“Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! (The Prisoner’s Hope)” was written and composed by George Frederick Root. It was first published in Root & Cady’s New Year’s extra of their monthly journal, The Song Messenger of the Northwest, in 1864. The year prior, Root published “Just Before the Battle, Mother” in the 1863 New Year’s extra. Although Root was supposed to be working on a song in December of 1864 (which eventually became “Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!”) for the extra, he was already working on a “curriculum” for music educators. In his autobiography, The Story of a Musical Life, he explained the creation of “Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!”:
One day my brother said, ‘We must have that song or we can not get the paper into the people by New Year’s Day; go write it now while it is on your mind.’ In two hours I brought him the song. We tried it over and he said, ‘I must confess I don’t think much of it, but it may do.’ I was inclined to agree with him about the music, but after all was a little disappointed, because I had grown quite warm and interested in writing the words. They were on a subject that was then very near the hearts of the loyal people of the North. The song was ‘Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching,’ and it was not only an illustration of the advantage of my blackboard training, but it was a further confirmation of what I have said before, that in my case success were usually surprises (Root 140-141).”
In 1865 Root & Cady sold 150,000 copies of “Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! (The Prisoner’s Hope).” Root and other songwriters and publishers were very successful at reaching large audiences during the Civil War. Because the war songs were relatable to the experience of fighting in the Union Army, they crossed economic and regional barriers (McWhirter 17). “Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!” was not only sung by soldiers, but also by families and concert performers. The piece is written from the perspective of a Union soldier at a Confederate prison camp. Many believe it was written about Andersonville Prison in Georgia (Siber 13).
A version of “Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!” was even written for a Confederate audience (Silber 37). According to Christian McWhirther, “Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!” was the squeal to “Just Before the Battle, Mother” (McWhirther 168). P.H. Carder, a biographer of Root, believed that Root was inspired by an observer’s report in the Chicago Tribune on June 12, 1864 about a Confederate prison. The reporter explained “… men began to sing ‘We’ll rally round the flag boys’ as they marched. Rain began to fall heavily as they went ‘tramp, tramp, tramping” through the muddy streets with drums beating and banner’s flying” (Carder 152). Root then wrote both “On, On, On, The Boys Came Marching (or The Prisoner Free),” the sequel to the song and “Starved in Prison” in 1865 (Silber 14).
This website explores different aspects of the song “Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!” In addition, the sheet music cover is compelling because it contains illustrated references to five of Root’s other songs. There are also sections on this website dedicated to the life of the composer, George Frederick Root, as well as the publishing company, Root & Cady. Currently, the lyrics are in the process of being annotated. Visitors to this site can click on different sections of the lyrics to learn about their significance. Because “Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!” has a very “catchy” tune, other songs were written with the same melody. Some of these adaptations are explained on the page “Inspired By.”
For more information about the author and this project, please visit the “About” page.