Origins: I Can Whip the Scoundrel
(origins) Origin: Old Abner's Shoes - What's the story? (30)
Subject: Origins: I Can Whip the Scoundrel|
Date: 20 May 20 - 08:55 PM
Introduction and Referenced Works
This is my research into a Civil War song of fairly obscure origins that variously goes by the name "I Can Whip the Scoundrel," "(Old) Abner's Shoes," "Lay Ten Dollars Down," or "General Patterson." Because of this, going into the song's full history will take a bit of time to go over fully. Since this is so long, if you don't want to read the full thing as I've written it, I'll be making a separate post which summarizes everything with the title "Summary"; you can skip down to that if you'd like.
First, I'll include texts of songs I've found. There are plenty of physical, non-digitized Civil War period newspapers and magazines of which I'm sure more lines to the song could be found (for example, The Southern Illustrated Iews, or many of the scores of other obscure titles available in the Alexander Street Press Illustrated Civil War Newspapers and Magazines collection, which I do not have access to), but, despite that, I've managed to assemble a fairly diverse body of lyrics.
- The (London) Index, Vol. III, No. 56 (May 21st, 1863) - The War Songs of the South, pp. 60-61
- The Maritime Monthly, Vol. III, No. 5 (May 1874) - Travels and Adventures In the South by J. Newton Wilson, p. 437
- Southern Bivouac, Vol. I, No. 2 (July 1885) - Salmagundi, pp. 126-127
- Buffalo Sunday Morning New, Vol. XIX, No. 38 (April 17th, 1892) - Old War Songs by Wesley T. Wilson, p. 4
- The Daily Picayune, Vol. LXII, No. 97 (May 1st, 1898) - Confederates Under Old Glory's Folds, p. 6
- Ottowa (KS) Daily Republic, Vol. XXV, No. 103 (May 1st, 1905) - Col. Mason's Reminisces by C. B. Mason, p. 3
- Winston-Salem Journal, Vol. X, No. 224 (August 23rd, 1908) - Reminisces of Patrician, p. 4
- The (Baltimore) Sun, Vol. CXLV, No. 99 (August 23rd, 1909) - Answers to Questions, p. 5
- The (Newberry, SC) Herald and News, Vol. XLVI, No. 68 (August 27th, 1909) - Romance of Rocketts by Col. D. A. Dickert, p. 1
- Reminisces of General Basil W. Duke (1911) by Basil W. Duke - Chapter XIV (Untitled), pp. 294-296
- The Dayton Herald (October 25th, 1911) - "Who Struck Billy Patterson", p. 4
- Nashville Banner, Vol. XXXVI, No. 262, Part 3/3 (February 10th, 1912) - Some Good War Time Stories by Will T. Hale, p. 8
- Nashville Banner, Vol. XXXVII, No. 250, Part 2/2 (January 25th, 1913) - Village Life During the Great War by Will T. Hale, p. 7
- The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore (pub. 1952, collected May 7th, 1913) - As I Went Down To Newbern by E. B. Miller, p. 658
- Nashville Banner, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 295, Part 2/3 (March 21st, 1914) - Humor Endurin' the Army by Will T. Hale, p. 10
- History of De Kalb County, Tennessee (1915) by Will T. Hale - Chapter XIX: Personal Experience, p. 225
- Nashville Banner, Vol. XLIV, No. 116, Part 1/4 (August 3rd, 1919) - Tennesseean's Recollections of Half A Century by Will T. Hale, p. 12
- The (Nashville) Christian Advocate, Vol. 80, No. 46 [Whole No. 4119] (November 14th, 1919) - Switching to This and That, p. 11 (1451)
- The Natchez Democrat, Vol. LVI, No. 96 (January 24, 1922) - The People's Forum (under "MY DEAR MR. LAMBERT:"), p. 4
- A Knot of Blue and Gray (1923) - Who Struck Billy Patterson by Capt. Robert Wright, p. 26
- The (Pomona, CA) Bulletin, Vol. IX, No. 237, Section 3 (October 28th, 1923) - 16 Months In Dixie by P. D. Swick, p. 5
- The Burlington (VT) Free-Press, Vol. 92, No. 263 (November 3rd, 1925) - Music A Medium Of Civil-Religious Exaltation by John L. Southwick, p. 4
- Confederate Veteran, Vol. XXXVII, No. 8 (August 1930) - Fighting In Missouri by James A. Payne, p. 308
- Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States (pub. 1941, collected May 8th, 1937) - Bryant Huff: Old Slave Story by Bryant Huff, p. 241
- Pamletto Country (1942) by Stetson Kennedy - I Can Whip the Scoundrel, p. 86
- Folksongs of Florida (1950) by Alton C. Morris - General Patterson, p. 24
- Folksongs of Florida (1950) by Alton C. Morris - I Can Whip the Scoundrel, p. 28
- The Master Book of American Folk Song (pub. 1983, no date given for text) - Lay Your Money Down or Lay Ten Dollars Down by Dickson Hall (Riley Shepard)
Secondly, I'll list known recordings of the song. Unfortunately, almost all of them are more or less modern recordings, with all but one version appearing to rely on a common source. None of them mention being orally transmitted. It seems a shame to me that, as best as I can find, no field recordings of the song exist, and that the known recordings of the song are based off of known texts
- Hermes Nye, Ballads of the Civil War (Folkways Records FP 5004, 1954) - General Patterson
- The Cumberland Three, Civil War Almanac Vol. 2: "Rebels" (Roulette Records R 25133, 1960) - Lay Ten Dollars Down
- Tennessee Ernie Ford, Tennessee Ernie Ford Sings Civil War Songs Of The South (Capitol Records T-1540, 1961) - I Can Whip the Scoundrel
- Tom Glazer, The Musical Heritage Of America Vol. II - The Civil War (CMS Records CMS 660/4L, 1973) - General Patterson
- Bobby Horton, Homespun Songs of the C.S.A., Volume 3 (No Label - HMCDC3, 1987) - Old Abner's Shoes
- Wayne Erbson, Ballads & Songs Of The Civil War (Native Ground Music ?NG004, 1994) - I Can Whip the Scoundrel
- Piney Creak Weasels, Squirrel Heads & Gravy! (Hay Holler Records HH-1101, 1996) - Abner's Shoes
- Nunez and Nelson, The Long Road: Music Of the Civil War (2017) - I Can Whip the Scoundrel
From this list, you can make a few observations: though the song was initially very popular (especially among Southern soldiers) and spawned a nearly-endless number of verses by lyrically-minded soldiers, the song quickly faded to obscurity not terribly long after the Civil War. The question as to why that may have happened is hard to answer. Perhaps the song lent itself well to creative adaptation, but the sheer number of verses associated with the song made learning it too difficult. Perhaps, despite its apparent celebrity status at the time, it was not enjoyed much in retrospect as modern standards, such as "Dixie," "Aura Lee," "Lorena," or other such songs. I posit, however, that its popularity (and subsequent decline) had to do with the song's largely topical nature; recounting in (sometimes-excruciating) detail the history of a regiment or unit of soldiers as they traveled from campaign to campaign and battle to battle is not particularly enjoyable, especially for people who were not a part of the fighting and would have had an even harder time learning it. Additionally, the enumerative nature of the song and the popularity among the losing Confederates make the song more bitter to sing after their defeat.
Subject: RE: Origins: I Can Whip the Scoundrel|
Date: 20 May 20 - 08:56 PM
So, where did this song come from?
The song's origins come from a minstrel song titled "Billy Patterson," originally written by Dan Emmett, of blackface minstrelsy fame. That song originated from a popular American joke dating to early in the 19th century revolving around the phrase "who struck Billy Patterson?" Though the origins of the joke are unclear, the earliest known reference to the joke was in 1837, in a story detailing the Broad Street Riot. The article, which is clearly mocking the Irish for the riot and appears to be using "Billy Patterson" as a joke already, detailed the attack on Billy by an unknown assailant and the dialectically-charged lamenting of his friend, Patrick McManhonie (in later texts his last name is sometimes written as just Manhonie). As the 1830s turned to the 1840s, the name's status as a joke grew. Frequently, variations of either "Billy Patterson" or "William Patterson, Esq." would be listed in the "Arrivals" or "Departures" sections of local papers, or in some other section of the local news. Eventually, the question became a sort of quip to represent something unknown, and was frequently listed in joking indexes of unanswerable questions or joke lists, like the following sarcastic list of items intended to draw visitors to a new museum: "One of the rocks which the man had in his pocket when he was in town... A bag of wind... [a picture] of the individual who struck Billy Patterson, A fine likeness of John Smith, [and] A daguerreotype of What's-his-name." (, ).
In 1859, Dan Emmett capitalized on the success of the joke and the popularity of his blackface routine to make a new comic minstrel song, Billy Patterson. In the song, Billy Patterson changed from his previous Scottish extraction to African. The song went as follows:
Dar was an old nigg dat got hit wid a brick
The song was a hit, appearing in numerous song books instantly. First performed in January 1860 by Emmett's troupe, Bryant's Minstrels, by April the song had been picked up by at least one other group, The Knights of Cork (, , ).
While the song as a whole remained popular with troops in the Civil War (with a detailed account of its singing by an Andersonville Prison Glee Club), the refrain was the most popular part among the soldiers; this song is what formed the nucleus of the the song I Can Whip the Scoundrel.
Riley Shepard, in his 1983 Master Book of American Folk Song, proposed that I Can Whip the Scoundrel originated from the slave song Pay Me My Money Down, as collected in the Georgia Sea Islands. The linked Mudcat thread reports the song being sung while unloading freight in 1858. I think it would be more accurate to say that "Pay Me My Money Down" was the basis of Billy Patterson, which then became "I Can Whip the Scoundrel."
Subject: RE: Origins: I Can Whip the Scoundrel|
Date: 20 May 20 - 08:57 PM
When Did the Song Become Partisan?
As with many songs of the Civil War, the text and tune existed before the war and then got reinvented by or for the soldier and their loved ones. The first text mentioning the song's relation to the Civil War came on March, 1862, "the popular Union song of HOW ARE YOU ? BILLY PATTERSON" (Source). Just over a year later, the earliest preserved example of partisanized lyrics to Billy Patterson can be found, taking on their new form of following mostly the style of the chorus. The text published in the Index was as follows:
Of the plain homely song of the camp, a class of compositions of the same level as sailors' songs of the forecastle, there is an abundance, and some have no little merit in their way, such as it is. And why should merit be denied them? They were composed for illiterate men, and by illiterate men, and so long as the author does not try to make something fine of his verse, by decking it with the tinsel of high-sounding words, which he is sure to misuse, he rarely fails to produce something which goes to the heart of the honest soldier.... Of all the pieces of this class, "M'Clellan's [sic: George B. McClellan] Retreat" is entitled to the palm. It is perfectly original, and has a tune as original as the words, which seems to have grown out of them [sic]. Nobody ever heard it before he heard them. Do admire the chorus with me!
We marched out from Richmond,
Perhaps you think it is about time to stop with this, and I assure you it is. It doesn't get a bit better, but quite the contrary for a verse or two further. This song, by the way, has proved a nucleus around which have agglomerated verses by uncertain authors, the number of which is already past reckoning. I have heard it sung for half an hour, when it seemed to me to be a chronicle of all the battles from Manassas to Shiloh, and I have no doubt that by this time Fredericksburg and Murfreesboro' are added to it.
As reported by that unnamed contributor from Mobile, Ala., even by 1863 the verses to the song were innumerable (Source)
As the Civil War raged on, soldiers and units likely continued to recount their personal histories in lyric form; unfortunately, this is the only period text I was able to find. The next text I found was published 9 years after the end of the war, in The Maritime Monthly. In the setting of a short story, a black oarsman of a traveling boy sang:
Oh I am a Richmond soldier,
Though sung by a black man, these lyrics are not only logically sound (despite their initial appearance) but also probable to be sung by someone of his race (see Slave Narratives). The Richmond blues is probably referring to the Richmond Light Infantry Blues, a unit which eventually became Company E of the 1st Virginia Infantry and later Company A of the Confederate 46th Virginia Infantry Regiment (Source, Source). This text is also lyrically important because it includes the first reference to stolen shoes, the facet of the refrain of most recordings of the song which has remained largely unexplained. Though presented in a fictional short-story, the text is still authentic of the period.
The next text I found came another decade later in Southern Bivouac. The Louisville-based periodical's mission was to tell the story of "private soldiers and ordinary civilians, not generals and politicians." In this 1885 section, the author discussed songs of the Civil War. I have decided to include some text from the article which I feel is relevant. The article ran as follows:
But as the long contest dragged on, and war, losing much of its earlier illusions, became a stern, bitter, and exceedingly monotonous and unpleasant reality, these "high toned" lyrics were tacitly voted rather too romantic and poetical for the actual field, and were remitted to the parlor and the piano-stool. Young ladies still rendered them, in compliment and, perhaps, as incentive to military admirers; but the youth, to whom battle and bivouac had become second nature, himself chanted in quite other fashion on the march or seated at the camp fire.
It will be remembered by the veterans of the Confederacy that the songs sung by the soldiery after the struggle had developed into its later phases and harsh, close, constant grapple, were of an altogether different character. They had less of flourish but more of meaning; not so much bravado, but a good deal more point. These songs, like the talk and the work of the veterans, were imbued with the grim earnestness of their experience and of the situation; when, to phrase the thought in the vernacular ranks, "a man was not inclined to bite off more than he could chaw, but more inclined to bite off more than he could chaw, but mighty apt to chaw all he bit off."
Typical of the time, there were certain of them which breathed a fierce spirit and active resentment, happily forgotten, and which it is not well to recall by reproducing the rugged verses expressing it. But by far the larger number were good humored; pretty full, it is true, of the soldier's disposition to exalt his own side and its heroes, but often sappy with the homely satire of the camps, which stings friend and foe alike.
Every ex-Confederate can recall one such song at least, which from the Potomac to the Sabine, from the Cumberland to the Gulf, was raised in quaint, jingling tune wherever and whenever a half dozen ragged rebels were gathered together.
The rollicking refrain, captivating for its very absurdity, ran thus:
"I'll lay ten dollars down,
The last two lines sometimes altered as follows:
"The next time that we fight 'em
expressive of a hope which, however often disappointed, sprang again and again in the gray-clad breast.
Innumerable verses were composed and sung to this refrain. The Army of Virginia and the Army of Tennessee had each its history crudely chronicled as fast as made in this rough minstrelsy. Every corps and command contributed some commemorative stanza. The current events of campaigns were told in improvised verse as rapidly as they occurred, and were thereafter faithfully recited by the rhapsodist who professed to know the whole fragmentary epic. The wits and wags of the camps sought to make criticism more caustic by embodying it in lines which, once given place in this song, would surely be heard throughout the Confederacy.
The dim, scarce conscious of the abnormal character of strife--of the ghastly folly of civil war--had its utterance in,
"I've shot at many a Mexican,
The boundless, invincible confidence of his army in General Lee was simply but perfectly, and, to one who shared the sentiment, pathetically expressed in language of cheer and assurance, assumed to have been spoken by the great commander himself:
Mars' Robert said, 'My soldiers,
A battle incident and tribute to a gallant regiment was thus preserved:
"The Fourteenth Louisiana,
The profanity of the last line, if produced, would shock every well-regulated mind, and all feeling of admiration for the bravery of the Fourteenth Louisiana would be lost in one of compassion for the dreadful fate of the "buck-tail rangers."
The following explanation by a soldier, who followed Morgan on the raid into Indiana and Ohio, of how he became a prisoner, is clear, and was doubtless satisfactory:
"Oh, Morgan crossed the river,
The account which another cavalryman gave of the easy and inexpensive way in which he procured his outfit is candid, to say the least:
"You see these boots I'm wearin',
A certain gallant but unfortunate officer was mentioned as having undertaken an expidition in which
"He played it mighty slim;
No matter where this song was sung, or by whom, nor which of its multitude of stanzas happened to be selected by the minstrel, the following verse always closed it:
"But now my song is ended,
In this recollection of the song, we see a few important subtleties. Firstly, we get the first hint of a downtrodden Confederate, even if it is played off in a joking way. Secondly, we see the inclusion of several joking lyrics which serve as a distraction from the conflict at hand. Finally, we can see the transmission of the lyrics from one source to another. The first two stanzas quoted in the Index are reproduced here with the difference that "Bold Longstreet" has been replaced by "Mars' Robert" and moved to the former position of Magruder; only Jackson maintained his position between the two versions (Source).
The next version I found, printed in 1892, resembled the shared verse between the the Index and Southern Bivouac versions (Source):
With "Longstreet" on the "Left Wing"
Here, we see that Magruder was again left out of the named Confederate leaders, and the order of the verses switched slightly. We also see a a new variant of the closing lines mentioning Abe Lincoln by name. As an aside, I'm not sure who "Col. Ike Thompson" is or what the "exploits by that distinguished Southerner" were.
The next published version of the song came in 1898. It has a number of lines in it different from the versions already reproduced.
Oh, can't you tell that Rebel yell?
This version, coming from New Orleans, is unique in that it keeps the chorus solely on Billy Patterson, leaving the Yankees and Abe out, adds in the new face of Hill to the list of Confederate leaders, had a thus far-unique opening stanza, and cleaned up the verse about the 14th Louisiana--a surprisingly oft-quoted verse given its vulgarity (Source).
Despite the song's sporadic appearance in newspapers and periodicals throughout the country, it was rapidly becoming more obscure. In a 1903 article of The (Richmond) Times-Dispatch, columnist W. B. Conway wrote: "Among those [tunes] sung in camp and on the march was a verse from the following one, which I have never seen in print nor have I heard it sung since the war...." After quoting an otherwise-nonpartisan stanza of "Billy Patterson," Conway answered the eternal question with "MOSBY AND HIS MEN," and went on to add plaintively that "There were many war-time rustic poets, whose productions are yet recalled by old soldiers" (Source).
A 1905 story by "Col." C. B. Mason was of a song "popular in the army in West Virginia, when the rebel bushwhackers were murderous and provoking, sung to a Bowery Boy tune" (Source). The lines went:
"Oh, I lay ten dollars down,
After another decade of a drought in sizable texts of the song, in 1908 the Winston-Salem Journal published a long account of the song as follows:
Some of the songs of the Confederacy, like the "Bonnie Blue Flag," are preserved and will go down in history, but many of them linger only in the memory of those that were then living and will be utterly lost to posterity.
These songs had but little excuse for living, but could be heard almost anywhere in the South from the back woods around the No Business Mountain to Stuart's camp fires on the Chickahominy.
How many veterans in their young days while sitting around their camp fires have sung:
"They put me in the guard house,
In after years when perhaps the Confederate was not willing to bet five dollars tha[t] the Yankees would run he changed the chorus so that the last part of it ran:
"Show me the man that struck Bill Patterson."
Here, we see the chorus shift to have a negative light (though through the Revisionist lens of period writers). It's also the first time we've seen confirmation of the "running the blockade" line (Source).
A year later, The (Baltimore) Sun's questions department received a question asking for the source of the phrase "Who struck Billy Patterson," with enough time having passed since the proliferation of the joke that its origins had been forgotten to the general reading public, or at least obfuscated. The respondent for The Sun incorrectly attributed the phrase to the song, but wrote that "Old Confederates well remember" the song (Source). That same year saw the publication of a few new verses in The (Newberry, SC) Herald and News in a fictionalized recounting of the Civil War by Col. D. A. Dickert (Source). In it were the lines:
"Longstreet's on the right, he tells us not to fear;
The next published article I found detailing the song's verses at length was the memoir of Gen. Basil W. Duke. In his memoir, he dedicated an entire subsection of a chapter to "The Confederate epic, 'I Lay Ten Dollars Down.' " The bulk of the text to that section of his memoir ran eerily similarly to that of Southern Bivouac in many sections. He gave the verses as follows:
"I'll lay ten dollars down,
Though nearly identical to the Southern Bivouac piece in several places, there are a few new differences in this set of lyrics. Most importantly is the German "mit Siegel" lyrics. Though Duke doesn't explain the origin of the phrase further, it probably emerged as a response to the song "I'm Going To Fight Mit Siegel" written by John F. Poole (1833-1893) with an estimated publication year of 1850-1870. It should be noted that the tune for I'm Going To Fight Mit Siegel is "The Girl I Left Behind Me" rather than tune used for "I Can Whip the Scoundrel." (As an aside, several modern recordings of "Mit Sigel" exist, with versions by The 97th Regimental String Band and 2nd South Carolina String Band; in my opinion, the best history of the song can be read here). The Duke version was also the first recorded instance of the "hungry rebs" stanza; though he introduced it in a positive light, writing "The manner in which General Jackson habitually obtained supplies from a certain Federal commander," suggesting that the authors of the verses found humor in their hungriness while praising the military works of Gen. Jackson. His is also the first version with the stanza where "brother Jim" got caught by the Yankees while out scouting, as well as the sentimental lines about the girls back home.
The next champion of the song came a short time later in the form of Will T. Hale, a popular Tennessee writer and historian. He discussed the song in different degrees of detail 6 times from 1912 to 1919; though he was too young to have fought in the Civil War, having been born in 1857 (Source). He first discussed the song in 1912 in relation to Gen. Duke's memoir, but later recalled the song from his own childhood, writing "one of [Capt. Tom] Quirk's devil-may-care scouts, Jeff Citizen, who was frequently half seas over when he could get liquor, and who on such occasions rode his spotted pony up and down the streets singing:
"I lay ten dollars down,
Though in later stories Jeff Citizen was recalled as belonging to the troops of Gen. John Hunt Morgan, that aspect of the story isn't terribly important. In other recollections of the song, Hall changes the counting of the dollars to "bet them one by one." Hall also recounted the line about "brother Jim's" capture more dialectically (replacing "catch" with "ketch"), but also explained the "mit Siegel" verse by saying "This is a quip at the flathead who led his German Yankees in the loot-gathering business where there were not more than one rebel to his five Huns."
In 1913, the version of the song known as "As I Went Down to Newbern [sic]" was recorded by Thomas Smith, of Zionville, NC., from E. B. Miller of Boone, NC. The song was reportedly quite popular in Watauga County, NC. The transcription also came with the note "Air by [Bascom Lamar] Lunsford," but did not have a a further explanation to the melody. Lunsford was a local musician and ballad collector, so its possible he either collected it from somewhere else, or he wrote it himself (Source).
As I went down to Newbern,
Despite being recorded over 300 miles from where the song took place, this version is coherent and probably an accurate production of the song as sung by a soldier on North Carolina's eastern coast. New Bern was the Union Army's headquarter for Burnside's North Carolina Expedition. It also has the first explicit lyrics of Yankees stealing from the Confederates since the black oarsman from The Maritime Monthly short story.
Though the song continued to be published periodically, it was fading from public knowledge. In an issue of The Confederate Veteran, they reported "The Historical Evening arranged by the State Historian... was charming and instructive.... Among the Confederate songs sung by the John Marshall High School children was the one popular piece, 'I Lay Five Dollars Down,' which Mrs. Holmes appears to have rescued from oblivion, as it is not found in our Dixie songbooks" (Source). After the 1910s, the song was mentioned more and more infrequently, and new lyrics were given less often as well.
The first lyrics to the song since the 1913 collection by Thomas Smith was in the publication of the songbook, A Knot of Blue and Gray, which produced the lyrics as follows:
Who Struck Billy Patterson?
This version was sung by Captain Robert Wright. While I haven't been able to ascertain whether Wright himself was in the 16th North Carolina or not, he was involved in the Confederate Navy, working as an assistant engineer after his ship, the Jamestown, was seized by the Confederacy and turned into a gunboat (Source). With the nearby town of Wilmington, NC being the shipping hub of the Confederacy, it's not hard to imagine that Wright would have stopped and likely patronized several establishments that local soldiers did. Wright's text is also interesting in that it matches very closely the version in Maritime Monthly and the version reported by Thomas Smith. It's also the first song to mention the possibility of parole, which is important because many later song texts that mention the chance of parole describe battles or campaigns that took place after the end of CSA-USA prisoner exchanges in July 1863. Since Burnside's operations in the Carolinas were completed by June 1862, the chance of this captured Confederate returning to service would have actually been possible.
Though the first known reference to the song indicated that it was a Union song, up until 1925, no explicitly pro-Union lyrics to the song were published. But that year, a Vermont newspaper editor included the following in his column covering a football game between the University of Vermont and Norwich University, a military college based out of Northfield, VT, wrote "We have never seen in print one of the songs with which the Union boys consoled themselves for the terrible disasters at Bull Run after which the North indeed passed through "Dark Days." We recall this one of which the chorus sang thus [line breaks added]:
"I'll lay ten dollars down,
Interestingly, the Northern soldiers used the exact theme with the opposite idea as the Southern soldiers, using their loss in the same battle as the impetus to encourage them (Source).
In 1930, a humorous stanza of the song was recounted in Confederate Veteran. According to the article, during the war, Brig. Gen. Thomas Alexander Harris was captured by the Yankees and made a prisoner at Fort Delaware, though newer accounts say Harris was arrested after Richmond fell trying to flee the country and held in Fort McHenry (Source). As the story recounted: "His [Harris's] guard was forbidden to execute commissions for him, so he resorted to strategy. Wanting tobacco, he would lay a bill on the table and sing:
I lay five dollars down,
As alluded to earlier, the song was also, curiously, sung some among slaves. In an interview conducted in 1937, the WPA's Federal Writers' Project interviewed former slaves in an effort to preserve their rapidly-eroding history. The relevant lines are quoted below:
Sorrow did not break this slaves group and they soon learned to sing away their troubles. One song which gives some light on their attitude toward the government went as follows:
Jeff Davis rode the gray horse
Here, even during the war, the slaves embraced the comedic nature of the song over its criticisms of the man who was salient in garnering their freedom. This text is also the first recorded time the lines about Jeff Davis and Abe Lincoln's modes of transportation had been called into question, and had unique verses about the risks of former slaves being conscripted by the advancing Union army.
It's hard to talk about the history of this song in the modern sense without looking at the "white horse, mule" phrase. In his Songs of the Civil War, Silber spent most of his discussion on "I Can Whip the Scoundrel" attempting to ascertaining the origin of that stanza.
The first written example of the text came in a censored letter published in various newspapers around May, 1862. It was reprinted with varying degrees of spelling mistakes in different papers, but I have included an introduction from the Louisville Daily Democrat with the text as re-printed from the earliest published date I have found, from May 6th, 1862 (Source).
"A spunky Secesh girl thus writes to her cousin, who is a prisoner at Camp Morton, Indianapolis. The young lady is gritty if she is not well posted in Kirkham or Webster's Unabridged:
I will be for Jeffdavise [sic] til the tenisee river [sic] freazes [sic] over, and then be for him, and scrach [sic] on the ice
"Jeffdavise rides a white horse
I wish I could send them lincoln [sic] devils some pies, they would never want any more to eat in this world."
Silber goes on to add that the phrase was in "widespread usage" in "dozens of Southern songs." I would also like to comment that though this version was the first textual version I found that had the "white horse, mule" comment, it could have easily been left out of earlier versions of the text due to their desire to minimize controversy or not republish disrespectful lyrics.
After that recollection, the only versions of the song that were published were those collected by Alton C. Morris in Folksongs of Florida, though his text for "I Can Whip the Scoundrel" was published in 1942 in Palmetto Country by Stetson Kennedy, who included a thanks to Morris in his introduction for lending him the song.
Morris published "I Can Whip the Scoundrel" and "General Patterson" as two separate songs, and made no allusion to their possibly-intertwined histories. The first, General Patterson, he received from Mrs. Ida M. Hughes, of Micanopy, FL, who learned it as a girl in Gallia County, Ohio:
We fought them at Manassas;
Here, Morris believed that Patterson was Gen. Robert Patterson, who was appointed major general of Pennsylvania volunteers. He was given vague orders by Winfield Scott to retake Harper's Ferry but due to hesitation was outmaneuvered in the Battle of Hoke's Run. The blunder ended his military career, and he was mustered out of the army in July 1861. Morris also correctly said that the man who whipped Patterson was either Stonewall Jackson or Joseph E. Johnston.
The second text, collected from Mrs. J. E. Maynard, also of Micanopy, "wrote it down from firsthand knowledge of the song as it was sung in Micanopy after the Civil War. There were many more stanzas, she wrote." Her text to "I Can Whip the Scoundrel" went:
The Yankees came to Baldwin;
Morris wrote of the song: "The Civil War song records a historical occurrence made somewhat more heroic by Florida partisanship for the Southern cause. On February 9, 1864, a contingent of the Fortieth Massachusetts Mounted Infantry, commanded by Colonel G. V. Henry, marched into Baldwin at daybreak, captured large supplies of Confederate cannon, camp equipment, turpentine, and foodstuffs, and took possession of this strategic railroad city. Colonel Henry enacted the part of the "Abe Lincoln" mentioned in the song and Captain Durham, in command of the retreating Confederate soldiers, was probably the "Jeff Davis" referred to."
While I disagree with his attribution of Capt. Durham as Jeff Davis (instead believing that the troops just kept the floating verse), I otherwise agree with his analysis. He closes "I Can Whip the Scoundrel" by saying that a fiddle tune that borrows "some of the verses of this song" could be found in Gordon, pp. 73-74, but I wasn't able to find what book that was without the full copy. It is also worth noting that both informants were from the same town in Florida at the time of their transcription of the lyrics, and that the informants could have at some point met and traded verses of the song, recognizing the similarities in their songs.
After 1950, we saw the first release of the song on a record in Hermes Nye's 1954 Ballads of the Civil War. His very detailed liner notes were as follows:
This song takes in three battles, each a major Union defeat. The first, in Manassas - (the first) Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861; second, The Seven Day Battle - June 26 through July 1, 1862; third, the Battle for Florida - Jacksonville, February 18th, 1864.
The beginning of the song seems to relate to the Battle of Bull Run. On April 12, 1861 (the same day that Fort Sumter fell) Lincoln issued a Proclamation "calling upon the Militia of several states to furnish 75,000 men for the service of the United States in the suppression of an unlawful combination." The service was for 90 days. The standing army consisted altogether of 16,000 officers and men of which 3,000 were unavailable and scattered along the frontier forts of the West.
On May 24th with the seizure of Arlington Heights, just across the Potomac from the city, Washington's (D. C.) defenses were thus completed, with a ring of forts around the city.
In the early months of the war both sides needed time to train the "raw recruits and set up a general war staff and policy. Several skirmishes occurred." The Confederate Congress was to meet in Richmond, Virginia, the capital city of the Confederacy on July 20th; the cry "On to Richmond" was voiced in the streets of the North. Although time was needed for military preparations, the fear that delay might bring European recognition of the Confederacy as these powers were expressing doubt that the North could conquer the South, prompted action.
The Southern Army under Maj. Gen . G. T. Beauregard was encamped near the Bull Run River some twenty miles from Washington, covering the Railway Junction of Manassas on the line to Richmond.
The Northern Army under Maj. General Irwin McDowell was south of the Potomac, where the fortifications guarding Washington had already been erected on Virginia's soil.
General Robert Patterson with a force of 32,000 men was "directed to follow up the Confederate forces under General Joseph E. Johnson and prevent their junction with the main body stationed at Manassas." Failing to do this, Johnson was able to evade him and join Beauregard. This reinforcement and General Thomas J. Jackson's stand gave the day to the Confederacy; the Union Forces retreated "in general rout." Jackson was nicknamed "Stonewall." That very day the enlistment time was up for many volunteer Union forces.
"Longstreet's in the center," deals with the Seven Day Battle. By June, 1862 the Union forces were extended over a thirty mile front toward Richmond. Evidence that the Confederate Army (Army of Northern Virginia newly commanded by Robert E. Lee) was being "largely reinforced, rendered our (Union) position not only critical but also untenable." In view of this, General McClellan "resolved to attempt the hazardous maneuver of changing his front." By the time the stores were moved, Lee "apprised of this intention," attacked at Mechanicsville (the extreme right) on Thursday, June 26th. Even though they won the first day, the Northern Army was forced to retreat "being borne down by superior numbers." The battle was over when the Union forces reached Harrison's landing. Union losses were 13,800 killed, wounded and missing, the South 21,000.
The third battle took place as follows. "The politicians thought it would be a capital move to bring one of the seceded States so under the control of the Union that they could form a State Government, to take part in the Presidential Election of 1864, they chose Florida because it was very open to attack by sea, and had been denuded of men for the Confederate service."
The expedition of twenty steamers, eight schooners, and 5,000 troops reached Jacksonville on February 6th, 1864. "General Gilmore commanded... after dispatching Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour's command to Baldwin (about 70 miles from Jacksonville).... (he) returned to Jacksonville and left Seymour in command of the field." On the 18th Seymour met the enemy on the railroad near the Savannah River. Fighting raged in great fury from 2:00 o'clock in the afternoon until dark when Seymour withdrew his shattered forces. This ended the attempt to bring Florida hack into the Union.
We fought them at Manassas;
Though neither Morris nor Nye explicitly mentioned the linkage of the two songs, Nye clearly simply joined the two texts from Morris's recently published text to form one continuous song; this explains why the first two battles described are in Virginia and the third is an otherwise-unrelated campaign in Florida 2 years later. Nye even went so far as to change the chorus to match the "Abner's shoes" lines from "I Can Whip the Scoundrel."
The next recorded version of the song was released in 1960 by The Cumberland Three. The version sung by The Cumberland Three is very different from the version sung by Nye.
July the 21st it was, the year of '61
The Cumberland Three's version presents a much more cohesive story, focusing entirely on the Manassas Campaign. It also presented text that I did not encounter elsewhere. Unfortunately, the liner notes to the album provide no insight as to who their source for the lyrics may have been.
A year after the The Cumberland Three's release, Tennessee Ernie Ford's booming baritone voice took to recording the song. His rendition, easily the most popular recording of the song.
The Yankees came to Baldwin
The text of Ford's song matches almost exactly that of that reported by Mrs. Maynard by Morris, with the addition of the third and fourth stanzas of Mrs. Hughes's lyrics. Though it's difficult to say with any certainty, I would assume Ford did this to avoid the odd chronology of the battles produced by melding the songs linearly as Nye did. As Lighter mentioned in the thread on the origins of Abner's shoes, the "I can take the hide off the Yankee" line does appear to be mostly inauthentic.
The next version of the song that came out was Tom Glazer's 1973 recording of General Patterson. It's text was largely similar to earlier versions.
We fought 'em at Manassas
Glazer's version of the song was almost identical to both Nye and Ford's versions, but without the battle chronologies and a few lyrical changes. Repeating the chorus as its own stanza in a way different from his other choruses was unique in terms of the other recordings available at the period, but not entirely unusual in the context of the song.
Until 1983, Morris's publication and the version sang by The Cumberland Three were really the only two texts available to modern folksingers unless they wanted to go searching into increasingly old newspaper archives or libraries. Then, Riley Shepard published his The Master Book of American Folk Song. In his book, he compared the song (under the name "Lay Your Money Down") to Pay Me My Money Down, as discussed earlier, but also gave the text as reported by Dickson Hall, of New York City and Wilmington, NC. It should be noted that Dickson Hall was just an alias used by Shepard earlier in his career (Source).
The Yankees came to Dixie
Unfortunately, Shepard does not give a source for this song, but it is obviously post-war.
Shepard also included a second related song, an "adaptation by blacks" as reported in American Negro Songs and Spirituals by John W. Work, p. 240.
I went down to Macon,
Work cites a fairly lengthy bibliography at the end of his book, but does not specify which source he drew the song from. Though obviously not related to the Civil War, this version is clearly related to the body of songs relating to "Whip the Scoundrel."
Before moving on from Shepard's Book of American Folk Song, one last comment I should make is that he had "General Patterson" and "Lay Your Money Down" as separate songs. Though he did not include any lyrics to "General Patterson," he cited that it could only be found in Morris's book of Florida folk songs.
The subsequent published edition of the song, by Bobby Horton in 1987, is a word-for-word copy of Tennessee Ernie Ford's version, including his more politically correct change from "Abe Lincoln was a fool" to "Jeff Davis was no fool." The same can more or less be said for Wayne Erbson's recording, except that at the end he repeats the stanza about Baldwin as supplied by Morris and his informants. The same is true for the versions by the Piney Creak Weasels, while Nunez and Nelson's recording is just an abbreviated version of it.
Subject: RE: Origins: I Can Whip the Scoundrel|
Date: 20 May 20 - 09:03 PM
In closing, the song I Can Whip the Scoundrel bases its origins in the minstrel song, Billy Patterson, which was inspired by a long-running joke from the 1830s. Billy Patterson may have, in turn, been inspired by a slave work song titled Pay Me My Money Down.
The song was incredibly popular among Southerners, both whites and blacks. Individual units would detail campaign experiences, personal stories, jokes, and love-life in the song in an ever-growing "epic" song.
Despite the song's wartime popularity, it was rapidly forgotten after the war until, after 1950, all the recorded versions of the song except one were based off one one single disjointed set of sources, rather than the hundreds of existing verses.
Subject: RE: Origins: I Can Whip the Scoundrel|
From: Joe Offer
Date: 20 May 20 - 09:57 PM
Not much in the Traditional Ballad Index about this song, but there's a bit.
I Can Whip the ScoundrelDESCRIPTION: "The Yankees came to Baldwin, They came up in the rear, They thought they'd find old Abner, But Abner wasn't there." The singer declares he can "whip the scoundrel That stole old Abner's shoes." He is a prisoner but hopes to fight again
EARLIEST DATE: 1950 (Morris)
KEYWORDS: soldier Civilwar clothes floatingverses
FOUND IN: US(MW, SE)
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Morris, #7, "I Can Whip the Scoundrel" (1 text, incomplete, 1 tune)
Silber-CivWarFull, pp. 225-226, "I Can Whip the Scoundrel" (1 text, 1 tune)
cf. "As I Went Down to Newbern" (lyrics, theme, subject?)
NOTES [305 words]: This song is clearly derived from the same original as "As I Went Down to Newbern." It's not clear which is the original, but "Newburn" almost certainly refers to the earlier event, so it is the more likely to be older.
The question is, what event does this song refer to? Silber suggests the 1864 Florida campaign which tried to divide southern Florida from the rest of the Confederacy -- an attack foiled at Baldwin, near Jacksonville. But this was a very obscure campaign, and the song doesn't have enough detail to really identify it. If correct, the reference is to the Battle of Olustee (Ocean Pond), Florida, February 20, 1864, in which a relatively large Union force commanded by General Truman Seymour attacked piecemeal and was repulsed in the only real battle fought on Florida soil (HTIECivilWar, p. 545); the Union forces are said to have lost 193 killed, 1175 wounded, and 460 missing; the Confederates lost about 500 (Phisterer, p. 215). Seymour had only ten regiments, so a loss of more than 1800 was staggering; one estimate I've seen places his losses at 40%. And one of his regiments (54th Massachusetts) was of "Colored" soldiers, so some of those missing troops would presumably have ended up back in slavery.
The whole business tends to get ignored in Civil War histories; it was a morale-booster for the Confederacy, but it didn't actually improve their position or hurt the Federals.
The reference to "Abner" defeats me; the Confederate commander at Olustee was Joseph Finegan, and his two leading subordinates were Alfred H. Colquitt and George P. Harrison.
Morris also seems to connect the song with the Olustee campaign, saying that part of G. V. Henry's Fortieth Massachusetts Mounted Infantry entered Baldwin, Florida on February 9, 1864. But he offers no explanation for the mention of "Abner." - RBW
The Ballad Index Copyright 2020 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.
Subject: RE: Origins: I Can Whip the Scoundrel|
Date: 20 May 20 - 10:32 PM
Excellent exposition, cnd. The following may be of use (last song at bottom of the page that opens).
Subject: RE: Origins: I Can Whip the Scoundrel|
Date: 21 May 20 - 08:19 AM
Thanks Starship, it means a lot.
I had at one point considered including similar adaptations of the Billy Patterson (or Pattison) text in my history like the one linked above but decided the thread was long enough as it was. Thanks for sharing though!
Subject: RE: Origins: I Can Whip the Scoundrel|
Date: 21 May 20 - 12:30 PM
I don't know how much time you put into the various posts, cnd, but your work on this is beyond excellent. It's a good lesson for me, and if I every try to do one this comprehensive it will be fashioned after your work here. Bravo.
Subject: RE: Origins: I Can Whip the Scoundrel|
Date: 21 May 20 - 01:52 PM
I second that. I know from personal experience what this sort of research entails in time and ingenuity.
You've cleared up the mystery surrounding the song. More than that, you've established it as an important soldiers' song of the Civil War.
I have little doubt that the Cumberland Three's text has no basis in tradition. My copy of the CD issue credits Gil Kubin and the prolific Oscar Brand.
Many of the songs, in fact, are extensively (or entirely) rewritten.
The lines about the old man and his horse reappear in sea chanteys, notably "Poor Old Man (or "Horse").
Subject: RE: Origins: I Can Whip the Scoundrel|
Date: 22 May 20 - 10:18 AM
Thanks both for the praise! I enjoyed researching it thoroughly, as I've always enjoyed Tennessee Ernie Ford's singing of it but idly wondered where it came from--now I know!
And thanks Lighter for the clarification on the Cumberland Three's version. I thought it was a little suspicious how inordinately concise and linear their version was.