My great-grandfather Herbert DeWayne Peckham was barely twenty years old when he enlisted in the Union Army.  His New York battalion was stationed in Washington D.C. in December 1861 and camped on high ground north of the White House, an area still known today as Meridian Hill.  He wrote a letter – which survives – to his wife Harriet  living in Allegany County, New York describing his time in the capital.  He listed the historical displays he had seen at the Patent Office Building (then a forerunner to the Smithsonian, today the home of the National Portrait Gallery and Museum of American Art.)  Herbert played the coronet and was assigned to a military band, hence the echoes of brass in the middle of the song playing “Tenting On The Old Campground” (1863).  The melody of “Meridian Hill” was borrowed from a military march of the Civil War era called “Colonel Meeker’s Quickstep.”  I’d like to think this march was in my great-grandfather’s repertoire.

© 2002 Steven E. Cutts

recorded February and March 2004 at Bias Studios (recorded and mixed by Jim Robeson)

 on my ONE/THIRD album

  • Steve,  acoustic guitar, vocal
  • Jesse Fox, snare drum
  • Charlie Pilzer, bass
  • Ron Stewart, banjo, fiddle
  • Scott Wood, trumpet, euphonium  


Sunday morning’s reappearance finds me on Meridian Hill;

Hardly different from the next day except there’s no battalion drill.

Life in camp here as a soldier is so different from back home

With its duties and its vices that I swear I’ve never known.


I don’t know if it’s uncommon but December’s been so warm,

And since we’ve arrived in Washington, we have not had a storm.


Every night I dream I’m with you back in Alleghany still,

But at dawn I wake to find I’m tenting on Meridian Hill.



When we were done with chores, given leave I went yesterday

And saw more than I ever can describe at the Patent Office on display.

From the camp of General Washington

Was equipment every soldier knows:

The teapot, cups, and forks and knives and spoons

That he used now eighty years ago.

And Andrew Jackson’s coat and vest and pants

That he wore down in New Orleans

Along with gifts from all around the world

From viceroys, emperors, kings, and queens.



I must close now, my dear Harriet; I will write again this week;

Promise me that you will answer so your words can ease my sleep.


How I wish that I were with you and that these were peaceful times –

Better than one thousand letters each one of a thousand lines.


Every night I dream I’m with you back in Alleghany still,

But at dawn I wake to find I’m tenting on Meridian Hill.