Civil War Song Pulls the Heart’s Strings

You know your Civil War library is significant when you are browsing for something and come across an item or items you had completely forgotten about. Such was the case when I stumbled upon a two-volume set – The Union and its companion The Confederacy. One had a blue cover and the other gray.

What makes this set especially interesting is that they come with LPs. Produced by Columbia Records and edited by Richard Bales, the albums were recorded at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. These short books featured essays by such luminaries as Bruce Catton, Clifford Dowdey and Allan Nevins.

The songs on the albums are well done and stirring. I will share one of my favorites. It is called “Tenting on the Old Camp Grounds,” and was composed by Walter Kittredge.

We’re tenting tonight on the old Camp ground
Give us a song to cheer
Our weary hearts, a song of home
And friends we love so dear.

Many are the hearts that are weary tonight,
Wishing for the war to cease;
Many are the hearts looking for the right
To see the dawn of peace.

Tenting tonight,
Tenting tonight,
Tenting on the old Camp ground.

We are tired of war on the old Camp ground,
Many are dead and gone
Of the brave and true who’ve left their homes,
Others been wounded long.

Many are the hearts that are weary tonight,
Wishing for the war to cease;
Many are the hearts looking for the right
To see the dawn of peace.

Dying tonight,
Dying tonight,
Dying on the old Camp ground.

About Derek Maxfield

Associate Professor of History Genesee Community College
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4 Responses to Civil War Song Pulls the Heart’s Strings

  1. Since I am a singer as well as a student of the Civil War, I have a healthy collection of Civil War era music. While some of the lyrics are cringe worthy, many of the songs have stood the test of more than 150 years in good form. Tenting Tonight is a favorite of most of the Civil War performers I have heard. It has multiple virtues, being easy to sing and having a reasonable number of verses by 21st century standards.

  2. Chris Mackowski says:

    My introduction to that song came when I watched the TV miniseries “The Blue & The Gray.” As they sing the song, the men march through their camp carrying torches as a way to remember the dead. I thought it was haunting, and it took me years to finally track down the song. It remains a favorite song of mine from the era.

  3. Shipdriver says:

    My introduction to Tenting Tonight was much earlier. All I remember about 4th or 5th grade music class back in Iowa was singing that song. I had no idea what it was about until much later, but it was so haunting it always stuck with me. As soon as I saw the title, the words popped up. Although don’t think we sung the last verse.

  4. Meg Groeling says:

    My dad had those same recored, and I just came upon another box of his that has two 45s in red vinyl of some of the same songs. Thanks so much, dad.

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