The Ants Go Marching: A History
“The Ants Go Marching” is a children’s song based on the Civil War marching tune called “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again,” a popular song that expressed people’s longing for the return of their friends and relatives who were fighting in the American Civil War.
The lyrics of the song were written by Patrick Gilmore, an Irish-American bandleader. The sheet was first published on September 26, 1863 in the Library of Congress. The text and tune were credited to Louis Lambert and copyright was retained by the publisher, Henry Tolman & Co., of Boston. Many people were wondering why Gilmore chose to publish the song under a pseudonym. It is said, however, that during the civil war period, famous composers often use pseudonyms to instill a touch of romantic mystery to their compositions. Scholars said Gilmore wrote the song for his sister Annie as she prayed for the safe return of her fiancé, Union Light Artillery Captain John O'Rourke from the Civil War. It is uncertain if they were already engaged in 1863, as the two were not married until 1875.
Gilmore stated in an 1883 article in the Music Herald that the song was not original. He recounted, “a musical waif which I happened to hear somebody humming in the early days of the rebellion, and taking a fancy to it, wrote it down, dressed it up, gave it a name, and rhymed it into usefulness for a special purpose suited to the times.”
On July 1, 1863, the melody of the song was previously published as the music to "Johnny Fill Up the Bowl,” a Civil War drinking song. A printed version of Gilmore’s lyrics released by his own Boston publisher stated that “When Johnny Comes Marching Home" should be sung to the tune of "Johnny Fill Up the Bowl,” which original sheet was arranged by J. Durnal. The song became so famous and was sung by both sides of the Civil War and it was being played in England as well.