Song of the 20th Corps

     The 20th Army Corps of the Army of the Cumberland was born April 4, 1864, outside Chattanooga, Tennessee by an order which consolidated the former 11th and 12th Army Corps which had previously served in the Army of the Potomac. Placed under the overall command of Major General Joseph Hooker (their old commander from Potomac days), the corps was divided into three divisions led initially by Generals Alpheus S. Williams, John W. Geary, and Daniel Butterfield.

          The 20th Corps is a fascinating unit from the standpoint of the origins of its troops as it hosted troops from every corner of the Union. The Harvard-trained officers of the 2nd Massachusetts and 5th Connecticut rubbed elbows with lumberjacks from the 3rd Wisconsin and farmers of the 70th Indiana. Maryland was represented by a detachment of the 3rd Maryland Infantry, Connecticut had two regiments (the 5th and 20th), Massachusetts also had two regiments (the famous 2nd and the 33rd), as did New Jersey who was represented by the 13th and the 33rd Infantry regiments, the latter a Zouave regiment, a real rarity in Sherman’s army. The Midwest was well-represented in the corps as Indiana had four regiments, Wisconsin had four regiments, Michigan had four regiments and batteries, Illinois had five regiments, while Ohio led them all with eleven regiments and batteries. The Keystone State of Pennsylvania had nine regiments and batteries in the corps while New York had the largest representation of all in the corps, totaling eighteen regiments and batteries.

In all, eleven states were represented in the 20th Army Corps making it the most diverse in the Army of the Cumberland. By comparison, the 4th Army Corps was represented by eight states while the 14th Corps was represented by nine states. The 20th Army Corps stood in stark contrast with the rest of Sherman’s army: their uniform was generally sharper and more regular, the men effected more of a military bearing, discipline was generally tighter. These characteristics, learned in their formative years connected with McClellan’s Army of the Potomac, made them a distinctive element of the army, and caused not a little friction with their predominantly western comrades in the other corps. The corps felt a bit like outsiders especially after their commanding general Fighting Joe Hooker resigned in a huff after being passed over for command of the Army of Tennessee in late July 1864. “The name of Hooker has been to the veterans of his corps a synonym for all that is brave, gallant, and heroic in and officer and soldier,” Captain Alfred E. Lee of the 82nd Ohio lamented upon his departure. Citing Hooker’s “most sublime contempt of danger” Lee commented that “in their memory and affections, the name of General Hooker occupies an exalted place that can never perish.”

The following song was something I discovered recently while digging through the archives of the New York State Military Museum. It was a lyric sheet for a song entitled “Song of the Twentieth Corps” and the cadence of the lyrics suggests that it was to be sung to the tune of “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” a popular song most strongly associated with the Confederacy. It was apparently written in late July 1864 after the Battle of Peach Tree Creek but before it was known that General Hooker had left the army. In honor of the brave men of the 20th Army Corps,  I've included some amazing images from the Liljenquist Collection depicting soldiers of the corps interspersed between the verses of the song.  


Song of the Twentieth Corps 

Sung to the tune of “The Bonnie Blue Flag”

 

We are a band of patriot freemen-we have left our Northern soil,

To redeem the flag of liberty that traitors would despoil;

We are no bandbox soldiers to shrink from death or scars,

And the emblem under which we fight are the triple-colored stars.

Hurrah! Hurrah! For liberty, hurrah!

Three cheers for the Twentieth Corps that wear a single star!

 

An unidentified soldier of the 28th Pennsylvania wearing a 12th or 20th Army Corps badge

Joe Hooker is our leader- the gallant child of fame,

Who faced the foe at Fredericksburg ‘mid shafts of death and flame;

At Antietam, South Mountain, too, despite an ugly scar,

He led our conquering legions on- our hero of the star!

Hurrah! Hurrah! For Hooker bold, hurrah!

Three cheers for his fighting men who wear a single star!

 

First Lieutenant Edgar A. Bumpus of Co. A of the 33rd Massachusetts Infantry is pictured in this image from 1863 in which his 11th Army Corps badge is on his kepi. Bumpus was killed in action May 15, 1864 during the Battle of Resaca. 

At Gettysburg he was relieved, but we think it for the best.

As they lost a glorious captain, and we gained one in the West.

His fortune now is cast with us and envy shall not mar,

The glittering tablets of his fame, our leader of the star!

Hurrah! Hurrah! For equal rights, hurrah!

Three cheers for Joe Hooker’s corps that wear a single star!

 

Unidentified soldier of the 137th New York Volunteers

At Chattanooga under Grant our dauntless chieftain bold,

Swept back the Rebel miscreants from Lookout Mountain old;

Not all their desperate bravery could stay the tide of war,

When Fighting Joe was in the van, our leader of the star!

Hurrah! Hurrah! For the Union cause, hurrah!

Three cheers for Joe’s Hooker’s corps that wear a single star!

 

Surgeon David Mathews of the 143rd New York displays a corps badge on his chest. 

On Resaca’s heights, where foemen met on the fifteenth day of May,

The Twentieth Corps bore well their part, the foremost in the fray,

And the proudest Rebel battery that thundered in the war,

Fell a trophy to the daring of the men who wore a star!

Hurrah! Hurrah! For Union pluck, hurrah!

Three cheers for Joe’s Hooker’s corps that wear a single star!

 

A 1902 reunion ribbon for the 123rd New York at Gettysburg; the red star in this case represents the first division of the 12th Army Corps. 

At Peachtree Creek we met them next on the twentieth of July,

When the Johnnies fiercely charged our corps and though to make them fly;

In wild dismay we hurled them back and scattered near and far,

Lay the dead of Southern chivalry who hoped to beat the star.

Hurrah! Hurrah! For equal rights, hurrah!

Three cheers for Joe’s Hooker’s corps that wear a single star!

 

The tattered colors of the 70th Indiana which served in the third division of the 20th Army Corps during the Atlanta campaign. Its colonel Benjamin Harrison became the 23rd President of the United States upon his election in 1888. 

But with a leader so renowned, no mead of praise is due,

To officers, subordinates, likewise the boys in blue.

‘Tis difficult in East or West, to find our better far,

Than the bully Fighting Twentieth Corps that wear a single star!

Hurrah! Hurrah! For the boys in blue, hurrah!

Three cheers for Joe’s Hooker’s corps that wear a single star!

 

Corporal James C. Fitzgibbon of Co. D of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry proudly displays his corps badge and brass regimental number upon his kepi. He was captured July 22, 1864 outside of Atlanta but survived his imprisonment to muster out with the regiment in July 1865.  

We are true blue Union corps- we came from East and West,

So join our fortunes ‘neath the flag we love of all the best.

And while we strike for Freedom’s rights, we’ll let no discord mar,

Nor jealous feelings move the men that fight beneath the star.

Hurrah! Hurrah! For the boys in blue, hurrah!

Three cheers for the gallant lads who wear a single star!

 

The kepi held by this unidentified soldier of the 109th Pennsylvania features a felt or cloth corps badge, regimental number 109, P.V. for Pennsylvania Volunteers, and A.C. for army corps. 

The Red, White, and Blue our motto, ‘tis taken from the flag,

And those who wear the glorious sign in danger never lag.

They remember well their brave old sires who fought in former wars,

And would die to keep unsullied their heritage, the stars.

Hurrah! Hurrah! For our grandsires brave, hurrah!

Three cheers for Joe’s Hooker’s corps that wear a single star!

 

Captain Wilbur W. Smith, Co. C, 20th Connecticut Volunteers

Here’s a health to all brave comrades, who, when this war is o’er,

In happiness and safety may greet their friends once more;

And for the boys who sleep in death, we pray no fate shall mar,

Their blissful hopes of Paradise, true heroes of the star.

Hurrah! Hurrah! For girls at home, hurrah!

Three cheers for the Twentieth Corps and their badge, a single star!

Corporal Lucius Stanley from Co. A of the 107th New York (at left) clowns with his drunk and apparently sleeping companion Sergeant William Straight from Co. F of the 38th New York. The 38th New York served in the 3rd Army Corps while the 107th served in the 12th and later the 20th corps. This image likely dates from late 1862-early 1863 when both men were serving in the Army of the Potomac. 


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