A Soldiers Song

Excerpt from Soldiers Online - July 1994

By F. Peter Wigginton
(journalist with the American Forces Information Service in Alexandria, Va.)

It [The Army Song] got its beginnings during a difficult march across the Zambales Mountains in the Philippines. As a lieutenant leading a small detachment to select a route, Brig. Gen. Edmund L. “Snitz” Gruber overheard a section chief call to his drivers, “Come on! Keep them rolling!”

Gruber, an artillery officer whose relative, Franz, composed “Silent Night,” was stationed with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Field Artillery, in the Philippines. In March 1908, about a year after Gruber overheard that section chief in the mountains, six young lieutenants - including William Bryden and Robert Danford - gathered in his thatch hut and decided they needed a song for the field artillery.

“A guitar was produced and tuned and - in what seemed to us a few moments - as if suddenly inspired, Snitz fingered the melody of the now-famous song,” recalled Danford, who retired as a major general. Danford and Bryden helped complete the lyrics.

Gruber taught the song to officers of the 1st Battalion as they arrived at Fort Stotsenburg. Wrote Danford: “A few evenings later at the post reception for the new unit and adieu to the old, 'The Caisson Song' was given its first public rendition. Its popularity was instantaneous, and almost in no time all six of the regiments then composing the U.S. Field Artillery adopted it.”

During the last days of World War I, senior artillery leaders wanted an official marching song. An artillery officer who did not know Gruber and thought “The Caisson Song” dated back to the Civil War, gave the piece to noted composer and bandmaster John Philip Sousa and asked him to fix it up.

Sousa incorporated Gruber's piece into his composition, which he titled, “The U.S. Field Artillery March” - a few beginning measures being his own and the balance from Gruber.

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