Monday, December 5, 2016

Music Monday - I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

During much of 2011-2015, I had a Civil War Sunday on my blog.  Although I can not call myself a (United States) Civil War "buff", the story of that war has fascinated me for years.

Now, our country is divided in ways it hasn't been for years.   It is time, perhaps, to remind us of a time over 150 years ago, when things seemed hopeless.

Civil War Sunday - Christmas Bells (from 2013)

As we close out 2013, I ponder whether to continue my Civil War Sunday posts into the New Year.  Like many in the United States/Confederate States of America in December of 1863, I am weary of the war, even if it was fought 150 years ago.

Unlike the people of 1863, I know what is to follow. As horrible a turn as the Civil War took in 1863, it was not going to get any better.  Here were some of the horrors to come, that December of 1863.

Civil War prison of war camps such as Camp Douglas, Elmira, Ft. Sumter (better known as Andersonville) plus events such as the Battle of Ft. Pillow, Spotsylvania Court House and the Bloody Angle, and Sherman's March to the Sea. I asked myself if I should I give up, knowing the horrors to come, and leave the writing to the historians and the true Civil War buffs?

What helped me decide? A Christmas carol written in 1863 that I never realized, until this year, had a connection to the Civil War.  The Christmas carol is called "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day".

The poem the song is based on is "Christmas Bells", written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  His son Charles had been seriously wounded in a Civil War skirmish in late November,1863.  This poem is the anguished result. 

Tragedy was no stranger to Longfellow.

Longfellow wrote, in part:
"And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Longfellow could not withdraw from the tragedy of the Civil War, a tragedy that still echoes in our United States 150 years later.

And yes, Longfellow's son Charles survived his injuries, and the war.

Here are two versions - if you will, a mini Battle of the Singers.  First, Frank Sinatra, from 1964.

Next, Harry Belafonte, from 1958.

Which do you like better?

This song gives us hope - we have survived hard times before, and will again.

Linking to #MondayMusings at Everyday Gyaan.


  1. I definitely like Harry's version better. I did not know the origins of the song. Thanks for that info.

  2. The excerpt you shared is so touching... and even true in current times. War can never lead to peace, it leads to pain, horror and loss. I haven't read much on Civil war, but in our history I read about struggle for independence... and that itself is heart breaking.

  3. I preferred Belafonte's version. far less schmaltz.

  4. I always like a historical perspective. Harry is my choice

  5. I had no idea that was connected to the Civil War.

  6. I remember studying the poem in school, Alana. It's amazing how poetry has been such a powerful tool in literature not just to express emotion but also to challenge systems.
    I'm a Belafonte fan, so there's no choice for me.

  7. I like the version by Harry Belafonte anyday. Didn't know about the connection to the Civil War. Thanks for sharing this information.

  8. I'm not a big Sinatra fan. So much of his music sounds like he isn't even trying.

  9. Interesting connection with history....Isn't it amazing how songs are pieces held in time and yet transcending the barriers of time itself...May there be peace and hope and love....Wishing you happy holidays ahead.....


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