Richmond is a Hard Road to Travel

Published in 1863 by A. E. Blackmar, “Richmond is a Hard Road to Travel” has happily dodged the fate of so many topical Civil War songs by dint of its jaunty tune and sardonic tone. It catalogues in embarrassing detail the aborted efforts of Union commanders between July, 1861, and January, 1863, to take the Confederacy’s capital. The melody was probably composed by Dan Emmet and was well known for at least a decade before the war. The original lyrics by E. P. Christy of minstrel company fame established the song’s applicability “to the times,” and no banjo song of the period was so often called upon as a vehicle for news commentary. Sure enough, The Hutchinson Family Singers quickly appropriated it for an antislavery piece which advised “the boys” of the North to unbuckle, for “slavery is a hard foe to battle.” And Lincoln’s 1860 campaign got a boost from yet another parody of the original which announced confidently that “Lincoln and the people are a-coming, I believe.”

The author of the famous Southern parody was John R. Thompson, editor of the Southern Literary Messenger and The Southern Field and Fireside and one of the most notable men of letters of his day, one who influenced a host of writers including P.H. Haynes, Henry Timrod, and John Esten Cooke. Of course, the subject was ripe for ridicule; Northern commanders McDowell, Banks, Fremont, McClellan, Pope and Burnside had made lots of noise but little progress in capturing Richmond during the early war years. The predictable glee this inspired in Southern patriots is caught in the song’s verbal hi-jinks: puns on the names of people and places abound, and epithets from news accounts praising the generals were turned about and sent sharply home to the North. But its greatest charm lies in its presumed puzzlement over who’ll be next “to command the new Richmond expedition,” an appointment for which Lincoln appeared to be running out of candidates. As a hoot, a cat call, a Bronx Cheer, “Richmond is a Hard Road to Travel” has few equals.


Richmond Is a Hard Road to Travel

Would you like to hear my song? I’m afraid it’s rather long,
Of the famous “On to Richmond” double trouble;
Of the half a dozen trips, and half a dozen slips,
And the very latest bursting of the bubble?
‘Tis pretty hard to sing, and like a round, round ring,
‘Tis a dreadful knotty puzzle to unravel,
Though all the papers swore, when we touched Virginia’s shore,
That Richmond was a hard road to travel.

Then pull off your greatcoat and roll up your sleeve,
For Richmond is a hard road to travel;
Then pull off your greatcoat and roll up your sleeve,
For Richmond is a hard road to travel, I believe!

First, McDowell, bold and gay, set forth the shortest way,
By Manassas in the pleasant summer weather,
But unfortunately ran on a Stonewall, foolish man,
And had a “rocky journey” altogether;
And he found it rather hard to ride o’er Beauregard,
And Johnston proved a deuce of a bother,
And ’twas clear beyond a doubt that he didn’t like the route,
And a second time would have to try another.

Then pull off your greatcoat and roll up your sleeve,
For Manassas is a hard road to travel;
Manassas gave us fits, and Bull Run made us grieve,
For Richmond is a hard road to travel, I believe!

Next came the Wooly-Horse, with an overwhelming force,
To march down to Richmond by the Valley,
But he couldn’t find the road, and his “onward movement” showed
His campaigning was a mere shilly-shally.
Then Commissary Banks, with his motley foreign ranks,
Kicking up a great noise, fuss, and flurry,
Lost the whole of his supplies, and with tears in his eyes,
From the Stonewall ran away in a hurry.

Then pull off your greatcoat, and roll up your sleeve,
For the Valley is a hard road to travel;
The Valley wouldn’t do and we all had to leave,
For Richmond is a hard road to travel, I believe!

Then the great Galena came, with her portholes all aflame,
And the Monitor that famous naval wonder,
But the guns at Drury’s Bluff gave them speedily enough,
The loudest sort of reg’lar Rebel thunder.
The Galena was astonished and the Monitor admonished,
Our patent shot and shell were mocked at,
While the dreadful Naugatuck, by the hardest kind of luck,
Was knocked into an ugly cocked hat..

Then pull off your greatcoat and roll up your sleeve,
For James River is a hard road to travel;
The gun-boats gave it up in terror and despair,
For Richmond is a hard road to travel, I declare!

Then McClellan followed soon, both with spade and balloon,
To try the Peninsular approaches,
But one and all agreed that his best rate of speed
Was no faster than the slowest of “slow coaches.”
Instead of easy ground, at Williamsburg he found
A Longstreet indeed, and nothing shorter,
And it put him in the dumps, that spades wasn’t trumps,
And the Hills he couldn’t level “as he orter.”

Then pull off your greatcoat, roll up your sleeve,
For Longstreet is a hard road to travel,
Lay down the shovel, and throw away the spade,
For Richmond is a hard road to travel, I’m afraid!

Then said Lincoln unto Pope, “You can make the trip, I hope
–I will save the Universal Yankee nation,
To make sure of no defeat, I’ll leave no lines of retreat,
And issue a famous proclamation.”
But that same dreadful Jackson, this fellow laid his whacks on,
And made him, by compulsion, a seceder,
And Pope took rapid flight from Manassas’ second fight,
‘Twas his very last appearance as a leader.

Then pull off your greatcoat, roll up your sleeve,
For Stonewall is a hard road to travel;
Pope did his very best, but was evidently sold,
For Richmond is a hard road to travel, I am told!

Last of all the brave Burnside, with his pontoon bridges, tried
A road no one had thought of before him,
With two hundred thousand men for the Rebel slaughter pen,
And the blessed Union flag waving o’er him;
But he met a fire like hell, of canister and shell,
That mowed his men down with great slaughter,
‘Twas a shocking sight to view, that second Waterloo,
And the river ran with more blood than water.

Then pull off your greatcoat and roll up your sleeve,
Rappahannock is a hard road to travel;
Burnside got in a trap, which caused him for to grieve,
For Richmond is a hard road to travel, I believe!

We are very much perplexed to know who is the next
To command the new Richmond expedition,
For the Capital must blaze, and that in ninety days,
And Jeff and his men be sent to perdition.
We’ll take the cursed town, and then we’ll burn it down,
And plunder and hang up each cursed Rebel;
Yet the contraband was right when he told us they would fight,-
“Oh, yes, massa, they fight like the devil!”

Then pull off your greatcoat and roll up your sleeve,
For Richmond is a hard road to travel;
Then pull off your greatcoat and roll up your sleeve,
For Richmond is a hard road to travel, I believe!