“Oh You Who Are Able....”


"Oh you who are able go out to the stable And throw down your horses some corn If you don't do it the sergeant will know it And report you to General Van Dorn."


I can't escape the feeling that this song is somehow connected to Van Dorn's reputation as a flashy ladies' man without a great deal of depth or ability (Shelby Foote, _The Civil War: A Narrative; Volume I, Fort Sumter to Perryville_, p. 725, quotes an unnamed senator as saying, "He is the source of all our woes, and disaster, it is prophesied, will attend us as long as he is connected with this army. The atmosphere is dense with horrid narratives of his negligence, whoring, and drunkenness, for the truth of which I cannot vouch; but it is so fastened in the public belief that an acquittal by a court-marshal of angels would not relieve him of the charge." Indeed, Van Dorn would later be murdered by an irate husband who accused him of an affair with his wife. And he lost both of his major battles as an infantry commander, at Pea Ridge and Corinth). But I can't prove the connection based on the fragment I've seen.

There is a fragment in Fred W. Allsopp, _Folklore of Romantic Arkansas, Volume II_ (1931), p. 227, "It was at the battle of Elkhorn, Van Dorn he lost his hat, And for about a half a mile He laid the bushes flat." I can't identify it with anything else; the mention of the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern might connect it with "The Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, or The Pea Ridge Battle [Laws A12]," or perhaps with one of the General Price songs -- but if I had to guess, I'd guess it goes here; the feeling is right. - RBW

Historical references

  • Jan 1862 - Earl Van Dorn appointed to command the Confederate armies in Missouri and Arkansas
  • Mar 7-8, 1862 - Battle of Pea Ridge/Elkhorn Tavern. Despite superior numbers, Van Dorn cannot dislodge the Federals
  • Oct 3-4, 1862 - Battle of Corinth. Van Dorn abandons the field after failing to break the Federal line. Although cleared of charges of mismanagement, he is transferred to the cavalry
  • May 8, 1863 - Murder of Van Dorn, allegedly for seducing the wife of a local resident


  1. Randolph 250, "Oh You Who Are Able..." (1 fragment)
  2. Roud #7716
  3. BI, R250


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1924
Keywords: Civilwar horse
Found in: US(So)