“Belle Missouri”

Following the firing of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 troops from the various state militias to recapture the fort and defend federal property. Some of these federal troops were ordered to Washington, D.C. to defend the nation’s capitol, but their route required dangerous travel through Baltimore, Maryland, which was a hotbed of secessionist sentiment at the time. When Union soldiers arrived on April 19, deadly violence broke out between troops and rioters in what is now referred to as the “Baltimore Riot of 1861.” James Ryder Randall, a pro-secessionist Marylander teaching in Louisiana at the time, was horrified by the specter of federal troops marching through the state and shocked by the death of a friend killed in the riot. Randall took pen to paper and wrote a poem titled “Maryland, My Maryland,” which advocated for the state’s secession from the United States and subsequent joining with the Confederacy. The poem was quickly put to music and became widely popular, so much so that Confederate General Robert E. Lee had his troops sing the song when they later crossed into Maryland in 1862.

“Maryland, My Maryland” includes several sharp digs at President Lincoln and his alleged tyranny:

The despot’s heel is on thy shore,
His torch is at thy temple door,
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Dear Mother! burst the tyrant’s chain,
Virginia should not call in vain,
She meets her sisters on the plain-
“Sic semper!” ’tis the proud refrain
That baffles minions back amain,
Arise in majesty again,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Thou wilt not yield the Vandal toll
Thou wilt not crook to his control,
Better the fire upon thee roll,
Better the blade, the shot, the bowl,
Than crucifixion of the soul,
Maryland! My Maryland!

“Maryland, My Maryland” was later established as the official state song in 1939 (although there’s been plenty of debate about removing the song in recent years).

Not everyone was a fan of “Maryland, My Maryland,” however. I recently came across a response-poem-turned-to-song written by Howard Glyndon and set to music by Hermann Schneider around 1864 or ’65. “Belle Missouri” aimed to counter “Maryland, My Maryland” and elicit support for the Union war effort. More specifically, it aimed to remind Missourians of hard-fought battles and severe federal losses on Missouri battlefields like Lexington and Wilson’s Creek. It also sought to convince readers and listeners of Missouri’s patriotic loyalty to the Union (which, just like Maryland, was questionable depending on where you were in the state).

Photo Credit: Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2001702318/
Photo Credit: Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2001702318/

Here’s the poem/song in full, which was set to the “Maryland, My Maryland” tune and included in Glyndon’s 1864 publication Idyls of Battle and Poems of the Rebellion:

Arise and join the patriot train,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
They should not plead and plead in vain,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
The precious blood of all thy slain
Arises from each reeking plain.
Wipe out this foul disloyal stain,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!

Recall the field of Lexington,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
How Springfield blushed beneath the sun,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
And noble Lyon all undone,
His race of glory but begun,
And all thy freedom yet unwon,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!

They called thee craven to the trust,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
They laid thy glory in the dust,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
The helpless prey of treason’s lust,
The helpless mark of treason’s thrust,
Now shall thy sword in scabbard rust?
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!

She thrills! her blood begins to burn!
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
She’s bruised and weak, but she can turn,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
Lo! on her forehead pale and stern,
A sign to make the traitors mourn,
Now for thy wounds a swift return,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!

Stretch out thy thousand loyal hands,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
Send out thy thousands loyal bands,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
To where the flag of Union stands,
Alone, upon the blood-wet sands,
A beacon unto distant lands,
Belle Missouri, My Missouri!

Up with the loyal Stripes and Stars,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
Down with the traitor Stars and Bars,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!
Now, by the crimson crest of Mars,
And Liberty’s appealing scars,
We’ll lay the demon of these wars,
Belle Missouri! My Missouri!

But wait, there’s more!

“Howard Glyndon” was actually a pseudonym for Laura Redden Searing, a poet and journalist who lost her hearing after a bout of spinal meningitis at age 11.  A native of Somerset County, Maryland, Searing began attending the Missouri School for the Deaf in 1855 at the age of 16. She took an interest in poetry and literature while in school and was hired as an editorialist for the St. Louis Republican in 1860. Following the firing of Fort Sumter she was sent by the Republican to report on events in Washington, D.C. She used the Republican and her poetry to promote her pro-Union views and encourage loyalty to the Lincoln administration.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

After the war Searing wrote for various eastern publications that included the New York Times, the New York Tribune, and Harper’s Magazine. She lived until 1923, when she passed away in California at the age 84.

Many historians and Marylanders know of “Maryland, My Maryland.” Far fewer people know of Laura Redden Searing’s wartime response to that popular song.



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