Although none of the Union responses to the Confederacy's "The Bonnie Blue Flag" ever attained the popularity of the original, this song is still as stirringly patriotic as the one it parodies and illustrates once again the 19th century belief that a good tune could support a variety of lyrics.
Although authorship of this song has been attributed to Isaac Ball of the 14th Illinois Infantry, Jeff Giambrone of the Old Court House Museum in Vicksburg, Mississippi, sends the following information from an unknown newspaper in the museum's collection, dated May 24, 1865:
While a portion of the officers [captured at the Battle of Shiloh] were confined at Selma, Ala., during the spring of 1862, some of the "originals" of the town would frequently assemble near the prison just after sunset, and sing secesh songs, among which was The Bonnie Blue Flag, one of the greatest favorites of the disunionists. The music of the piece was excellent, but the poetry anything but respectable. After hearing it several times, the Federals determined to have a Union song composed for the same tune, to sing in reply. A response was accordingly prepared, by Col. J.L. Geddes, of the 8th Iowa Infantry, and may be found below. It has been sung hundreds of times by Federal prisoners, and great desire has been manifested to have it published. Considering that the Colonel has been an English officer, and has served for a number of years with distinction in that service, the sentiment of the song reflects much credit upon his patriotism and fidelity as a volunteer officer in the army of his adopted country.
Jeff thinks it likely that Colonel Geddes was the actual author of the lyrics and that Ball merely copied them.
If you're ever in Vicksburg, be sure to visit the Old Court House Museum at:
1008 Cherry Street
Vicksburg, MS 39180
"Reply to 'The Bonnie Blue Flag'"