"The Twenty-third was drawn in line and ready for the strife, Each man for his country would freely give his life...." A toast to the soldiers who fought bravely "On the thirty-first of May in the Shenandoah lowlands, lowlands low...."
Twenty-Third, The Partial text(s) *** A *** From Anne Warner, Traditional American Folk Songs from the Anne & Frank Warner Collection, #36, pp, 113-114. From the singing of "Yankee" John Galusha of New York State. Collected 1941. The Twenty-Third was drawn in line And ready for the strife. Each man for his country Would freely give his life. The first volley that they fired on us, They shot our flag away, And galliant (sic.) Boggs fell cheering us on, On the thirty-first of May. In the Shenandoah lowlands, lowlands low, In the Shenandoah lowlands low. (1 additional stanza)
The fragment given by the Warners (collected from Yankee John Galusha) is historically troublesome; I suspect it is damaged. There were no Civil War battles fought on May 31 in the Shenandoah valley!
The logical guess would be that the reference is to Jackson's Shenandoah campaign of 1862. Fighting was almost constant in May and June of that year -- but on May 31 Jackson was extracting his troops from between converging Federal columns.
The song does not really identify the regiment, but here we can make a better guess. Even though John Galusha was from New York, it is not the 23rd New York (which, unlike the formation in the song, did not have a colonel named Neal).
I suspect it is the 23rd Pennsylvania, which was commanded from February 1862 by Colonel Thomas Hewson Neill. This regiment, however, was in the Peninsular Campaign, not the Shenandoah campaign (it was in Couch's first division of Keyes's Fourth Corps).
If that is the case, we have a "fit" for the battle: It was the battle of Fair Oaks/Seven Pines, May 31-June 1, 1862. At that time, according to _Battles and Leaders of the Civil War_, volume II, p. 218, it was in Abercrombie's second brigage of Couch's division. What's more, it played a major role in the battle -- Abercrombie's brigade suffered 624 casualties, which is probably in excess of 15% of its available strength, and the second-highest brigade total in the Union army.
Thus we must suspect the "Shenandoah" reference to be in error -- though even it can be explained.
Later in the war, the 23 Pennsylvania was in the Sixth Corps (part of the first brigade, third division from Fredericksburg to Gettysburg; at the Wilderness, it was part of 4/1/VI), and the Sixth Corps was sent to the Shenandoah in 1864. We know, however, that that is not the battle mentioned; by that time Neill was commanding a brigade in a different division of the corps.
Still, it might explain the confusion: Originally the song was an ode to the 23 Pennsylvania, with references to its various exploits, and a chorus referring to the Shenandoah campaign was transferred to the section about Fair Oaks/Seven Pines.
Who Boggs was I cannot guess; there was no general by that name, but odds are that he was a company officer anyway.
It's interesting to observe that John Galusha knew another song ("The Irish Sixty-Ninth") about a Pennsylvania regiment that fought at Fair Oaks. Did he at some point know someone with a large collection of Pennsylvania songs? - RBW
- Warner 36, "The Twenty-Third" (1 text, 1 tune)
- ST Wa036 (Partial)
- Roud #7454
- BI, Wa036