My Old Kentucky Home was written by famous American songwriter Stephen Foster following an 1852 visit to his cousin's home, Federal Hill, in Bardstown, Ky. Foster was so taken with the Southern plantation life and the charm of Federal Hill that it inspired him to pen one of his most famous songs, one of two which became official state songs. It was first performed by the Ed Christy Minstrels in 1853.
My Old Kentucky Home quickly became a very popular piece. It's beautiful melody and words speak of the longing of those who are far away for the love of their home. There could not have been a more apt tune for the soldiers of the First Kentucky Cavalry, CSA. whose high spirit and patriotism made them the first of Kentucky's sons to stand up for the new Confederacy of southern states. Little did they know that when they swore their oath of fealty to the southern army that they would soon be taken from their native Kentucky soil, to return only briefly in 1862. Many of the boys of the First Kentucky never set foot on Bluegrass soil again, and as the war worsened the rest must have harbored serious doubts that they would survive to see their beloved commonwealth. Along with the other Confederate sons of Kentucky, they became "orphans," separated from their home state.
In researching the history of the First Kentucky Cavalry, we find that this song of home was as dear to them in 1862 as it is to us today. Following is a passage from John Will Dyer's book, Reminiscenses, or, Four Years in the Confederate Army. Dyer was a sergeant in the First Kentucky Cavalry, and served from the initial 1861 mustering in of the regiment, until it's final surrender in May of 1865. Dyer had been captured with other troopers and spent some time as a prisoner. Following an exchange in 1862, he began the long journey from Camp Chase in the north to his regiment in the south. Here Dyer tells us of one part of his passage:
"In the afternoon a large steamer landed at the docks on
which we took passage for the East side of the bay where a train was waiting to
convey us to points further on. The trip across Mobile Bay was one of my most
enjoyable experiences. In order to get a good view I went to the hurricane deck
where there was plenty of room and nothing to obstruct. As we steamed down the
bay in the face of a gentle wind from the ocean, with the sun just disappearing
behind the western hills and the surface of the water as smooth as glass, one of
the boys struck up "Our Old Kentucky Home." [sic] Immediately every voice on the
boat joined in the singing, and, although the old song is full of pathos and
susceptible of great effects, and I have heard it sung many times under all
sorts of circumstances, I have never known it sung with so much feeling and
effect as on that occasion. Men, with the tears streaming down their cheeks,
rushed into each others arms as brother to brother and I have often thought that
heaven opened her gates and rejoiced at the sight. The captain, a grizzled old
veteran, was standing on the roof, and, gulping down a sob, said to the pilot,
"run her slow, Jim, don't land till the boys get over this."
The First Verse of
Send a Dispatch to the: 1st Kentucky Adjutant