Chapter Twelve 4

Hey Ho Raggedy-O


Chapter 12 – page 5


More Civil War Billys


Billy Barlow, the name — and, evidently, the character — was well known also in the South during the Civil War. The well-known song surviving from this period, however, along with a song written at the close of the War, are listed in collections of Northern songs, espousing, as they do, the Union cause. There is no mention of the Billy Barlow song, or tune, among the songs listed as being sung by both sides.

It is known that there was a great deal of sharing of tunes, with words of songs adapted or completely changed to suit whichever army was singing them. There is evidence that the Billy Barlow song with the familiar Hey Ho Raggedy Oh! refrain was widespread across the country at least as far as Kansas by the 1900s, and it’s likely that the Civil War had more than a small part to play in its spread.

At the beginning of the War, Sam Cowell had just completed his tour of his old homeland, performing his Billy Barlow to appreciative audiences across the South, down to New Orleans and back. Before the stirrings of unrest in America, Billy Barlow had been content to comment on topical subjects without confining himself to a political view, so that, as always, he could fit in anywhere.

There is a brief reference to a Southern Billy (written as Billie) Barlow in the memoirs of Private Samuel Mitchell, a Tennessee soldier who survived the War after many hardships and adventures. His recollections were written some twenty years after the War. After having spent some time in a Union prison camp, he and his fellow soldiers were part of a prisoner exchange and they returned to fight in Tennessee. Mitchell’s colourful tale includes at this point his meeting with Billy.

” ……..Col. Walker tried to get up a drum and fife band, and the rattle of the drum and scream of the fife was heard every time we went into camp, and as for music it was a perfect burlesque and we were terribly tortured with the horrible noise.

So one night while the heroic band were snoozing some of the boys who were real friends of suffering humanity cut the heads out of the drums, and so ended the last band the 3rd ever had. Purse Anderson with his bugle furnished all the music we had after this. While in camp at Grenada, we had a recruit join our company. He was a substitute for the celebrated Billie Barlow. He was clad in a new suit of brown jeans, and being something near seven feet high and with body and feet in proportion, he was a real show. He had more wool in his suit than was on the backs of all the remainder of our company. We took Billie in and treated him kindly.”

Billie is not mentioned again, so his fate is not known. Mitchell died before finishing his memoirs, although his story continues for some time after this quote. It would seem from Billie’s appearance, and from the fact that his arrival in the narrative comes after a musical story, that the “celebrated Billie Barlow” was Billy the clown, and not General Billy Barlow.

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civil war


Billy Barlow Songs From the Civil War

The two Billy Barlow songs about his exploits during the Civil War are based on the familiar formula with the same phrasing. They both have a two-line refrain at the end of each four-line verse. One uses:
Oh! Yes, I’m rough, I well know, (This line differs in each verse, but finishes with:) Billy Barlow.

And the other:

Oh! dear. I’m ragged you all know,
But I’m an old soldier says Billy Barlow.

The earliest Billy Barlow Civil War song is credited to Edward Clifford and dated 1863. It begins with a parody of the version of Billy Barlow at the Crimean War, which is given at the beginning of this chapter. In place of the visit to Queen Victoria, where Billy makes Albert jealous, there is a visit to Richmond, Virginia, where Billy is smiled upon by Mrs. Davis, making “Old Jeff” the jealous husband. There are several verses about army life, and the courting of a Southern girl who is anxious to “stand by the Union with Billy Barlow.” The sixth verse is interesting in that Billy says,

It was down in Virginia at a place called Bull Run
Where first our brave soldiers their fighting begun.
It’s true they got routed but then you all know
It was on account of the absence of Billy Barlow.

Francis Channing “Billy” Barlow, well-known and notorious from early in his military career, missed the battle of Bull Run, although he was in the area at the time. This song could well be, in part, or even entirely, the work of Sam Cowell. The fact that the date it bears is after Cowell’s return to England, and that it is claimed to be by Edward Clifford, may not be significant. Cowell had many imitators, who mimicked his every gesture and every comment. It is difficult to be sure about the authorship of many songs of this period. Frequently, not only singers but also publishers falsely claimed to have written songs.

The second Civil War song about Billy Barlow was written by a soldier in Company C of the 109th Pennsylvania Volunteers. He was John M Valleau, and he wrote a short song about Billy’s involvement in the Battle of Lookout Mountain — poetically termed “The Battle Above the Clouds”. The tune suggested for this song, which is in the form of a manuscript, is Billy Barlow in Tennessee, or White Star. I have not been able to find this tune, (the title White Star was used for many songs that all seem to post-date the Civil War), but the usual Billy Barlow tune fits quite well, except for the worrying word “all” in the second line of the refrain, which alters the metre.

There is no date on the manuscript, but the Battle of Lookout Mountain was in 1863, the same year as the publication of the Clifford song. Billy has joined the Veterans, and is an “old soldier”, so this could put the date of the composition at any time after the end of the War. The actual battle that saw the Union forces take this granite outcrop that overlooks Chattanooga in Tennessee, was a quite minor affair in the midst of a short series of attacks in the area, that were all won by the North. Lookout Mountain is often shrouded in fog, and on the day of the romantically named battle, in November 1863, the damp mists mingled with the cannon smoke to eerie effect.

In what is surely one of the silliest mistakes in modern warfare, the well placed Rebels on the high ridges were unable to turn their cannons to an acute-enough angle to reach the enemy as they swarmed up the slopes. Billy Barlow doesn’t mention the details of the battle, and his song is extremely vague about the action, but he does name his “gallant Commander, John W. Geary” whose name gave Valleau lots of good possibilities for a rhyme.

Pity he only used one of them :
~ beery, bleary, cheery, deary, eerie, feary, jeery, leery, neary, peery, query, reary, sneery, teary, veery

Good evening kind friends, it’s how do you do,
It’s a very long time since I bid you adieu,
I have been to the wars, I suppose you all know,
And I need no introduction, I’m Billy Barlow.

Chorus – Oh! dear I’m ragged you all know,
But I am an old soldier, says Billy Barlow.

In Wauhatchie Valley on a moonlight night,
The rebels attacked us, we showed them a fight;
They tried to surround us, but it was no go,
For we made them skedadle, says Billy Barlow.

Lookout Mountain we next did take,
With the point of bayonet made Johnny Rebs break
Our boys gave a yell, and away they did go,
They drove them to Dalton, says Billy Barlow.

We came back to camp, where we were before,
And I put my name down in the Veteran Corps,
The White Star Boys they haven’t been slow,
They have all joined the Vets, says Billy Barlow.

I think I will finish, for I’m getting weary,
Our gallant Commander is John W Geary.
He led us from Lookout to Ringgold you know,
And Victory was ours, says Billy Barlow.

Lookout Mountain. John M Valleau.


In 1865 the Civil War ended and all the American Billy Barlow soldiers slipped back into civilian life.





A Study of the Billy Barlow Phenomenon
(written by Joy Hildebrand)

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