The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing
2013, Volume 34
"Will not these days be by thy poets sung": Poems of the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1863–1864Edited by Elizabeth Lorang and R. J. Weir
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FOR THE ANGLO-AFRICAN.
A WAR SONG FOR THE BLACK VOLUNTEERS.
Oh, brothers, long we've waited, praying for this hour, While oft the noodles boasted they didn't need our power, But lo! the angel Death has made the haughty cower, And we're marching on. In the army of Jehovah, in the army of Jehovah, in the
army of Jehovah, For freedom marching on.
army of Jehovah, For freedom marching on.
The shop and field we left to shoulder now the gun; Forgiving injuries past, we hail the day begun; And where we meet the foe some traitor blood will run As we're marching on, etc.
The rebel flag accursed sustains the trader's greed, And there beneath the lash our injured sisters bleed, Great God! these cruel wrongs for vengeance loudly plead, And we're marching on, etc. To ransom, Massachusetts bears the crown and sword; The Carolina troops their valor high record; And Louisiana blood into the tide is poured, As we're marching on, etc.
From every other State the boys are coming too, For glorious is the work their hands have found to do, And by the powers above they'll do it through and through, While they're marching on, etc.
To face the battle storm we move at God's command, For kin and country too we'll strike with heavy hand, And never, never rest till Freedom rules the land, With God we're marching on, etc.
Though horrors of the deep now rise upon the wave, And fiends from hell unloosed around our doors may rave, Nought can deter our course—our flag still high we wave, For we are marching on, etc.
- Alfred P. Smith (1832–1901), journalist and editor. Born in Saddle River, New Jersey, the son of day laborer and farmer Peter, Alfred Smith received a public school education (David Steven Cohen, "Alfred P. Smith: Bergen County's Latter-Day Ben Franklin," Journal of Rutgers University Libraries 38 : 23–24). In the winter of 1858–59, Smith petitioned New Jersey's state legislature to "take the initiatory steps to give colored persons the right of suffrage" (Minutes of Votes and Proceedings of the Eighty-Third General Assembly of the State of New Jersey, Convened at Trenton, Jan. 11, 1859 [Salem, NJ: Sharp, 1859], 388). During the war years, he contributed letters to the Paterson Daily Guardian. The Anglo-African printed a cluster of poems attributed to Smith over a seven-month period in 1863: "A Tribute: In Memory of Edward M. Thomas" (April 18, 1863); "The Patriot's Vow" (May 16, 1863); "The Fast God Hath Appointed" (May 30, 1863); "The Louisiana Native Guard at Port Hudson" (August 8, 1863); "To A Young Friend" (August 15, 1863); and "A War Song for the Black Volunteers" (October 10, 1863). Smith's Anglo-African verse expresses his strong support for African American soldiers. Earlier in the war, he took a strong stand against colonization schemes (see "Letter to the President," Paterson Daily Guardian, reprinted in Douglass' Monthly, October 1862, [730–31].According to T. Robins Brown and Schuyler Warmflash, from 1876 until his death, Smith took care of his widowed mother and largely stayed at home, because of "increased disability" (The Architecture of Bergen County, New Jersey: The Colonial Period to the Twentieth Century [New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001], 170). At home, however, he worked a press and established A. P. Smith's Paper in 1881. The title, reminiscent of Frederick Douglass' Paper, did not last long; Smith renamed his publication The Landscape: A Country Newspaper in 1882. The monthly ran until July 1901.
- Probably "noodles." Webster's American Dictionary of 1828 defined "noodle" as a colloquial insult, meaning "simpleton." The word made occasional appearances in Civil War-era magazines. In Smith's line, "the noodles" are those who dismissed African American would-be volunteers prior to 1863—a group that included the majority of white Northerners as well state and federal officials.After the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter (April 12–13, 1861), African American men from Northern cities "rushed to volunteer for military duty . . . But black hopes for [interracial] unity against the slave power quickly vanished. Throughout the North, whites rebuffed black patriotism" and rejected their offers of military service (Donald Yacovone, ed., A Voice of Thunder: A Black Soldier's Civil War [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998], 14). The Emancipation Proclamation sanctioned the recruitment of "suitable" freedmen, and thus "signaled a major reversal in policy" (John David Smith, "Let Us All Be Grateful That We Have Colored Troops That Will Fight," in Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era, ed. John David Smith [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002], 1). Alfred Smith contrasts past with present, white foolishness and arrogance with black patriotism and "power."
- Smith interprets the war's death toll as a divine rebuke to the "haughty" Northerners who denied African American manhood. The US Army has been annihilated, like the army of king Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35; Isaiah 37:36) or the firstborn of Egypt (Exodus 12:29–30).
- Smith wrote new lyrics for "John Brown's Body"—an immensely popular Civil War melody associated with abolitionist martyr Brown and his militant antislavery message. "John Brown's Body" placed the abolitionist "in the army of the Lord" (Frank Moore, ed., The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, With Documents, Narratives, Illustrative Incidents, Poetry, Etc. [New York: Putnam, 1862], 2:105); in "A War Song," God commands an earthbound army of African American volunteers. Historian Christian McWhirter has noted that abolitionists used "John Brown's Body" "to recruit black soldiers" (Battle Hymns: The Power and Popularity of Music in the Civil War [Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012], 50); in the Anglo-African poetry column, Smith's "Song" became part of the Hamilton brothers' larger recruitment campaign.