Thursday, November 1, 2007

James Lord Pierpont (1822-1893) Confederate Hero

As Confederates marched off to defend their independence in 1861, they were stirred by such songs as “We Conquer or Die.”

The war drum is beating, prepare for the fight!
The stern, bigot Northman exults in his might.

The composer, James Pierpont, knew the enemy firsthand. Southerners would have been surprised to learn that he was a Bostonian, the son of a fanatical abolitionist! In 1863 Pierpont published another great Confederate war song, “Strike for the South.”

Strike for the South! It must never be said
that her banner was furled to the foe.
Let those stars ever shine in bright glory above,
and the pathway to victory show!

When the war came Pierpont was in Savannah, Georgia, where he worked as music director at the Unitarian church, and he joined the First Georgia Cavalry Regiment. He would share the bitterness of defeat with his adopted Southland, never returning to the North. After the war he taught in Quitman, Florida, and was organist at the Presbyterian church there. He died in Winter Haven, Florida in 1893, and at his request was buried in Savannah—far from his frigid Massachusetts birthplace.

Before the war young Pierpont had written a number of sentimental songs. In 1850 he composed a winter ballad for a Boston Sunday school entertainment. He published the sheet music in 1857. It was a bright, happy song of young people reveling in the snow-filled New England countryside. Not until the twentieth century did his tune become a Christmas favorite. Over the years its popularity grew. A Bing Crosby/Andrews Sisters recording in 1943 sold over a million discs.

This Christmas season when you hear children singing “Jingle Bells” remember the composer, James Pierpont. Here was a man who let go family and his native land that he might serve a truly noble cause—that he might “Strike for the South.”

No comments: