Meet?”

  1. Pingback: Week in Review: March 24-31, 2019 | Emerging Civil War

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