About Me

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Riverside County, California, United States
I am a native of Illinois and grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. After dropping out of college, I moved to California in 1973 with my first husband. I married my present husband, Butch, in 1977 and got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me a grandmother 24 times over and a great-grandmother of 13. Three years after I married Butch I returned to school. I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication and was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 to return to school and get my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore and genealogy - and add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play a number of folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I am a Board Certified genealogist and more information on all this, as well as direct contact info, is on my Circlemending website.

Friday, October 9, 2009

"Comrades! Touch the Elbow" - Song of the GAR

In a previous post, I included the picture of a songbook used at Civil War reunion encampments. I have stewardship over this booklet and have enjoyed using it to research some of the songs of the war. In his autobiography, Take Me Home, discussed last week, John Denver states that an unnamed 19th Century philosopher stated "when music plays, canons [sic] keep quiet" (p. 199). I have been unable to find the source of that quotation (thus far . . . if anyone out there can give me the exact quote and/or its origin, I'd be pleased to learn about it), but I believe that there is a lot of truth in this. But after the war, the music continues.

One of my favorite songs from the booklet I included in yesterday's blog is "Comrades! Touch the Elbow" by I. E. Thorpe (sung to the tune of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" by George Frederick Root):

1) We will rally to the Post, boys, we'll rally once again;
Comrades, come and touch the elbow.
To those who served upon the land, or upon the raging main,
Comrades, come and touch the elbow.

Chorus) The old flag forever, hurrah, boys, hurrah!
We stood by Old Glory, it hasn't lost a star.
We will rally to the Post, boys, we'll rally once again,
Comrades! Fall in and touch the elbow!

2) We'll gather in the Post, boys, to talk of times that's past,
Comrades . . .
How we marched in summer's sun, how we stood mid-winter's blast,
Comrades . . . (chorus)

3) We will welcome to our numbers, the loyal true and brave . . .
Who put on the Union blue, our dear nation's life to save . . . (chorus)

4) We will gather in the Post, boys, we'll gather once again . . .
Though death open wide our ranks, we will close them up again . . . (chorus)

5) So we'll rally to the Post, boys, we'll rallly once again . . .
Those old songs we used to sing, we will sing them o'er again . . . (chorus)

I have found another song that also uses this phrase, sung to "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." Like the one given here above, there is no explanation of this term. This unusual phrase refers to the sense of solidarity the soldiers would feel when, in battle, with the smoke of cannon fire obliterating everything within even just inches from their faces, they could touch the elbow of the comrades next to them. There is even a blog on the web that uses that phrase, "touch the elbow," as its title. Check out Touch the Elbow-Blogging the Civil War to read more about the war and experiences of these men and boys. An explanation of the phenomenon can be found in an 1860s soldier handbook as well as in a guide for reenactors.

I have recorded the song listed above on my own CD, "Songs of the War of the Rebellion," but I know of no other recording of this unusual and rare piece that, I would like to think, was sung with gusto by my great-grandfather and his comrades at the Robert Chivas GAR Post #2 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (If you would like an MP3 download version of this song, contact me directly.)

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