“The Northern Bonnie Blue Flag”


Northern answer to "The Bonnie Blue Flag": "We're fighting for our Union, We're fighting for our trust.... Hurrah, hurrah, For equal rights, hurrah! Hurrah! for the good old flag That bears the stripes and stars."


This is actually a complex of songs rather than a single piece; various poets evidently made answers to "The Bonnie Blue Flag." I've lumped them because they all had, at best, only the weakest holds on tradition.

The version in Scott, which gives this entry its title, is listed as by Isaac Ball, and is a very short piece praising the freedom fighters of the North. I doubt that it is traditional at all.

Belden's "Flag with the Thirty-Four Stars" technically came from oral tradition, but the informant probably learned it from print; there are just too many names to remember them all. Among them:

"McClellan of Bold Antietam Fame": George B. McClellan (1826-1885), who took over the Army of the Potomac after First Bull Run and led it to defeat in the Seven Days' Battle and marginal victory (despite overwhelming superiority) after Antietam. The approving mention of McClellan (and Burnside) probably dates the song to late 1862; the list by 1863 would have been very different.

"Hooker, Sigel, Kenly too": Joe Hooker (1814-1879), was in late 1862 the Army of the Potomac's most aggressive corps commander. He would go on to failure in high command.

Franz Sigel (1824-1902) commanded German troops all over the place, and almost always disastrously. The troops never gave up on him; hence perhaps the approving mention.

Kenly: The Union had a general John Reese Kenly (1822-1891), who commanded troops in the Shenandoah Valley but who managed to not be involved in most of the big battles. His name is hard to explain. I suspect he might have been confused with Phil Kearny (1814-1862), who though only a division commander was widely regarded as the best officer in the Army of the Potomac -- but he was killed before Antietam.

"Foote, Dupont, Rosecrans": Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote (1706-1863) had led the fleets that attacked Forts Henry and Donelson in early 1862, giving the Union its first major successes in the war. Wounded at Fort Donelson, he never really recovered. It is interesting to note that U. S. Grant, the land commander at Donelson, is not mentioned -- another hint that the song is from 1862, when Halleck shelved him.

Dupont: Samuel F. DuPont (1803-1865), another naval officer, commander of the fleet that took Port Royal (November 1861). In 1863 he failed to capture Charleston (the War Department gave him impossible orders), so his start too was clouded

Rosecrans: William S. Rosecrans (1819-1898). An officer of promise as a subordinate, he had successfully defended Corinth (October 1862). After that, he was given charge of the Army of the Cumberland, where he proved less successful, fighting a bloody draw at Stones River (December 1862) and losing Chickamauga (September 1863)

"Halleck, Burnside, Butler too": Henry W. Halleck (1815-1872) was theatre commander in the west, and after Grant's successes at Henry and Donelson had led the slow advance to Corinth. He was then brought to Washington as General-in-Chief. On paper, his results looked good; in reality, he was far too cautious and never managed to get the Union war machine in gear. He was much more effective as (de facto) chief of staff under Grant. But in late 1862, he still looked like a winner

Burnside: Ambrose Burnside (1824-1881) had led the successful attacks on the Carolina coast in 1862. He then joined the Army of the Potomac, and failed at Antietam, but was given command of the whole army and led it to defeat at Fredericksburg and the Mud March (late 1862/early 1863) -- still more evidence of a late 1862 date. Burnside's real problem seems to have been a complete inability to react to changing circumstances

Butler: Benjamin F. Butler (1818-1893), a political general who was perhaps the worst soldier ever to wear a Major General's stars. In 1862, however, he had "captured" New Orleans (the entire work had in fact been done by Farragut's fleet), and so was an official hero. He was also earning a reputation among the occupied as "Beast" Butler.

"old South Mountain side": The Battle of South Mountain (Sept. 14, 1862) was the first real engagement of the Antietam campaign. McClellan, possessed of Lee's "lost order," knew that Lee's army was scattered behind the South Mountain range, with only a few troops to guard the passes. McClellan, who could have destroyed Lee's army by attacking boldly, instead brought minimal force to bear, forced the passes only because Lee had such weak forces there -- and then sat for two days when he could have defeated Lee piecemeal.

South Mountain did not drive Lee from the north; rather, it gave him time to concentrate his forces at Antietam. Where McClellan again failed to destroy him. - RBW

Cross references


  1. Belden, p. 382, "The Flag with the Thirty-Four Stars" (1 text)
  2. Scott-BoA, pp. 218-219, "The Northern Bonnie Blue Flag" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Roud #7760
  4. BI, SBoA218


Author: (various)
Earliest date: 1909 (Belden)
Found in: US