One of the many reasons I enjoy writing historical western romance novels and short stories is the research required to make sure all the historical details I include in a story are reasonable accurate.
In my novellete Mail-Order Mix Up (set in Colorado in 1891), which is included in the Valentine's Day-themed western romance anthology Lariats, Letters, and Lace, I have a scene in which the heroine, Irene Maxon, has a mental image of someone stomping about in heavy boots while singing a marching-type song. A religious song wasn’t appropriate for the situation, yet the lyrics needed to reflect the reason she was thinking of the song.
Two songs came immediately to mind: Battle Hymn of the Republic (aka John Brown’s Body) and When Johnny Comes Marching Home. But they weren’t quite right. Then I couldn’t think of any other songs, because they had achieved earworm status in my head.
I realized, though, these songs shared a common thread: the American Civil War. Since Irene was in her twenties during the war, she would have known the songs of the time period. So I did a Google search and hit pay dirt right off with a song I should have thought of on my own: Battle Cry of Freedom. Great. I had my song, and I finished writing that scene.
My research could have ended there, but I have a tendency to tumble down research rabbit holes, especially if there’s trivia involved.
Battle Cry of Freedom
- George Frederick Root, an American composer, wrote Battle Cry of Freedom (aka 'Rally ‘Round the Flag') in 1862 to support the Union cause.
- H. L. Schreiner (composer) and W. H. Barnes (lyricist) adapted the song for the Confederacy.
- The Union version was modified as the campaign song for Lincoln/Garfield for the 1864 presidential election.
- Garfield used the song during his campaign in 1880.
- Composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk suggested it should be America’s national anthem.
- Composer Charles Ives referenced the song in his song, “They are There”.
- Ken Burns (known for documentaries) referenced the song in “The Civil War” documentary.
- Film composer John Williams incorporated the song into the soundtrack of the movie “Lincoln”.
- The 1939 film “Young Mister Lincoln” starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford has the song sung during the opening credits.
Here are YouTube renditions of Battle Cry of Freedom for the Union and the Confederacy. You'll notice the words a different.
Mail-Order Mix Up is set in the fictional town of Platte River City, Colorado, which is located on the South Platte River about 100 miles east of Denver.
Remarrying isn’t on widower Dale Forbes’ mind, but his three young granddaughters want a grandma. Widow Irene Maxon yearns for something more than the disappointments life has handed her. A mail-order bride catalog, a secret letter, and a blizzard combine to set the scene for match-making between Dale and Irene. However, another man expects Irene to fulfill their marriage agreement, and he isn’t going to take no as her answer.
“Forgive me for intruding unannounced, especially during your festivities. I’m here to return—”
“Oh, there you are, Dale, Violet,” Eloy broke in. “This is Irene Maxon from St. Louis.”
Irene followed Eloy’s wave and recognized the man and the girl coming along the hallway from the photograph she’d received with the letter. She also noted with more than passing interest that the photograph had not adequately captured Dale’s handsome maturity, strong chin, and fine, broad-shouldered physique. Before she could greet them, movement at the top of the stairs drew her attention, and she looked up to see a girl descending one slow stair at a time, her hand trailing lightly along the banister. The girl stopped midway down and looked right at Irene, the little satisfied smirk on her lips as pleasant as the sparkle in her eyes. So this was Meredith—the instigator of the marriage invitation.
Then a wisp of a child with braids flying burst through the midst of the group with a shriek of squealing delight. When she leaped, Irene instinctively caught her, staggering backwards a few steps under the child’s momentum. The girl clamped her arms around Irene’s neck with a grip so tight Irene couldn’t turn her head.
“Grandma! You’re here. You’re really here. I knew you’d come. I just knew it!”
Lydia’s face broke into a bright smile. Clara Jean clapped her hands and blurted, “It worked! She really got Meredith’s letter!”
All attention swung to Clara Jean who realized too late what she’d said as she ducked for cover behind the coat tree.
The few seconds of solemn, stunned silence shattered into echoes when Dale’s booming voice rebounded off the walls. “Meredith Margaret Forbes! What have you been up to now?”
But Meredith was nowhere in sight.
Lariats, Letters, and Lace is available on Amazon.com
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Until next time,
Writing the West one romance upon a time
References and further reading:
McWhirter, Christian L. (July 27, 2012). "Birth of the 'Battle Cry'". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved January 15, 2019. (http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/27/birth-of-the-battle-hymn/?_r=2)