In 1863, the Union Army called on concert singer Walter Kittredge to lay aside his music and serve his country on the battlefield. On the eve of his departure for induction, the young man from New Hampshire sat down and composed a song that expressed his sentiments about the war and echoed the desire of many throughout the country for a swift end to the conflict.
Kittredge's military career would be short lived. A run-in with rheumatic fever as a child had damaged his heart, and he was pronounced unfit for duty. Finding himself once more a free man, Kittredge decided to see if he could interest a music house in what he had thought would be his "farewell to civilian life" (Irwin Silber, Songs of the Civil War, 1960, p. 167). When the song was rejected by a Boston publisher because of its melancholy nature, Kittredge offered it to Asa Hutchinson, the patriarch of the Hutchinson Family singing groups, with whom Kittredge had at one time performed. Hutchinson, recognizing a hit when he saw one, gladly added it to his repertoire and began performing it in concert. The song quickly became so popular in Union and Confederate military camps alike that officers had to forbid its singing at night for fear that their positions on the battlefield would be revealed to the enemy. Civilians longing for the return of their loved ones took to the song as well.
With Hutchinson's backing and support, the song was eventually published in the North by the Oliver Dittson Company; Kittredge and Hutchinson shared the royalties. Although just as well loved below the Mason-Dixon line, the song was never published in the South because of wartime exigiencies. In the years following the end of the War, it became a staple at Grand Army of the Republic reunions.
Kittredge was destined to become a "one-hit wonder." Nothing else he wrote ever enjoyed the widespread public acclaim of "Tenting on the Old Camp Ground."
"Tenting on the Old Camp Ground"