This morning I saw a post on Yankee Rebel Antiques by my friend Ron Coddington, author and editor of Military Images Magazine, in which he referred to a poem entitled “Soldier’s Tear” that was published by James Gates of Cincinnati during the Civil War. He described the piece as having been folded, suggesting that someone had possibly carried it with them—perhaps a soldier given to him by a loved one.
As I read the poem it occurred to me that I had read at least a portion of it before but couldn’t remember where. Thinking was on an envelope, I searched Civil War envelopes and found one with the familiar words (though retitled “Soldier’s Farewell”) and an engraving of a soldier waving goodbye to his family. The poem and stationery was sold by James Gates, the proprietor of the Union Envelope Manufacturing company located at the southeast corner of 4th & Hammond Streets. While there were many manufacturers who produced stationery with patriotic scenes on them during the war, Gates took his marketing to a new level, even going so far as selling entire “kits” of not only paper and envelopes (a set of 12), but a pen, a pencil, and a “Union pin or other piece of jewelry” suitable for gifting to a loved one. Soldiers often purchased these kits as they passed through Cincinnati and early war letters are commonly found on his stationery. [See Union & Confederate Soldiers’ Stationery, Their Designs & Purposes, by Steven R. Boyd]
What I found to be most unusual about this piece, however, is that it was written not by an American, but by an Englishman named Thomas Haynes Bayly (1797-1839) whose songs and ballads, including this one, were published in Philadelphia under the title, “Songs and Ballads, Grave & Gay” in 1844. If you are observant, you will notice that he also died in 1839, more than twenty years before the Civil War. I don’t know for sure when Thomas wrote the piece “Soldier’s Tear,” but it was published in the New Yorker in June 1837 so it had to be prior to that. The preface to Songs & Ballads defines him as “unquestionably the most popular English song-writer of his age…unequalled as he is for graceful imagery and delicately turned expression…”
Thomas wrote the lyrics for a tune written by Alexander Lee which was also published in the New Yorker:
Wanting to hear the tune played and sung, I found the following clip on YouTube: