Friday, June 7, 2013

Two Years Ago, By A Drafted Wide Awake

The song "Two Years Ago, By A Drafted Wide Awake" tells the story of a regretful soldier, who before the war was full of bluster and martial spirit as a strident Republican. But, when drafted into the army two years later, he found the reality of war. When it came time to put up, he learned that the war brought economic hardship, marital separation, death, and destruction.

This tune is full of Copperhead sentiment. Copperheads, of course, were the Northern peace Democrats who opposed the war and sought a prewar Union, slavery and all. An often expressed Copperhead phrase was "Constitution as it is, the Union as it was." One source I found though claimed the song was written by a Pennsylvania soldier. Certainly, some Union soldiers were just as discouraged by their experience in war, just as others were strengthened in their commitment to the perpetuation of the Union.

Wide Awakes were a militant organization that campaigned for the Republican Party in the 1860 election. They were well known for their marches - often in Northern cities - and for wearing black helmets and oil-cloth capes. They carried tall torches to "enlighten" others and were most often young men. The Wide Awakes attended speeches made by Republican candidates to ensure their safety and showed up at the polling places to make sure the elections were conducted fairly.

Understanding the war weariness - especially from setbacks and defeats such as Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville for the Union army in the Eastern theater - two years into the war, one can see how this song could have served as an expression for many soldiers' sentiments.   

Two Years Ago, By a Drafted Wide Awake

I was a glorious Wide-Awake, All marching in a row; 
And wore a shiny oil cloth cape, About two years ago. 
Our torches flared with turpentine, And filled the streets with smoke; 
And we were sure, whate'er might come; Secession was a joke.

Oh, if I then had only dreamed, The things that now I know, 
I ne'er had been a Wide-Awake About two years ago.

I said the South would never dare, to strike a single blow; 
I thought that they were cowards then, about two years ago. 
And so I marched behind a rail, armed with a wedge and maul; 
With honest Abe upon a flag, a boatman gaunt and tall.


My work was good, my wages high, and bread and coal were low; 
The silver jingled in my purse, about two years ago. 
In peace my wife and children dwelt, happy the live-long day; 
And war was but the fearful curse, of countries far away.


My wife sits pale and weeping now, my children crying low; 
I did not think to go to war, about two years ago. 
And no one now will earn their food, no one will be their shield; 
God help them when I lie in death, upon the bloody field!


One brother's bones, half buried lie, near the Antietam's flow; 
He was a merry, happy lad about two years ago. 
And where the Chickahominy moves sluggish towards the sea, 
Was left another's wasted corpse-- I am the last of three.


Just now I saw my torch and cape, Which once made such a show; 
They are not now what once they seemed, About two years ago. 
I thought I carried freedom's light, In that smoky, flaming band; 
I've learned I bore destruction's "torch"-- That wedge has split the land.



  1. You have taught me something new this evening. I have never heard of the Wide Awakes. Good stuff; keep it coming.

  2. Thanks for your kind words. I hope you continue to find "Random Thoughts" a place where you discover new things.

  3. So glad I happened upon this..4 years later, I see. Something I find curious about it though. A "drafted" Wide Awake? From my research, these individuals were the most enthusiastic about going to war. I believe almost all of them volunteered rather than being drafted. Or is "drafted" not a literal term here? Thanks for the post.