Home, Sweet Home: “Had we not had the river between us”


Winslow Homer‘s painting “Home, Sweet Home” (1863) documents a moment of musical reflection between battles:


These union soldiers have paused (along with the rest of their camp) to listen as their regimental band plays “Home, Sweet Home”; in the distance, across the Rappahannock River, the confederate camp also listens in… and sings along, as Private Frank Mixson recounts below:

“Home, Sweet Home”
Frank Mixson, Co. E, 1st SC Volunteers
Just after the Battle of Fredericksburg, 1862

…during the afternoon we and the enemy were very near together, with the Rappahannock River only between us, but no fighting going on. Just before sundown the Yankee band came down to the river bank and commenced to play. Very soon our bands were on the bank on our side. The Yankee band would play the popular airs of theirs amid much yelling and cheering; our bands would do the same with the same result. Towards the wind-up the Yankee band struck up “Yankee Doodle.” Cheers were immense. When they stopped our band struck up “Dixie,” and everything went wild. When they finished this, both bands, with one accord and simultaneously, struck up “Home, Sweet Home.” There was not a sound from anywhere until the tune was finished and it then seemed as if everybody had gone crazy. I never saw anything to compare with it. Both sides were cheering, jumping up and throwing up hats and doing everything which tended to show enthusiasm. This lasted for at least a half hour. I do believe that had we not had the river between us that the two armies would have gone together and settled the war right there and then.

I saw old weather-beaten men, naked, bare-footed, hungry, dirty and worn out, with tears streaming down their cheeks; men who were not afraid to leave their homes, their wives, their families, their all; but men with hearts, who could not restrain the tears when it was so vividly brought to them. Their hearts were touched then, but they were yet men who were willing to do or die.


John Reuben Thomas treated this same scene in his poem, “Music in Camp”:

Down flocked the soldiers to the banks,
Till, margined with its pebbles,
One wooded shore was blue with “Yanks,”
and one was gray with “Rebels.”

SEE OUR SONG POST: “Home, Sweet Home” >> (1823)

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