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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

The Vacant Chair


The Vacant Chair, Public Domain
The Vacant Chair, Public Domain

"Mother didn’t speak of him often. She kept his chair at the table and his boots set inside the barn door. Was it possible that Papa occupied the vacant chair? I believed it to be so."

~ Abigail Hodgdon, June 30, 1872 ~


© Etched in Granite Historical Fiction Series Book One ✴︎✴︎✴︎✴︎✴︎✴︎✴︎ ✴︎✴︎✴︎✴︎✴︎✴︎✴︎ ✴︎✴︎✴︎✴︎✴︎✴︎✴︎


The poem that would become the song "The Vacant Chair" was written by H.S. Washburn after the death of eighteen-year-old Lt. John William Grout of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry at the Battle of Ball's Bluff.


The poem embodies the sacrifice made by so many young men (on both sides) during the Civil War, which had only just begun.

After the poem became popular, famous songwriter George Root put it to music, and it became one of the best-known songs of the Civil War.


For more information:

Source: <https://civilwartalk.com/.../music-of-the-civil-war-the.../>

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This beautiful piece of music is also performed to honor the passing of a band member. The band assembles with a vacant chair placed where the deceased band member would have sat, and they perform "The Vacant Chair."

I once had the honor of performing this in remembrance of a band member. The lights were dimmed, and a single light illuminated his vacant chair. It was a powerful experience and tribute. I will not forget it.

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The Vacant Chair

We shall meet, but we shall miss him, there will be one vacant chair;

We shall linger to caress him when we breathe our evening prayer.

When a year ago we gathered, joy was in his mild blue eye,

But a golden cord is severed, and our hopes in ruin lie.


We shall meet, but we shall miss him, there will be one vacant chair;

We shall linger to caress him when we breathe our evening prayer.


At our fireside, sad and lonely, often will the bosom swell

At remembrance of the story how our noble Willie fell;

How he strove to bear our banner thro’ the thickest of the fight,

And uphold our country’s honor, in the strength of manhood’s might.


We shall meet, but we shall miss him, there will be one vacant chair;

We shall linger to caress him when we breathe our evening prayer.


True they tell us wreaths of glory ever more will deck his brow,

But this soothes the anguish only sweeping o’er our heartstrings now.

Sleep today, o early fallen, in thy green and narrow bed,

Dirges from the pine and cypress mingle with the tears we shed.


We shall meet, but we shall miss him, there will be one vacant chair;

We shall linger to caress him when we breathe our evening prayer.

GEORGE ROOT - Music / H. WASHBURN - Lyrics, Original Poem



Eb Cornet, Mj Pettengill
Civil War Era Eb Cornet, © Mj Pettengill

Vintage Eb Cornet played by Charles Chesley in the Nevers Band, Concord, NH





Photo: Mj Pettengill © 2023

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