Revisited Myth #97: British soldiers wore red coats because they wouldn’t show the blood.

August 28, 2016

Ben Swenson, former history teacher and reenactor, said he often heard the myth that the British wore red because it wouldn’t show blood if they were shot. “Considering that the rest of their uniforms were usually white, this made no sense. . . I seem to recall something about red being the cheapest dye for a country that had a substantial military budget. Not 100% sure on that one.”

Shoot03_r2You’re on the mark, Ben. For more than a century, inexpensive synthetic dyes have been able to create any color on the color wheel, so the world has forgotten the message of power and wealth that intense color once conveyed. People from the past craved bright colors, but only the rich and royal could afford expensive dyes and the fabrics that showed them off. So tight was the link between the aristocracy and color that in many societies, laws restricted strong colors like scarlet or purple to the nobility, just in case some nouveau riche lout was tempted to dress above his station. Renaissance Europeans would have considered today’s dress-for-success colors—black, beige, grey, and other subdued shades—fit only for paupers.

Red and its close cousin purple were the most coveted of colors because they were the most difficult to make and the most expensive. Down the centuries, reds and reddish purples became the acknowledged color of royalty throughout the world. Chinese and Persian rulers preferred red. The togas of Roman senators bore a reddish-purple band. The Catholic Church took red as a symbol of its authority, using a red cross on a white shield as its emblem and dressing its cardinals in scarlet robes. The British were not alone in dressing their military officers in red uniforms. Its rarity and its link to status made good red dye almost priceless.

350px-British_old_infantry_uniforms

Max Hamrick, Colonial Williamsburg’s master weaver and dyer, says that both cochineal and madder were used to put the red in Redcoats. The British government supplied their soldiers with uniforms that were dyed with madder because it was cheaper. Officers, who supplied their own uniforms, preferred the brighter red of cochineal for their jackets. Red was the symbol of power and prestige, not some cover up for blood.

Even Wikipedia says, “There is no known basis for the myth that red coats were favoured because they did not show blood stains. Blood does in fact show on red clothing as a black stain.”

My article on cochineal and the color red appeared in an issue of Colonial Williamsburg’s magazine. I found the topic fascinating–hope you will too.

http://www.history.org/Foundation/journal/summer12/dye.cfm

 

PREVIOUS COMMENTS:

Grace Burrowes says:
October 13, 2012 at 9:30 am (Edit)
I also suspect that once the artillery started firing, and smoke hazed over the battlefields, red was simply VISIBLE, making it less likely a soldier would be killed by friendly fire. Once the hand to hand fighting began, the downside of increased visibility (to the enemy) would have been moot since national affiliation would have been obvious up close.

Reply
PJ Curran says:
October 13, 2012 at 10:36 am (Edit)
In a conversation with a young “Redcoat” at Old North Bridge this summer I was informed that the reason for red was to identify the lines when the muskets began to generate smoke, an explanation similar to the previous response.

Reply
Caitlin McRae says:
October 17, 2012 at 11:38 am (Edit)
When you say inexpensive synthetic dyes have been available for more than a century, do you mean aniline (sp?) dyes from the turn of the century…? Would love to know more of that kind of history.

Caitlin McRae cnmcrae@gmail.com

Reply
Mary Miley says:
October 17, 2012 at 2:55 pm (Edit)
So would I, but I’m afraid I know very little about the chemistry of modern synthetic dyes. The first were created in the mid-1800s and soon crowded out the old plant-based and insect-based dyes that had been used for centuries.

Reply
Edward Werner Cook says:
September 24, 2013 at 1:41 pm (Edit)
William Henry Perkin discovered Mauve in 1856 in August Von Hofmann’s Laboratory at the Royal College of Chemistry in London. After Prince Albert died Hofmann went to Berlin in 1863 where Queen Victoria’s oldest daughter was Crown Princess of Prussia. By the 1877’s dye industry in England was dead and became a German monopoly. At the end of the 19th century it was these same synthetic dye companies who had the skill to make synthetic drugs with the dye firm later known by the name of the founder Fredrick Bayer synthesizing Aspirin in 1897. The rest is, as we say, history. The giant firm I G Farben means “Common Interest in Dye Colors” and was at height the 4th largest company in the world.

You’ve Got Red On You « The BS Historian says:
December 22, 2012 at 4:17 pm (Edit)
[…] from. Hiding your sucking chest wound had nothing to do with it. A fellow WordPress blogger has a good summary of why this claim is bogus. It points out that blood is in fact quite visible against red fabric, something I can vouch for […]

Reply
James “Jake” Pontillo says:
September 24, 2013 at 10:10 am (Edit)
There is an interesting correlation with the development of chemical dyes, which led to progress in industrial chemistry in general, which caused competitions and conflict between England and Germany and that, among other things,
led to the the tensions that blossomed into WW I – The idea of red not showing blood, may have had some origins in the painting of the deck of the Shipboard surgery in the days of Wooden ships and sail ( or is that a myth , too?!)

Reply
Mary Miley says:
September 24, 2013 at 10:44 am (Edit)
I’ve read about that relationship between chemical dyes and WWI–fascinating. BUt I’ve not heard that statement about red decks, so don’t know if it is a myth or not. Sounds myth-like . . .

Reply
James “Jake” Pontillo says:
September 24, 2013 at 12:51 pm (Edit)
I was aboard USS Constitution a few years ago when it was dis-masted in dry-dock having preventative maintenance performed. I inquired of a sailor if they were going to paint the decks red and he said they only did that in the sick bay. I do not know if we can rely on this ( I am tempted to just call the commander of USS Constitution and just ask him!)
Anyway I came up with some info:

“The insides of the gun decks and the scupper ways were painted red so that blood stains should not be so noticeable.”

From http://www.exeterflotilla.org/history_misc/nav_customs/nc_customs.html

“In the artillery decks, the bulkwarks and the carriages of the cannons were often painted in red, to dissimulate the presence of the blood during combat.”
From http://shippictures.byethost22.com/anatomy%2004.htm

“The deck above the holds in the old ships, what would now be called the platform deck, was known as the orlop deck, a contraction of ‘overlap’, a word of Dutch origin meaning ‘that which runs over the hold’. In H.M.S. Victory this deck is painted red; the wounded were taken there to be tended by the ship’s surgeon. On this first deck below the waterline they were safer and their blood was not so noticeable against the red paint of the deck.”
From http://www.readyayeready.com/tradition/customs-of-the-navy/1-shipboard-terms.htm

BUT this one is not in agreement.

“Interior bulkheads were often painted red, not to cover up blood and gore during battle (most of which wound up on the deck anyway) but rather for decorative purposes and because red ocher pigment was relatively cheap.”
From http://www.steelnavy.com/MeteorFrigateDianaJL.htm

What do you think?

Mary Miley says:
September 24, 2013 at 1:15 pm (Edit)
Hmmm. Interesting. I do know this: reddish-brown paint (iron oxide or sometimes called Spanish brown) was cheap and easy to make yourself, like whitewash. Neither is real paint, which was expensive, tricky to make, and rather a trade secret. (Painters made their own concoctions and kept formulas in the family.) If that’s the “red” paint used on the floors, as suggested in the final quotation which mentions red ocher (which is iron oxide), then I side with the final quotation.

Roger W. Fuller says:
September 24, 2013 at 12:09 pm (Edit)
Having been personally injured accidentally by a bayonet at a reenactment, in which I bled onto a red British regimental coat I was wearing, I can assure you, red does not cover up blood stains. Blood looks almost black in comparison when on period-dyed red woolen cloth.

Reply
Mary Miley says:
September 24, 2013 at 12:34 pm (Edit)
Yikes! That’s what I call a primary source!

Reply
Jan says:
September 24, 2013 at 4:50 pm (Edit)
Actually, what I’ve read suggests that *black* was the most difficult and expensive dye to produce consistently in a way that would not fade or run.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_dye#The_rise_of_formal_black

Reply
James “Jake” Pontillo says:
September 27, 2013 at 12:55 pm (Edit)
Well I went and called USS Constitution and the man there just called me back- Mr. Brecher I think it was, and we discussed the painting of the deck red- he said that almost all the decks are natural pine, which are ‘holy stoned ” ( sanded with a piece of sandstone)so they would be the natural pine color, with the bulkheads whitewashed- BUT that the deck of the cock pit, – where the wounded were treated – IS CURRENTLY painted red, BUT he has no historical reference for why this is done, and does not know why it has been done nowadays. I asked if the sailors who are assigned to the ship as guides tell the people that was because the red would not show the blood, and he laughed and said that they do have a training period for the sailors and expected that that was not done.

That is where the thing is now. Unfortunately I am not entirely convinced of whether or not the decks were or were not painted red because of the blood. Until I do more research and stumble upon some CONTEMPORARY source, . I could put forth a theory- which is that since the deck in the cockpit would have blood on it and since the decks were holy stoned pine the blood would soak in and so that deck was painted and since the Spanish brown was cheap the deck was therefore painted that reddish brown.

Reply
Jeff Neice says:
September 29, 2013 at 2:26 am (Edit)
the old red barn, milk paint, was very thick and solid. Perhaps, they used something like that to seal and preserve the floors better in the sick bay.

Reply
Mary Jean Adams says:
July 21, 2014 at 5:05 pm (Edit)
It reminds me of an old joke about a sea captain who wears red because it doesn’t show the blood. However, when faced with overwhelming odds, he asks his mate to bring him his brown pants.

The joke is funnier when not being told by me.

Reply
Zain says:
August 22, 2015 at 4:35 pm (Edit)
Thanks for solving this myth i always wanted to know the truth

Reply
RIchard Howe says:
December 10, 2015 at 3:25 pm (Edit)
I was told that the officers had Scarlet uniforms because they were more visible on the battlefield so that the rank and file could see them giving orders. In Europe at the time,it was considered “uncivilized” to shoot the officers! The American Revolution put an end to that!

Reply
stephanusmurlinis says:
May 23, 2016 at 10:02 am (Edit)
It was my understanding that the red coat appeared during the English Civil War. While the cavaliers used blue uniforms, the Model Army used red. Is it correct?

Reply
picard578 says:
June 6, 2016 at 6:32 am (Edit)
Reblogged this on Defense Issues.

Reply
Patrice Ayme says:
June 9, 2016 at 2:50 am (Edit)
The Spartans supposedly used red to hide their wounds. Centurions of the Roman army carried spectacular head dress, parallel to their shoulders, above their helmets, to be seen from afar.

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Revisited Myth #96: Because trans-Atlantic communication was so slow, the Battle Of New Orleans occurred after the War of 1812 had ended.

August 20, 2016

 

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Thanks go to Ralph Eshelman, a historian who specializes in the War of 1812 and who busts this common myth, below. It’s one we find in many history books. I confess, when I was teaching, I presented this to my students as fact. Sorry kids . . .

This commonly held myth is based on the fact that the American and Great Britain peace commissions agreed to terms of a treaty on December 24, 1814. But the British were fearful of the US Congress failing to agree to the recommendations of their own peace commission such as occurred with the Jay Treaty. So the British demanded that all hostiles would cease only after the treaty had been ratified and exchanged by both countries.

This is very clear in the wordage of the treaty as found in the first sentence of Article 2: “Immediately after the ratifications of this treaty by both parties, as hereinafter mentioned, orders shall be sent to the armies, squadrons, officers, subjects and citizens of the two Powers to cease from all hostilities.”

Great Britain ratified the treaty on December 30. The treaty did not reach Washington City until February 14, 1815 and was not ratified by congress until February 16. The United States and Great Britain exchanged ratifications of the treaty on February 17. At this time the treaty became binding. The Battle of New Orleans took place on January 8, 1815, forty days before the war was officially over and hostilities were to cease.

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Revisited Myth #89: Women’s buttons are on their left because women were dressed by maids, who found it easier when the buttons were on their right.

June 19, 2016

th

. . . and men’s buttons are on their right because they preferred to dress themselves.

Well, not exactly.

First of all, buttons are seldom found on women’s clothing before the nineteenth century. Mens’ clothing, yes, but women used ties, hooks, and other fasteners more often than they used buttons. With most clothing made by the women of the house or, in the case of the wealthy few, by dressmakers and tailors, individual preference prevailed in positioning buttons. There was no standardization in America until the Civil War era when the manufacture of uniforms began on an industrialized scale. That is probably when buttons became more or less standard on the right for men.

Curators who deal with nineteenth-century women’s clothing report that they have seen buttons on both sides. No one is willing to go out on a limb on this topic, but it seems that the button-on-the-left for women’s clothing probably got started in the early twentieth century with the rise of women’s ready-made garments. And since women buying ready-made blouses would not have been among the wealthy few (who continued to use custom dressmakers), the argument about maids is illogical.

Besides, who says wealthy men preferred to dress themselves and wealthy women didn’t? That idea is totally unsupported by fact. What were all those valets, houseslaves, and manservants doing, anyway?

 

Jane padded says:
June 2, 2012 at 2:23 pm (Edit)
Ive heard that myth and it made since to me.
thanks.
Elaine says:
June 2, 2012 at 4:43 pm (Edit)
…and another myth…
In an age where every cloth item in a household needed sewing and precise fit was crucial to a garment being considered acceptably “well made”, it was not only the “wealthy few” who made use of dress-makers and tailors. Folks would be more inclined to re-make, repair, and hand on garments to make their clothing dollar go further. Dress-makers offered many services that helped less affluent clients afford professionally made clothing.
Victoria says:
June 12, 2012 at 9:18 pm (Edit)
While I agree with you about left and right buttoning conclusion, I take some issue with your statement, “First of all, buttons are almost never found on women’s clothing before the nineteenth century. Mens’ clothing, yes, but women used ties, hooks, and other fasteners.” Buttons on women’s clothing fell in and out of fashion as the centuries went on and depended more on the time and location than on the genderization of fastenings. The location, material, and number of buttons vary. Cloth, metal, thread wrapped were all used on the front and sleeves of women’s clothing. Many of the choices in buttons were dictated by cost. Cloth buttons are the cheapest whereas threadwrapped and metal buttons are more costly.
A (very!) brief survey* of women’s clothing illustrates this:

14th century
http://www.cottesimple.com/love_layers/cotehardie_collection.html
http://www.silkewerk.com/images/luttrell1.jpg (on sleeves)

15th century
http://visualiseur.bnf.fr/ConsulterElementNum?O=IFN-8100143&E=JPEG&Deb=20&Fin=20&Param=C (again, on sleeves)

16th century
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/77/Gripsholm_Elizabeth.jpg (English)
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bb/Pourbus_lady_pomander.jpg (Flemish)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Isabella_de_medici.jpg (Italian)

17th century
http://www.weissgallery.com/French-School-circa-1620s-group-figures-the-Commedia-dell%E2%80%99arte-making-music-DesktopDefault.aspx?tabid=52&tabindex=51&objectid=415523&categoryid=2636 (French)
http://www.weissgallery.com/Daniel-Mytens-1590-1647-Lady-Mary-Feilding-Countess-Aran-later-Marchioness-and-Duchess-Hamilton-1613-1638-DesktopDefault.aspx?tabid=52&tabindex=51&objectid=38219&categoryid=2636 (English)
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/15/Diego_Vel%C3%A1zquez_030.jpg (Spanish)

18th century
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3d/Batoni_lady_mary_fox.jpg (French)
http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/20012072?rpp=20&pg=1&ao=on&ft=Margaret+Strahan&when=A.D.+1600-1800&what=Paintings&pos=4 (American)

These are all just visual examples of buttons on women’s clothing. Written records also illustrates buttons being bought and made for women’s clothing before the 19th century.

To sum up: I really❤ buttons!

Thanks for the awesome posts,
Victoria

(*Side note: One thing I did not include here is examples of women’s hunting and riding outfits. These were usually festooned with buttons, but as they were purposefully based on men’s clothing styles, they were ignored for the sake of argument.)

Reply
marymiley says:
June 13, 2012 at 12:25 pm (Edit)
Wow, Victoria, what a great list of illustrations! I understand your point. I didn’t mean to suggest that there were no examples of buttons on women’s clothing in America before the nineteenth century–of course there were buttons on some women’s clothing in the 17th and 18th centuries, but, according to the curators I spoke with, other fasteners were more common. Perhaps I overstated their findings when I wrote that the curators said they “almost never” saw buttons on 17th and 18th-c. women’s clothing. I’ll change the wording to “seldom,” which I think addresses your point and makes the claim more accurate.
Roaring Ort (@red_mercer) says:
September 2, 2012 at 5:13 pm (Edit)
Wasn’t Archduke Ferdinand actually sewn into his suit every day?
Mary Miley says:
September 2, 2012 at 6:46 pm (Edit)
I’ve never heard of such a thing, but at my age, nothing surprises me.

Reply
Borden says:
January 28, 2014 at 7:35 am (Edit)
I’m not entirely convinced by the line of reasoning in this “myth”. Working backwards:

1) I disagree that the issue of whether to dress oneself was a matter of preference. One look at a portrait of Elizabeth I shows that her corsetry and dresses were far more elaborate than her father’s, Henry VIII, and would have been almost impossible for her to put on herself. Likewise, what about traditional wedding dresses which button at the back compared to, say, a man’s morning suit in which everything is buttoned at the front?

2) There may be truth that the US Civil War, coinciding with the Industrial Revolution, led to the first industrially mass-produced uniforms. However, Europe had already been going to war for centuries and needed their own mass-produced military uniforms. I’m not convinced that the 1860s was the first time that the idea for standardised sewing patterns was developed.

3) Although it may be true that women’s clothes before the 20th century rarely had buttons, the other fastenings still would have needed a decision on whether to close on the right or left. Further, it’s not just buttons subject to the left-v-right convention. Zippers, buckles and wrapping (L over R for men, R over L for women) all follow this distinction, suggesting that the rules transcend, and were likely in effect long before, buttons.

You may very well be correct that the reason for opposite sides for buttoning has no historically functional justification. However, the reasons given don’t seem to defend the argument irrefutably.

 


Revisited Myth #86: Paul Revere rode through the countryside shouting, “The British Are Coming!”

June 5, 2016

 

800px-J_S_Copley_-_Paul_Revere

Thanks to guest blogger Ceci Flinn for busting this week’s myth. Ceci recently received her PhD in history and has given tours of Boston for twenty years, so if anyone knows the truth about Paul Revere, it is she!

Standing at a library counter at a university in Canada, I explained what I had been looking for when the e-catalog failed. I gave the person working the front desk increasingly specific information – U.S. History, Early American History, Revolutionary War/War of Independence – until I reached my final description: Paul Revere’s ride. “Oh!” he said, “The British are coming!” When I told the retired history professor I was visiting about this, she said: “That’s all we know about it.” (“We” referring to ordinary Canadians, of course, not herself.) Americans are often the same. It is an amazing example of the strength of historic myth, that this simple phrase could be so prevalent and so . . . wrong.

When Paul Revere, William Dawes, Dr. Samuel Prescott, and others, rode to warn rebel leaders in Lexington and Concord that soldiers were heading their way, looking mainly for the stores of ammunition that were being stockpiled by rebel colonists and an excuse to arrest the leaders, they would never have shouted “The British are coming!” because, simply put, they were all still British. Imagine someone running down a road in Concord, MA today shouting “The Americans are coming!” and you’ve got the idea.
800px-Paul_Revere's_ride
In April of 1775, there was plenty of agitation, and many historians argue that the first shots of the revolution had already been fired in New Hampshire the previous December. But one thing had not yet changed: the colonies were still British. They were still overseen by a faraway king and his parliament, and the composition of the “Declaration of Independence” was over a year in the future. So, what did Revere and his compatriots actually say? In their depositions they stated that they had warned residents “the Regulars are out.” British soldiers, such as those stationed in Boston under General Gage, were referred to as “Regulars,” or colloquially as “Redcoats” or “the King’s men”, or even derogatorily as “Lobsterbacks.” But they were certainly not called “the British.” Nor were colonists yet referred to generally as “Americans,” more often terms like “Yankees” or “provincials” were used.

It is easy to see why the myth came about since in hindsight, we refer to the parties involved in the Revolution that created a new country as “British” and “American” to identify the two sides. The expression was apparently used as early as the 1820s. For example, a man called Elias Phinney published a book in 1825 about the events of April 1775, and in his descriptive text he used the term “British.” Yet looking further to his appendices, where he reprints the depositions of colonists, the text quite clearly says “Regulars.” These depositions are available today on the Massachusetts Historical Society’s website. Still, the myth is persistent,and not even the respected historian David McCullough did enough to prevent further perpetuation: in the HBO mini-series dramatizing his book John Adams, a messenger rides up to Adams, working outdoors at his farm, and shouts “The British are marching on Lexington!” Another history “fail”, though admittedly, for clarification’s sake, perhaps an understandable failure.

800px-Paul_Revere_Statue_by_Cyrus_E._Dallin,_North_End,_Boston,_MA
References:
David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride, 1994 (p 56, 109)
Elias Phinney, History of the Battle of Lexington, 1825 (p 15, 33)
http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&id=gZch0tpbLtMC&redir_esc=y
Massachusetts Historic Society: http://www.masshist.org/revolution/lexington.php
Revere’s deposition:
http://www.masshist.org/revolution/image-viewer.php?item_id=98&img_step=1&tpc=&mode=transcript&tpc=#page1


Revisited Myth #85: Prostitute were so common around Gen. Joseph Hooker’s army that they became known as “hookers.”

May 29, 2016

220px-Joseph_Hooker_-_Brady-Handy--restored

According to this myth, there were so many prostitutes working around Union General Joseph Hooker’s army that they became known as “Hooker’s Division” or “Hooker’s Brigade” or simply “hookers.” The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang calls this story “popular fiction.”

The fly in the ointment is that the term was in use before the Civil War. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this word had its origins as early as 1567 when it meant petty thief or pickpocket. (Other definitions include a person who fastened his clothing with hooks, like the Amish, a two-masted Dutch finishing vessel, and a rugby player, but we’ll ignore those.)

In America this synonym for prostitute dates back at least as far as 1845. It probably evolved from the conventional sense of hook, to lure and take or rob, qualities associated with prostitutes. John Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms of 1859 defines a hooker as a strumpet and says it comes from the New York neighborhood known as Corlear’s Hook, where there were lots of prostitutes. That’s probably another myth.

Since “hooker” already meant prostitute by the time of the Civil War, it was an obvious joke to refer to the prostitutes around General Hooker’s army as Hooker’s Brigade.

(An interesting aside: in French, the man who solicits patrons to come to a whorehouse is known as an accrocheur, or hooker, from the verb accrocher, to hook.)

 

irishhistoricaltextiles says:
April 16, 2012 at 6:09 am (Edit)
Any truth to the story that the word hooker came from women using a crochet hook, a la this website http://www.helium.com/items/1212157-the-history-of-crochet. It’s a popular one in the crochet world!

Ted says:
January 11, 2014 at 12:53 pm (Edit)
The version I got was that Gen. Hooker was known to keep the company of Washington, D.C. prostitutes after the Civil War; he wasn’t very discreet about it. The ladies of the evening became labeled “Hooker’s brigade” ( or army).
I’ve read and heard this from a number of sources and don’t doubt that Gen. Hooker was associated with local prostitutes. I agree that the joke probably reinforced the “hooker” slang that was already common.

 


Revisited Myth #84: The “The World Turned Upside Down” was played as the British surrendered in Yorktown.

May 23, 2016

yorktown2

(Thanks to guest blogger, Deborah Brower, who wrote this to debunk one of her favorite myths.)

In case you missed it, the story goes like this: when the British surrendered at Yorktown, they played a tune called “The World Turned Upside Down.”

The problem is no one who was present at Yorktown said that at the time. It’s not until an 1828 memoir by a man named Alexander Garden that it appears in print. Only one other veteran agreed but he was in his 80s by the time it came up. He was speaking years after the memoir had been published and by then it had already entered the public imagination. Also problematic is the fact that there are several melodies that are associated with that title. Even if it were true, which one would it be? In the end there is no reliable evidence that it happened.

I play historic music with a group called Tasker’s Chance. When we were first putting music sets together, one of my band mates said, “We just have to play ‘World Turned Upside Down.’ It’s the tune they played at Yorktown and everyone asks for it.” It became a regular part of our performances. Then came an excellent article in the Williamsburg Journal (Oct/Nov 1999) by Dennis Montgomery: “If ponies rode man and grass ate the cows?”: Just What Tune was un the Air when The World Turned Upside Down? With a heavy heart, I shared it with the group. We all liked the tune and were reluctant to toss it out. All that was left was to make lemonade out of the lemons.

From the article I learned that the roots of the tune we play go back to the first part of the 17th century and a truly cataclysmic event in British history, the English Civil Wars. The tune is catchy and was used with different sets of words. Two sets of lyrics really appealed to me. “When the King Enjoys His Own Again” is a hopeful vision of the return of Charles I to the English throne. The other is a complaint about the banning of Christmas customs by the Puritans also titled the “World Turned Upside Down.” The last line of the first verse of the song is “…old Christmas is kickt out of town.” Who could resist that?

Several years later I had a conversation with some musicians who were indignantly complaining their group NEVER plays the tune. If anyone asks about it, they set them straight in short order. That’s a valid approach, but I look at it differently, especially since I like the tune. I play it, but I also explain its story. I think it interesting that the story endures. Maybe it’s because it sums up prevailing emotions in a single phrase anyone can understand. Perhaps it’s because the English Civil War and American Revolution have something in common, both fundamentally caused the British to rethink who they were. In both cases, their world really was turned upside down.

For more detail, read the article by Dennis Montgomery, retired editor of Colonial Williamsburg’s Journal, at http://www.americanrevolution.org/upside.html


Myth # 142: During the Civil War, soldiers bit on bullets to combat pain.

January 17, 2016

Unknown-1

Rhonda Florian wrote: “I’m hoping you can help me with some information. I am a living historian. I keep running into what I believe is a history myth—that soldiers used to bite on a bullet during surgery. I always scoff at the idea. I ask the person, “What’s going to happen the first time you scream?” Besides, I ask, what would be the purpose of biting a bullet even if it were humanly possible? But then there’s always that person who says they’ve seen a Civil War bullet with teeth marks on it. Undeniable proof, they exclaim.”

I can only point to an excellent response to this question, written by George Wunderlich, executive director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, here. 


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