Chapter Twelve

Hey Ho Raggedy-O

CHAPTER 12:    Victory Was Ours, Says Billy Barlow

The End of Sam Cowell’s American Tour – Billy Barlow Signs up with the Zouaves – General Billy Barlow – Winslow Homer Meets Billy Barlow–Twice – Billy Barlow at the Battles of Gettysburg and Lookout Mountain – Other Occurrences of Billy Barlow During the Civil War – Death of the Great Sam Cowell

And the young women there gave vent to such woe
You’d ha’ thought they were parting from Billy Barlow.
Oh dear raggedy oh!
You’d ‘ha thought they were parting from Billy Barlow.

From one of Sam Cowell’s Billy Barlow songs.
Sung by him in New York, during the early part of the Civil War.


The End of Sam Cowell’s Last Tour

Sam Cowell sang Billy Barlow songs in America during the months just before the Civil War. He continued to sing them in the early days of the conflict too, but as was usually the case with most of Billy’s songs, they were of a transient nature, new-born each night and not noted down.

Cowell’s Billy, during one of his concerts, announced his intention to sign up with a Zouave regiment. Even among the many colourful and highly eccentric uniforms of the various Northern regiments, the Zouaves stood out. They were dressed in baggy bright red or blue pantaloons, richly embroidered Moroccan vests, and jackets of dark blue or grey. Turbans or little gaily-trimmed hats were worn on their heads. Billy Barlow, the clown, would have felt quite at home among them. The regiment he promised to join — Colonel Wilson’s Zouave regiment — wore light blue pants, and scanty close-fitting jackets trimmed with scarlet braid and binding. They each were armed with a rifle, a revolver, a Bowie knife, and a slingshot.

In the theatres of New York, Sam Cowell sang his songs, and nightly proclaimed his own and Billy Barlow’s support for the Union, his Union badge proudly pinned to his coat. After the show, Cowell joined his friends in the taverns, and led the singing of The Star-Spangled Banner and other patriotic songs over and over into the night. By day, he and Emilie watched from their apartment window, as the many regiments marched off to war. The spirit of Billy Barlow marched off with them.

Billy was one of the last characters the Union recruits saw and heard in the theatres and other places of entertainment, before they left for the War. Cowell, while based in New York in the final months of his American tour, also revisited the other cities in the Northeast. He left behind him versions of his Billy Barlow.

Sam Cowell knew more about Southerners, both black and white, than most members of his audiences in the Northern cities. His childhood had been spent learning his first songs not only from his father, but also from the black slaves, whose music he greatly admired. When he toured the South just before the outbreak of war, he was welcomed back as a native son. He met friends of his father, Joe, who had been a well-loved entertainer and writer there for over twenty years before he returned to England, where he now cared for his grandchildren, Sam’s and Emilie’s younger offspring. Both Sam and Emilie had American cousins and other relatives living in the South.

During the time that bloodlust was running hot, a Union sympathiser in the South had good reason to fear for his or her life. Emilie noted in her diary in early 1861 that her cousin, Caroline Richings, performing in her home State of Virginia, (bravely ? foolishly ?) stood up on stage, holding a United States flag, to sing The Star-Spangled Banner. When she heard the threatening hisses from the audience, she sang instead The Southern Marseillaise, and trampled the Union Flag under her feet, as the cheers rang out around her. Entertainers and musicians have to be versatile at times like these. A few months later, Caroline was being nightly featured as the Goddess of Liberty in a patriotic allegory at Niblo’s Garden in New York. The singing of The Star-Spangled Banner was part of the act. How did she run the gauntlet to make her escape?

At about the same time, Emilie quoted from the New York Daily News:

“Report of a meeting of a ‘few friends of the seventh regiment, the pride of the Empire City’, concerning the statement made by Mr. Wm. Donaldson, ‘well-known as a self-styled negro delineator,’ that it was ‘his wish and desire that not one of the regiment would ever return to the city alive’. Committee appointed to command him to leave the city immediately without excuse or hesitation. IV Paragraph: ‘Mr. Wm. Donaldson desires us to say that he has not been waited upon by a vigilance committee and ordered to leave the city for saying that he hoped every member of the 7th Regiment would be cut to pieces. He says that the remark about the Regiment was made in a hasty moment under circumstances of peculiar provocation, as he found that he could not get his orders filled by either bootmaker or tailor, because they had so much work to do for the Seventh Regiment.”

Emilie doesn’t tell us the outcome of this incident.

In June 1862, Sam, Emilie, and daughter Sidney toured Canada briefly, and then sailed home. Emilie made her last entries in her diary, commenting that ” … happy days have preponderated over the sad ones; and our lot has been one to be very grateful for.” She was looking towards a bright future with her adored husband. Poor Emilie! The days ahead were to be sadder and more hopeless than she could have possibly imagined, and at the end, in less than two years, Death took her “Dear Boy” away.





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

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