Battle of Ball's Bluff and "The Vacant Chair"

Claude Bauer

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Jan 8, 2012
Since the Battle of Ball's Bluff 160th Anniversary was yesterday and the commemoration of the battle is tomorrow, it's appropriate to note that the poem, "The Vacant Chair" was written by Henry S. Washburn to commemorate the death of Lt. John William Grout of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry, who was killed at the Battle of Ball's Bluff. The poem first appeared in the Worcester Spy around Thanksgiving 1861.

Lt. Grout's body was recovered from the Potomac River on November 5, 1861, after being washed down the river to Washington, D.C. His remains were identified by the name written on his clothing.

The poem was set to music by George F. Root and was popular in the North and South due to its universal message of loss. Root was a famous composer and also known for other Civil War songs such as "The Battle Cry of Freedom," "Just Before the Battle Mother," and Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!"

Here's a pleasant, somewhat modern rendition of the tune with some period photographs.


The Vacant Chair
"We shall meet, but we shall miss him,
There will be one vacant chair.
We shall linger to caress him,
While we breath our evening prayer"
"When a year ago we gathered,
Joy was in his mild blue eye,
But a golden cord is severed,
And our hopes in ruin lie."
"At our fireside, sad and lonely,
Often will the bosom swell,
At remembrance of the story
How our noble Willie fell."
"How He strove to bear our banner,
Through the thickest of the fight.
And upheld our country's honor,
With the strength of manhood's might."
"True, they tell us wreathes of glory,
Evermore will deck his brow,
But this soothes the anguish only,
Sweeping o'er our heartstrings now."
"Sleep today, O early fallen!
In the green and narrow bed;
Dirges from the pine and cypress
Mingle with the tears we shed."
"We shall meet, but we shall miss him.
There will be one vacant chair.
We shall linger to caress him,
When we breath our evening prayer."

247092101_4732214746823016_6010249404748581114_n.jpg


Lt. John William Grout of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry, killed at the Battle of Ball's Bluff. While in the river retreating, he was shot and his last words were, "tell company D I could have reached the shore, but I am shot, I must sink!"
247068266_4732215930156231_2535437137230204133_n.jpg



246778557_4732215140156310_4503562677595920777_n.jpg



Thanks to the 3rd US Regulars Reenactors Facebook page and the Pastor Appreciation Blog

 
Last edited:
Joined
May 1, 2015
Location
Upstate N.Y.
Since the Battle of Ball's Bluff 160th Anniversary was yesterday and the commemoration of the battle is tomorrow, it's appropriate to note that the poem, "The Vacant Chair" was written by Henry S. Washburn to commemorate the death of Lt. John William Grout of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry, who was killed at the Battle of Ball's Bluff. The poem first appeared in the Worcester Spy around Thanksgiving 1861.

Lt. Grout's body was recovered from the Potomac River on November 5, 1861, after being washed down the river to Washington, D.C. His remains were identified by the name written on his clothing.

The poem was set to music by George F. Root and was popular in the North and South due to its universal message of loss. Root was a famous composer and also known for other Civil War songs such as "The Battle Cry of Freedom," "Just Before the Battle Mother," and Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!"

Here's a pleasant, somewhat modern rendition of the tune with some period photographs.


The Vacant Chair
"We shall meet, but we shall miss him,
There will be one vacant chair.
We shall linger to caress him,
While we breath our evening prayer"
"When a year ago we gathered,
Joy was in his mild blue eye,
But a golden cord is severed,
And our hopes in ruin lie."
"At our fireside, sad and lonely,
Often will the bosom swell,
At remembrance of the story
How our noble Willie fell."
"How He strove to bear our banner,
Through the thickest of the fight.
And upheld our country's honor,
With the strength of manhood's might."
"True, they tell us wreathes of glory,
Evermore will deck his brow,
But this soothes the anguish only,
Sweeping o'er our heartstrings now."
"Sleep today, O early fallen!
In the green and narrow bed;
Dirges from the pine and cypress
Mingle with the tears we shed."
"We shall meet, but we shall miss him.
There will be one vacant chair.
We shall linger to caress him,
When we breath our evening prayer."

View attachment 419131

Lt. John William Grout of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry, killed at the Battle of Ball's Bluff. While in the river retreating, he was shot and his last words were, "tell company D I could have reached the shore, but I am shot, I must sink!"
View attachment 419130


View attachment 419129


Thanks to the 3rd US Regulars Reenactors Facebook page and the Pastor Appreciation Blog

You would have thought Washburn deserved a lot more credit the just H.S.W. on the sheet music. Seems a little selfish of Root & Cady
 

Chris Troiano

Private
Joined
May 17, 2019
Location
Fairfax, VA
You would have thought Washburn deserved a lot more credit the just H.S.W. on the sheet music. Seems a little selfish of Root & Cady
1) Root & Cady was the publishing company of George Frederick Root's brother
2) The company had an ongoing songwriting deal with GF Root, so I'm sure they wanted to publicize his work to build a following
3) This may not be the first edition. If this edition was published after Root wrote his other 1862 hit the Battle Cry of Freedom, then they would have a better chance selling this piece with his name prominently on display
4) Washburn's name was likely included in full on the header of the first full page of music

Basically, it's all about the $$$
 
Joined
May 1, 2015
Location
Upstate N.Y.
1) Root & Cady was the publishing company of George Frederick Root's brother
2) The company had an ongoing songwriting deal with GF Root, so I'm sure they wanted to publicize his work to build a following
3) This may not be the first edition. If this edition was published after Root wrote his other 1862 hit the Battle Cry of Freedom, then they would have a better chance selling this piece with his name prominently on display
4) Washburn's name was likely included in full on the header of the first full page of music

Basically, it's all about the $$$
I understand it was about money, but surprisingly the HSW was given a higher billing position with Root under his initials. Who knows.
 

KianGaf

First Sergeant
Joined
May 29, 2019
Location
Dublin, Ireland
I enjoyed that post. It was an interesting smaller battle in the early part of the war. I would recommend a visit to the battlefield if near Leesburg, VA I really enjoyed my visit there.
 

Claude Bauer

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Jan 8, 2012
I enjoyed that post. It was an interesting smaller battle in the early part of the war. I would recommend a visit to the battlefield if near Leesburg, VA I really enjoyed my visit there.
We commemorated the 160th anniversary of the battle today with living history displays, fife and drum music, a skirmish, artillery firing demo, and a concert by a period regimental brass band. They're also having an illumination and small service at the cemetery tonight, but I couldn't stay.
 

JPChurch

First Sergeant
Joined
Dec 30, 2016
Location
Manassas VA
That video of Kathy Mattea was part of an hour long music special that accompanied the Ken Burns Civil War miniseries. I'm sure it's available out there on the internet somewhere. I still have it on VHS. Great stuff.
 

captaindrew

Major
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 13, 2017
Location
Whereabouts Unknown
That video of Kathy Mattea was part of an hour long music special that accompanied the Ken Burns Civil War miniseries. I'm sure it's available out there on the internet somewhere. I still have it on VHS. Great stuff.
I'll have to look for that soundtrack. I really liked Kathy Mattea's version, had never heard it before so glad it got posted.
 
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