Monday, July 12, 2010
Tanya Hanson: The Legend of the Yellow Ribbon
I never liked the song much, Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree, but that doesn't mean I can't sing it at will all these years later! And I remember wearing a yellow ribbon during the Iran Hostage Crises of 1981-82. These days, I see frequent reminders to pray for our troops on yellow-ribbon car magnets.
But not until a recent visit to Old Sacramento, California, did I learn the origins of the yellow ribbon. For almost 150 years, displaying a yellow ribbon is a sign of loyalty to family, friends and loved ones far away from home in difficult situations such as war or captivity.
According to legend, the custom of a yellow ribbon showing support for a loved one far away began during the Civil War. At this time, the United States Cavalry wore yellow piping on their uniforms. Women who were married or promised to a Cavalryman wore yellow ribbons while waiting for their soldiers' return. Supposedly the practice kept prospective suitors at bay as well as warned of reprisal by the soldier if his lover was harmed.
Another version of the custom traces its origins to the horrific Andersonville Prison. Officially known as Camp Sumpter, Andersonville was one of the largest, most notorious Confederate prison camps. During its 14 months of operation, more than 45,000 Union soldiers were confined, 13,000 losing their lives from disease, malnutrition, overcrowding, and exposure.
Supposedly a member of the Ninth Ohio Cavalry who had been a Confederate prisoner there for several years, wrote to his wife with the suggestion that, rather than wear her ribbon, she tie it to a signpost near the train station so he could see it upon his return. The tale soon became part of Civil War lore.
The following song spread throughout the North, its words set to an old British drinking song:
Around her neck she wore a yellow ribbon
She wore it in the Springtime and in the month of May.
And if you ask her why the hells he wore it,
She wore it for her soldier who is far, far away.
Far away, far away..
She wore it for her soldier who is far, far away
During the 1991 Gulf War and following 9/11, the yellow ribbon symbol has gained widespread popularity as it sends our service members the message that they are never far from our hearts.
Sincere thanks to the Old Sacramento School House Museum for this information.