“General Scott and the Veteran”


"An old and crippled veteran to the War Department came" to volunteer his services in the Civil War: "I'm not so weak but I can strike, and I've got a good old gun...." "We will plant our sacred banner in each rebellious town...."

Supplemental text

General Scott and the Veteran
  Complete text(s)

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From Anne Warner, Traditional American Folk Songs from the Anne &
Frank Warner Collection, #13, pp, 69-71. From the singing of
"Yankee" John Galusha of New York State. Collected 1941.

An old and crippled veteran to the War Department came.
He saw the chief who led him through many's the field of pain,
The chief who shouted "Forward!" wher'er our banner rose,
And held the Stars and Stripes aloft behind the flying foes.

"I'm ready, General, so you'll let a post to me be given,
Where Washington can see me as he looks from highest heaven,
And say to Putnam at his side, or maybe General Wayne,
There goes old Billy Johnson who fought at Lundy's Lane.

"If he should fire on Pickens, let the colonel in command
Put me upon the rampart with a flagstaff in my hand.
No odds so hot the cannon smoke or how the bullets may fly,
I will hold them Stars and Stripes aloft and hold 'em till I die."

"I'm not so weak but I can strike, and I've got a good old gun.
Put me in range of traitors' hearts, and I'll pick 'em one by one!
Your mini rifles and such arms I ain't worthwhile to try,
I couldn't get the hang of them nor keep my powder dry."

"But when the fire is hottest, just before the traitors fly,
When shells and balls are screeching and bursting in the sky,
If any stray shot should hit me and lay me on my face,
My soul should go to Washington, and not to Arnold's place.

"God bless you, Comrade," said the chief, "God bless your loyal heart.
There are younger me in the field would claim to have their part.
We will plant our sacred banner in each rebellious town,
And woe henceforth to any hand that dares to pull it down."


For details on the Battle of Lundy's Lane, see "The Battle of Bridgewater."

The reference to "Pickens" is to Fort Pickens, the *other* fort (besides Fort Sumter) in Federal hands when the Confederacy seceded. Fort Pickens was in Pensacola Bay, and a handful of federal troops under Lt. Adam J. Slemmer occupied in on January 10, 1861.

This part of the story is quite similar to that of Fort Sumter -- as is the sequel: The Confederates demanded the surrender of Pickens several times in early April. But the Federals reinforced Pickens as they did not reinforce Sumter. Some 400 reinforcements arrived on April 12, and Colonel Harvey Brown took charge on April 18. The Federals held Pensacola for the entire war, depriving the Confederates of an excellent if rather out-of-the-way harbor.

The veteran's disparagement of the "mini" (minie) ball demonstrates both his crustiness and his uselessness -- the rifle musket and minie ball were the first (relatively) rapid-fire rifle type in the world -- about four times as fast as previous rifles. The veteran had used either smoothbore muskets (which couldn't hit a brick wall at fifty paces) or the older rifles (which took roughly two minutes to load and fire). In neither case was he as effective as he thought.

"Arnold" is, of course, the traitor Benedict Arnold.

It is ironic to note that the song ends with the general (nowhere explicitly mentioned as Winfield Scott, but the description fits) turning down the veteran. By the end of the war, the Federals had formed an Invalid Corps of such tired and crippled old men. They needed every body they could get.

There is one fairly well documented instance of a War of 1812 veteran fighting in the Civil War: John Burns of Gettysburg allegedly came out and fought with Union soldiers after Confederates chased off his cows. He is said to have been wounded three times and captured. No one, however, seems to have been able to verify his previous war service -- and, in any case, he was not a proper soldier, just sort of a one-man posse.

I don't know if this song was inspired by an actual incident, but it could have been. According to Steven E. Woodworth, _Nothing But Victory: The Army of the Tennessee 1861-1865_ (Vintage Civil War Library, 2005), p. 6, at the start of the Civil War, a veteran of Lundy's Lane organized a company of men in their forties and fifties, and offered it to the State of Illinois -- only to be turned down because the men were too old. It's easy to imagine a songwriter turning a general incident into one about a particular soldier. - RBW

Historical references

  • July 25, 1814 - Battle of Lundy's Lane (Bridgewater), at which the veteran is alleged to have fought. Winfield Scott was a brigadier at Lundy's Lane
  • 1861-1865 - American Civil War. General Winfield Scott (1786-1866), who had been one of the leading generals in the Mexican war, was brevet Lieutenant General and commander in chief of Union forces until age forced him to retire in November 1861


  1. Warner 13, "General Scott and the Veteran" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Dean, pp.128-129, "Billie Johnson of Lundy?s Lane" (1 text)
  3. ST Wa013 (Full)
  4. Roud #9583
  5. BI, Wa013


Author: Bayard Taylor?
Earliest date: 1922 (Dean); said to have been written May 13, 1861
Found in: US(MA,MW)