“The Rebel's Escape”


The soldier relates the tale of his desertion. In prison, he gets the guard drunk and sneaks off. He crosses a river on a raft. Reaching home, he wakes his wife and children, who give him a meal and advise him to "go to Dixie's land."


Desertion was a chronic problem during the Civil War (which is the probable, though not certain, source of this song). Both armies were subject to disease and deprivation (the Southern due to lack of resources, the Northern due to pure incompetence and stupidity). And neither had a real system of leave, or a way to bring soldiers back to the colors.

This song, therefore, probably does match the experience of a fair number of unenthusiastic soldiers (especially as the draft took effect in the North).

On the other hand, deserting to the South probably wasn't a good idea; it left the soldier's family without his paycheck, it would subject him to punishment after the South lost -- and quite possibly it would force him into the sourthern ranks, where conditions were even worse. The South was so short of soldiers and supplies that they eventually started demanding deserters join their army. - RBW


  1. Laws A19, "The Rebel's Escape"
  2. Lomax-ABFS, pp. 534-535, "War Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Roud #2207
  5. BI, LA19


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1931 (Thomas, "Devil's Ditties")
Found in: US(Ap)