If Scarlet O’Hara had been a real person, she would have known the words and the music. The Civil War song “Somebody’s Darling” was so popular the Macon publisher couldn’t keep it in stock. Years later it was featured in the film Gone With the Wind.
Early in 1863 a new resident arrived in Augusta to take over management of the concert hall, the city’s venue for shows, lectures and musical performances. The hall was more than thirty years old; members of the famous Booth theatrical family had played there in the 1850s.
The new man was “Professor” John Hill Hewitt, New York-born in 1801 and West Point-educated, but with music in his blood and in his brain. His father, James, born in England, had been bandleader at the court of King George III. In the U.S., James Hewitt headed a traveling troupe of which his son became a member. They had come to Augusta in 1822 for performances, only to have the music hall burn down shortly after their arrival, destroying their instruments and props. John H. Hewitt remained in the South, working as musician, composer and music seller in Columbia and Greenville, S, C., Baltimore, where he engaged in writing competitions with Edgar Allen Poe, and Richmond. “I loved the genuine hospitality of the Southerners,” he wrote years later in his autobiography.
The year 1861 found Hewitt in Richmond. He asked Confederate President Jefferson Davis for an army commission but Davis thought he was too old for active service and made him a drillmaster instead. Hewitt didn’t think much of that and returned to music. One of his earliest and most popular offerings to the new nation was “All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight,” characterized as “arguably the best song to come out of the war.”
In Richmond Hewitt met up with the Waldron family, a musical ensemble under the direction of the father, Alfred Waldron, composed of two sisters and their three brothers. The troupe went by the name The Thespian Family, but the girls as a separate act were known as the Queen Sisters. They were wildly popular, sort of the Spice Girls of the 1860s, but more sedate, as befitted the times.
When the Waldrons came to Augusta in 1863, Hewitt accompanied them, and so he became manager of the local concert hall. Many of their performances featured his music. One consistently sell-out show was The Roll of the Drum, or the Vivandiere of the Potomac (later shortened to The Vivandiere), featuring the song “The Valiant Conscript.” The girls were accompanied by the Palmetto Band in what was termed “the first opera of our young republic.”
Other of Hewitt’s musical compositions, as advertised in the Augusta Chronicle & Sentinel, were the “Stonewall Brigade Quickstep,” “The Young Volunteer,” “You Are Going to the Wars,” and many more. Teaming with local composer S. Leroy Hammond, who used the pen-name “Charlie Heywood,” Hewitt wrote the music for a song called “The South.” His satire King Linkum the First, poking fun at a hen-pecked Abraham Lincoln, was laughed at everywhere. And, of course, there was “Somebody’s Darling.”
Hewitt himself performed in benefit concerts for sick and wounded soldiers. He played the piano, flute, and violin, and also gave lessons. After the war he tried running a sheet music store in Augusta but soon gave up and returned north, first to Virginia and then Baltimore. The special collections of Woodruff Library at Emory University include a deck of 43 playing cards, handmade by Hewitt while he was at the music store. Each card bears the likeness of a Confederate general.
John Hill Hewitt continued composing, performing and teaching almost to the day of his death in 1890. He has been called the “Bard of the Confederacy,” and his career “the story of music in the Confederacy.” Augustans were honored to have him in their city during the war years.
You can read more about this prolific songwriter in E. Lawrence Abel’s article, “Dixie’s Original One-Man Band,” in the October 2003 issue of Civil War Times magazine. Additional information can be found in Dictionary of American Biography and Dictionary of Georgia Biography.
This article was written by Russell K. Brown. Requests for reprint should be directed to him.
Photo and music from The Music of John Hill Hewitt - http://www.pdmusic.org/hewitt.html