Rebels’ Theme Song

The theme song for our documentary, Rebels on Lake Erie, is “The Rebel Soldier.”
It’s a song older than the Civil War. Folk singer Jerry Silverman dates the tune back to a British ballad in the Seven Years War (1756-1763). Another source simply calls it a traditional Southern Appalachian song.
Whatever its origin, this song seemed ideal for the purposes of our documentary. Okay, we admit, there’s lots of sexism in the words. The unknown lyricist blames poor Polly for the soldier’s decision to fight in the war. Yet the refrain, “I am a Rebel soldier, and far from my home,” seemed perfect for our story, a story of Confederate officers imprisoned on Johnson’s Island and the pirate who tried to free them.
“The Rebel Soldier” is a well known song that has been recorded by many artists, including Waylon Jennings, Bobby Horton and Dave Mathews. Each artist brought his own distinct sound. Jennings’ rich sonorous voice offered a sad perspective but it had a more modern-sounding melody; Bobby Horton’s version had a faster pace that seemed inconsistent with the lyrics; Dave Mathews’ adaptation had a full orchestra that wasn’t quite right for our documentary.
Our documentary is using folksinger/musician Jerry Silverman’s arrangement of “The Rebel Soldier.” Silverman is well known for his arrangements of historical songs. This arrangement — used with his permission – comes from Silverman’s Civil War Songs and Ballads for Guitar. Silverman has published other music books, including his most recent The Undying Flame: Ballads and Songs of the Holocaust.
Silverman’s arrangement of “The Rebel Soldier” is a slow, haunting tune. It was designed for the guitar but a variety of instruments play it during the documentary. Each instrument brings its unique sound but the sad melody remains, whether it is played by the piccolo or the banjo, the violin or the viola, the trumpet or Irish tin whistle. You’ll hear the words as well. Popular Ohio folksinger/composer Chuck Keiper sings the song in the introduction.
We hope you agree that Silverman’s arrangement of “The Rebel Soldier” is the perfect refrain for our documentary.

One thought on “Rebels’ Theme Song

  1. I am in the midst of doing some research on Dr. John Slick Riley – who was a member of the Confederates who commandeered the “Philo Parsons.” Dr. Riley was the uncle of the famed Hoosier Poet, James Whitcomb Riley. We know that at one point he was captured and sent to Atwood Prison in Illinois. He escaped and made his way to Greenfield where he was taken in by his mother, Margaret Slick Riley. A very young James came to his grandmother’s house only to find her with a “rebel” at her kitchen table. She swore James to secrecy, and Uncle John Slick Riley recovered from his ordeal, and then we believe he went home. Would love to know more about the timeline of this story. We heard that John Riley had been captured at Vicksburg – so I’m not sure how this fits into when he was engaged in this activity in Canada. Would love to see the documentary. How would those of us in Indiana get to see it?

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