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Military Songs

American Revolution and Before
- How Stands the Glass Around? or Why, Soldiers, Why?  (Wolfe's Song)

One of the most popular soldiers' songs during last half of the 18th century was How Stands the Glass Around? or Why, Soldiers, Why?

The Death of Wolfe by Benjamin WestIt is one of the earliest true soldiers' songs in America.  It is a common misperception that during the French and Indian War, General James Wolfe composed either the lyrics or the melody for this song.  He did not: broadside copy of the song, dating from 1710 (seventeen years before Wolfe was born), exists and there are records of it being performed on stage in London in 1729.

What Wolfe did do however, was to lead his officers in singing this song on the evening of 12 September 1759.  The following day, just as the his forces defeated the French at Quebec, Wolfe was killed by a pistol shot to his chest.  Following his death, the song became known throughout America as as Wolfe's Song and remained popular within the Army until the 1840s.

A manuscript copy of the lyrics, identified as Gen'l Woolf's Song is located in Thomas Jefferson collection at the Library of Congress.

Gen'l Woolf's Song from the Jefferson Papers

How Stands the Glass Around?
or Why, Soldier Why?
(Wolfe's Song)

How stands the glass around?
For shame you take no care, my boys,
How stands the glass around?
Let wine and mirth abound;
The trumpet sound,
The colors they do fly my boys;
To fight, kill or wound;
As you would be found,
Contented with hard fare, my boys
On the cold ground

O why, soldiers why?
O why should we be melancholy boys,
O why soldiers why?
Whose bus'ness is to die;
What? sighing? Fye!
Drink on, drown fear, be jolly boys;
'Tis he, you or I, wet, hot, cold or dry;
We're always bound to follow boys,
And scorn to fly.

'Tis but vain;
I mean not to upbraid you boys,
'Tis but vain;
For a soldier to complain;
Should next campaign,
Send us to him that made us boys;
We're free from pain,
But should we remain,
A bottle and kind landlady
Cures all again.

To The Liberty Song