Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier

Traditional, from an Irish folk song, 1770s

While I play the song again, listen with your eyes closed. Imagine this song during the Revolutionary War. Think about these questions. Who is singing? Who is listening? What are they doing? Feeling? Thinking? Where are they?

Put yourself in the picture. Are you singing or listening? Are you indoors—what is the building like? Or outdoors? What's the weather like? What can you see in the distance? What can you smell? What other sounds can you hear?

Now that the song is over, what is about to happen next? What happened right before the song?

Open your eyes. Write a paragraph as if you were singing or listening to "Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier." Describe where you were. What were you doing? What were you feeling? Who else was there?

(Ask volunteers to read about their characters.) What does this song mean for each of these people?

What feelings does this song express? What clues, if any, does the song give about which side of the war the singer was on? What might a man be thinking or feeling while listening to his wife or girlfriend sing this song?

Besides the emotional stress of sending husbands off to war, what else did women have to worry about? How might the experience of a Patriot's wife differ from a Loyalist's wife? How universal is this song?


"Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier" performed by Cara Greenleaf on Highland Legacy, WhippoorwillHill Music © 2009. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

This is a lovely unaccompanied rendition of the song, however it seems to have been recorded live so there is some background noise.

Another recording by Diane Taraz (Songs of the Revolution © 2010) has a more contemporary accompaniment, and she adds embellishment on the melody. It's available on YouTube.

View the music and lyrics for "Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier."

View the published broadside.

This song is based on the Irish song “Siúil a Rún,” which dates to the 1688 Irish rebellion against England that was quelled by the English King William of Orange. According to the Treaty of Limerick in 1691, Irish rebels could take an oath of allegiance to England or leave Ireland for exile. While many chose exile, joining the French army to fight against the British, those who stayed behind were drafted into the British army. In “Siúil a Rún” a woman laments that her husband or lover is joining the military.

Following the rebellion and throughout the 1700s, many Irish immigrated to North America, bringing this song with them. Irish immigrants and their descendants fought with the British in the French and Indian War and became ardent Patriots during the Revolutionary War. During the latter conflict, they adapted “Siúil a Rún” into “Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier,” which was embraced by everyone who identified with its longing message.

Battle of Long Island by Domenick D'Andrea

"The Battle of Long Island" by Domenick D'Andrea for the state of Delaware and Maryland, 1776.

mill: Water mill.

reel, wheel: Spinning terms.

Investigate what women's work involved in the 1770s. Research the kinds of houses people lived in.

Design a sampler with the message of "Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier."

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