When Johnny comes marching home

The long march from recruitment to counterculture of a Civil War song


  • David M George Univeristy of New England Author




propaganda, Civil War music, recruitment, Patrick Gilmore, minstrelsy, World War I music, British music hall, Vietnam War music, Anglo-Sudanese War, Penny Dreadfuls, Boer War music, Irish Republicanism, animation, World War II music, anti-war music


Patrick Gilmore’s ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’ is one of the best-known American Civil War songs. By addressing the return of a single soldier—Johnny—it promises those who enlist a glorious return and the appreciation of a grateful society. As a piece of propaganda, it has been remarkably resilient, outliving the conflict for which it was composed and even today is frequently performed by military marching bands within the United States. But the song contains a level of ambiguity which allows it to be reimagined. It is this ambiguity that has allowed it to evolve, and even whilst retaining its original meaning, it has become its own antithesis, decrying the indifference of society to the plight of the returning soldier and highlighting the cost of their sacrifice.

Author Biography

  • David M George, Univeristy of New England

    David M. George is an Honorary Associate at the University of New England, Armidale, Australia. His field of expertise is radical and social history during the mid- to late-nineteenth century. He has recently published a book A Keen and Courageous Reformer: The Radical Campaigns of John Baxter Langley with the University of Exeter Press.



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How to Cite

George, D. M. (2023). When Johnny comes marching home: The long march from recruitment to counterculture of a Civil War song. Popular Music History, 15(1), 5–32. https://doi.org/10.1558/pomh.22293