Brownville, “The Field of Monterey”
The words to “The Field of Monterey” can be traced back to the authorship of Marion Dix Sullivan (1802-1860), a poet from New Hampshire. Sullivan wrote for the press, particularly Mrs. Hale’s Magazine. A number of her poems were made into popular sentimental songs. Of these, “The Blue Juniata” is one of the most well known. “The Field of Montery” was written in 1846 and subtitled as being “affectionately dedicated to Mrs. Virginia Q.S. of Virginia.”
Edna Bradeen’s version here, which she learned from her mother, is slightly different than Sullivan’s original. Its most noticeable change is the combination of the third and fourth stanzas of Sullivan’s poem into verse three of Bradeen’s song. Another version of the song was collected in Springfield Missouri.
The song was inspired by the Battle of Monterrey in the Mexican American War, which was one of the most significant battles in the war, but also one of the bloodiest. President James K. Polk wanted to annex California from Mexico, but the Mexicans were not willing to sell, so, in 1846, he sent a force, under the command of Zachary Taylor, to provoke a fight. Taylor and his men made it as far as Monterrey before they met with serious opposition. Monterrey was heavily fortified, protected by two hills and a fort, the work of local commander Francisco Meija. However, there were still gaps in the fortifications. Taylor’s men took advantage of these gaps to attack the city, but everything did not go as smoothly as planned. The fighting lasted for three days, from September 21st to 23rd, and both sides sustained heavy casualties.
Sullivan’s poem was not the only artistic expression to be inspired by the battle. Many poems were written about it. Also written were the songs, “The Storming of Monterey” and “The Maid of Monterey.” The latter seems to have been the most popular of all of the songs to come out of the battle. Most of these songs were written in the same style as the popular sentimental pieces of the day.
The Battle of Monterrey was not unusual in the fact that it inspired popular literary tribute. The whole Mexican American war resulted in the composition of poems and songs. In addition, lithography had grown as an art form in the years leading up to the war, resulting in large numbers of prints and engravings. Much of this art was not factually accurate. Instead, it depicted the imaginings of the artists in a way which was engaging enough to attract buyers. The songs, poems, and lithographs contributed to a popular formation of memory about the war.
The sweet church bells are pealing forth their chorus loud and free
And everything’s rejoicing in the glorious victory
And many hearts are bleeding, upon this glorious day
For the loved, in death, are sleeping on the field of Monterey
On the Field of Monterey,
For the loved, in death are sleeping, in the field of Monterey
Who now in death is sleeping on the field of Monterey
Sources: Chapin, Bella. The New Hampshire Poets. Claremont, N.H.: Charles H. Adams, 1883; Dichter, Harry and Elliott Shapiro. Early American Sheet Music: Its Lure and its Lore 1768-1889. New York: R. R. Bowker Co.,1941; Randolph, Vance. Ozark Folksongs Vol. IV. Columbia, Mo.: The State Historical Society of Missouri, 1948; Silber, Irwin. Songs of the Great American West. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1995; Van Wagenen, Michael Scott. Remembering the Forgotten War: The Enduring Legacies of the U.S.-Mexican War. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012; Waltz, Robert B., and David G. Engle. “Field of Monterey, The.” The Traditional Ballad Index. California State University. Web. 6 Dec. 2013.