|Our Brutus - Part 3 - Blackmar, Booth, and Barbee
(Published in The Railsplitter, Volume 13, #1/2, 2007/2008)
By Kevin Lynch
3. Blackmar, Booth, and Barbee
Armand Blackmar was the New Orleans composer and music publisher who apparently copyrighted and published “Our Brutus”. He is known primarily today for his significant contribution to chess, the Blackmar Gambit, which has been studied for more than a hundred years and has had an entire book written on the strategy. Blackmar was also one of the South’s most important music publishers during the war. Most significantly, he published in 1861 a song that was to serve as a primary anthem for the Confederate cause, the “Bonnie Blue Flag”. An item of instant popularity capable of inciting intense patriotism, the music had nine separate editions published by Blackmar in New Orleans and Augusta, Georgia, where Armand and his brother moved some of his operations when New Orleans fell to union forces in 1862. He continued publishing in New Orleans throughout the war.
In April of 1862, when union forces under the command of Ben “Beast” Butler took control of New Orleans, it was declared that anyone caught singing the song in public would be charged with treason. Butler, in fact, arrested Armand Blackmar, fined him and jailed him, in addition to destroying all copies of the music for “Bonnie Blue Flag” that could be found in New Orleans. This may have been the act that put a seed of vengeance in the heart of Blackmar, leading to the release of “Our Brutus” six years later. Blackmar’s music store became a well-known gathering place for Southern sympathizers during the war.
It is known that in April of 1864 John Wilkes Booth, while performing in New Orleans, was goaded by a friend to sing or whistle the famous Southern tune while walking down the city streets. This he did, was confronted by union troops, and nearly landed in the same jail that Blackmar had been sent to. Perhaps due to his fame, or his claim he didn’t know that singing the song was forbidden, he was not sent to the brig on Slip Island, as Blackmar was. It created a story though that surely Blackmar would have been aware of and perhaps this began the linking of the two men. Perhaps there were earlier associations.
Blackmar’s ardent support of the Southern cause had a particular documentation. He named his daughter Louisiana Rebel Blackmar. It was clear where he stood. He used a series of curious pseudonyms in publishing over the years, such as A. Noir, for instance. E. B. Armand was his choice with “Our Brutus”, though A.E. Blackmar as publisher is plainly stated at the bottom of the page. The words are taken from the La Crosse Democrat, a newspaper in Wisconsin whose founding editor, Mark Pomeroy, was an arch Democrat. Not surprisingly, Barbee found the edition “Our Brutus” was published in has vanished over time. The copy kept by the La Crosse Democrat for their records burned in a fire, or so they said. But through the intensive research of Barbee, it was discovered that Colonel A.W. Terrell, a Confederate sympathizer, was the author of the poem that became “Our Brutus”, the banished song. Terrell was an officer with the 1st Texas Cavalry Regiment in the war who apparently later became U.S. Minister to Turkey.
David Rankin Barbee began an odyssey in the 1930’s that lasted more than a decade and finally resolved some of the mysteries around the song and its publication. Barbee had an interesting life and pedigree. His father, the Rev. John Dodson, was the first commissioned chaplain for the South during the Civil War. His maternal grand-uncle, Rev. John Rankin, was a founder of the Southren abolitionist movement, establishing a society in Carlisle, Kentucky in 1818. Barbee was not only a feature writer for the Washington Post with a large and loyal following but he also worked in the Roosevelt administration as a public relations writer.
However, his greatest contributions may have come as a member of a generation of Southern historians who took seriously the need to present their understanding of the South’s role in our national development. Although motivated by sectional pride, Barbee’s research was both exhaustive and objective. His study of Lincoln was deep. He authored a work, An Excursion in Southern History, that was excerpted from correspondences with Indiana Senator Albert Beveridge, at the time Beveridge was writing his biography of Lincoln. Barbee’s investigations of Booth and Lincoln were particularly significant and there are two folders in the Barbee papers that deal with “Our Brutus”.Barbee viewed himself as an “unreconstructed” Southerner, yet saw the Lincoln assassination as an act “so cruel, so cowardly, so unnecessary and so tremendous in its consequences that by common consent, it has come to be regarded as the greatest incident in American history”.
It took David Barbee many years of letter writing, many calls and meetings, to find a single complete copy of the song. While it was known of in the 1930’s, no archive, no university, no library, no collector could be found who was in possession of it. Harvard had the litho cover, Barbee finally realized, but not the music. No one knew anything, as Barbee’s collected letters on the subject attest. Or no one was willing to say. There are multiple Barbee letters to Blackmar’s granddaughter Dorothy, Louisiana Rebel’s daughter. Though Dorothy knew much of her grandfather’s history, and was even credited by early American music maven Harry Dichter in his seminal work on the subject, she was ignorant or mum on “Our Brutus”. If she really was a well-noted music collector, praised by an expert for the ‘high spots’ in her collection, how could it be she had no knowledge of the infamous piece her relative published? Maybe she wasn’t willing to say.
She did remember an image of Junius Booth, the patriarch, on the family’s piano. Her mother, whose memory may be suspect, claimed John Wilkes and Junius were ‘dear friends’ of the family. Did Junius Booth and Blackmar ever meet, as Louisiana Rebel also claimed? It didn’t appear to Barbee that Junius was ever near Blackmar or New Orleans during the years he was publishing.
Barbee finally located a copy of “Our Brutus”, possibly in the significant holdings of collector Malcolm Stone. There is a facsimile copy in the Barbee papers, though Stone was apparently secretive and not immediately forthcoming when Barbee requested a replica. It’s unclear whether Barbee’s facsimile, and therefore the LC’s, was actually from Stone’s collection. Sometime prior to March of 1952 Barbee received it, for this is the date of the LC’s requisition from Barbee.
What became of Blackmar after publication of such an incendiary piece? What became of John Ellis, the music publisher in Washington D.C. that distributed it and may have even published it? Blackmar continued publishing music in New Orleans until 1888, including a stint in San Francisco during the 1870’s. But what of Ellis? This is the toughest part of the mystery to unravel. Though having published music at the same address on Pennsylvania Ave. for 17 years through 1869, the year following issue of “Our Brutus”, suddenly his name comes off the business listing and is replaced by his wife, Mrs. John F. Ellis. John’s name on the business is not restored until 1875, at a different Pennsylvania Ave. address. What became of him? Jail is doubtful, though perhaps public outrage made him step aside for a time. It’s just another perplexing question in the tracking of the song, the truth of which may have faded into the mists of history, like the vapors of Macbeth’s witches and the final footsteps and final fall of dust from the Roman Republic.
Acknowledgements and References
Many thanks and much gratitude to Joe Hickerson with the Library of Congress, Shakespeare scholar Barry Kraft, Elaine Partnow, John Carbonell and Scott McCredie for their valuable feedback on the article, Laila Miletic-Vejzovic and Cheryl Gunselman with Special Collections at Washington State University, Iris Snyder with Special Collections at the University of Delaware, Michael Lynch at The Abraham Lincoln Library in Harrogate, Tennessee and Special Collections at Georgetown University for maintaining the David Rankin Barbee Papers.
I’m also beholden to Bruce Gimelson, E. Lawrence Abel, William Scheil and John W. O’Neal II of the O’Neal Genealogy Association for material and information that was critical to the article. Most especially, my thanks go to Mr. X for a wealth of valuable information.
E. Lawrence Abel, Music Man of the Confederacy (Civil War Times, 2004)
Our Brutus, Armand E. Blackmar composer and publisher, words from the La Crosse Democrat, lithographer uncertain, copyright 1868. This was possibly meant for wide distribution but none is known outside of Washington, D.C. This is the only music sheet featuring a likeness of John Wilkes Booth.
Abraham Lincoln’s Funeral March, W.J. Robjohn composer, J. Henry Whittemore publisher, Calvert and Co. lithographers, copyright 1865. This is the only known piece of Lincoln sheet music published in Detroit, according to the Detroit Historical Society. As many as 80 funeral marches and laments were published following the death of the President.
Hamlet Galop!, Da Costa composer, S.T. Gordon publisher, Bufford Brothers lithographers, copyright unavailable but publishing date c. 1870-73. This rare litho of Edwin Booth was taken from a photograph by Gurney. Edwin was arguably the most famous Hamlet of the 19th century. He was also known to London audiences through his performances with the great English actor/director Henry Irving.
Laura Keene Schottisch, Thomas Baker composer, Firth, Pond and Co. publisher, Sarony and Co. lithographers, copyright 1856. Laura was a star and impresario a decade or more before the night of Lincoln’s demise. Thomas Baker contributed music to the initial production of the Black Crook, accredited to be New York’s first theatrical blockbuster (1866).
Hopity Kickety – High and Low, or A Regular Cure, J.H. Stead likely composer, Lee and Walker publisher, Sinclair lithographers, copyright c. 1856. Frank Drew was a noted cross-dressing performer who played one of the witches in John Wilkes Booth’s Macbeth in Philadelphia in 1863. This song was apparently based on Music Hall star J.H. Stead’s presentation in London that required 400 leg-twisting jumps each performance! This was a cure!?