"While shot and shell were screaming Across the battlefield, The boys in blue were fighting, Their noble flag to shield." The flag falls. A boy volunteers and rescues the flag; he dies asking that someone "break the news to mother"
Charles K Harris wrote "The Brave Fireman" in 1891. He rewrote it as "Break the News to Mother" in 1897.
Brett Page in "Writing for Vaudeville" quotes Harris: "When Gillette's war plays, 'Held by the Enemy' and 'Secret Service' caught the national eye, I caught the national ear with 'Just Break the News to Mother.'"
Realist playwright Gillette's "Held by the Enemy" was a hit in 1886; "Secret Service" opened in New York October 5, 1896 and ran for a year. Both are set in the Civil War.
Harris wrote "Just Break the News to Mother" in 1897 and it became a big hit the following year with the outbreak of the Spanish-American War.
It became a hit again in 1917 when the World War I field uniform was no longer blue; in fact, blue uniforms were being phased out by 1898.
Harris's text can be found on the Mudcat Cafe site - BS