Merry Men Home from the Grave

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MERRY MEN HOME FROM THE GRAVE. AKA and see "Connolly's Ale," "Our Boys (2)." American, Quickstep March (6/8 time). G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. The tune is thought to have been used in the early 19th century (if not before) as an air and quickstep in use when returning from a funeral, although solid references predating the American Civil War need to be secured. The melody sounds quite Irish in character to most ears, and, indeed, has an Irish provenance. Collector P.W. Joyce learned it as a boy in County Limerick in the 1840's where it was the vehicle for the song "Connolly's Ale."

The melody appears as the quickstep "Merry Men Home from the Grave" in Bruce and Emmett's Drummers' and Fifers' Guide, a volume published in 1862 to help codify and train the hordes of new musicians needed for Union Army service early in the American Civil War. Therein it is directed: "After having deposited the body in its final resting place, and the Escort having fired the customary salute over the grave, the musicians will not play again until outside the enclosure,--when they will strike up a lively air; the 'Merry Men Home from the Grave' being considered the most appropriate." George Bruce was a drum major in the New York National Guard, 7th Regiment, and had served in the United States Army as principal drum instructor at the installation at Governor's Island in New York harbor. Emmett was none-other than Daniel Decatur Emmett, a principal figure in the mid-19th century minstrel craze and composer of "Dixie" (ironically turned into a Confederate anthem during the war) and "Old Dan Tucker," among other favorites. Emmett had been a fifer for the 6th U.S. Infantry in the mid-1850's.

The tune was entered into the c. 1858 music manuscript of fifer Sgt. Charles Henke, Instuctor of the Fife at Governor's Island (N.Y.), as "Merryman's Grave." Beginning sometime in the mid 1830s, the U.S. Army ran a school for army field musicians on Governors Island. The school was housed in the South battery for about 40 years. In 1878 it was moved out of the battery and into Fort Jay, where it slowly faded away, disappearing from the records by the beginning of the 20th century. Editor, composer and compiler A.F. Hopkins collected the tune from W.M. Larrabee, of Binghamton, N.Y., for his American Veteran Fifer (1902) under the title "Merry Men Home from the War." Larrabee was perhaps the brother of another Hopkins' contributor, C.E. Larrabee.

Interesting is the change of title, distancing the memory of war evoked in the title "Merry Men Home from the Grave." In 1883 the melody was called the patriotic sounding "Our Boys (2)" (Ryan's Mammoth Collection), and, in 1905, "Merry Men Home from the War."

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Bruce & Emmett's Drummers' and Fifers' Guide, 1862; p. 52. A.F. Hopkins (American Veteran Fifer), 1905; No. 105 (as "Merry Men Home from the War").

Recorded sources:

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