Song Spotlight: “The Caissons Go Rolling Along/The Army Goes Rolling Along”

  • Mood: Patriotic
  • Themes: Military, U.S. Army, United States
  • Tempo: Brisk
  • Genre/style: March

This coming Friday is Veterans’ Day, so I have been participating in ceremonies honoring veterans in local nursing homes along with Care Alternatives Hospice, one of my partner organizations. Today, we honored veterans at Valley Manor in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, and Friday, we will honor veterans at Trinity Nursing and Rehab Center in Merriam, Kansas. Today’s event was particularly special because several soldiers from Fort Leavenworth attended the ceremony. They presented each veteran with a special award and a salute, bringing tears to the eyes of many people in the room. 

These soldiers also threw me for a loop, though. I led all those in attendance in the songs for each of the military branches represented. The vets sang right along with me for the Army song – but the active duty soldiers were singing completely different words! After the ceremony ended, a couple of them very politely informed me that I had the words wrong. Thus, I had to start a little historical digging.

Here are the words I sang:

Over hill, over dale
As we hit the dusty trail,
And those caissons go rolling along.
In and out, hear them shout,
Counter march and right about,
And those caissons go rolling along.

Then it’s hi! hi! hee!
In the field artillery,
Shout out your numbers loud and strong,
For where e’er you go,
You will always know
That those caissons go rolling along.

These words and the famous melody were written by Brigadier General Edmund L. “Snitz” Gruber* in 1908 for the field artillery in the Philippines. The song became popular almost immediately and was adopted by all of the regiments then making up the U.S. Field Artillery. Near the end of the first World War, an artillery officer who didn’t know Gruber passed the song along to composer/bandleader John Philip Sousa, believing that the song dated back to the Civil War. Sousa added a short introduction and released the song as “The U.S. Field Artillery March,” which became a huge hit during World War I. (Gruber later cleared things up with Sousa to get his share of the royalties!) This is the version of the song that was popular through the second World War.

Fast forward to 1948, after the second World War had ended. The Army decided that it wanted an official song, and held a nationwide contest to find one, but none of the five winners gained any popularity. Four years later, the Army appealed to the music industry for compositions, but again found no songs worthy of being the official Army song. Finally, the soldier H.W. Arberg was asked to come up with something. He wrote new words to the old melody of “The Caissons Go Rolling Along” to become the official Army song: “The Army Goes Rolling Along.” Here is the first verse and chorus:

First to fight for the right,
And to build the Nation’s might,
And The Army Goes Rolling Along.
Proud of all we have done,
Fighting till the battle’s won,
And the Army Goes Rolling Along.

Then it’s hi! hi! hey!
The Army’s on its way.
Count off the cadence loud and strong;
For where’er we go,
You will always know
That The Army Goes Rolling Along.

This version became the official Army song in 1956 and is now the song played at the end of every U.S. Army ceremony. (And, yes, the soldiers are expected to stand up and sing.) This explains why I hadn’t run into these lyrics, though – this version came about after many of my veteran clients were already out of the military. Of course, this will change as younger veterans begin to move into the long-term care facilities that I serve and more people know the newer, official version.

For now, it looks like I might be singing both versions of the song, along with a historical aside. 

You can read more about the Army song and download free instrumental and choral versions of the song here. They’re meant to be used when a U.S. Army Band is not available, so play them away for your Veterans’ Day events.

I don’t mean to leave out the other branches of the military, so rest assured that their songs will be covered in future posts. For now, though, leave a comment to let me know what songs you associate with the military and, if you’re a veteran or a veteran’s spouse, the songs that you associate with your time in military service.  

This post is part of an occasional series on special songs to share with your loved ones. For more song spotlights, click here.

*Fun fact: Edmund’s relative Franz wrote “Silent Night.”

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2 thoughts on “Song Spotlight: “The Caissons Go Rolling Along/The Army Goes Rolling Along”

  1. Kat Fulton says:

    Ah ha! Yeah, well my Marine corps brothers get upset when I leave out “on the land, air, and the sea.” Original was “on the land and in the sea” or something.

    Good to know this technicality! Sure don’t want to make any army guys mad =) Thanks for pointing this out, Rachelle. Love your song spotlights!

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