“I'll Be There, Mary Dear”

Author: Words: Andrew Sterling / Music: Harry von Tilzer (1872-1946)
Earliest date: 1902 (sheet music)
Keywords: soldier death separation return grief love promise army war
Found in: US


A soldier bids farewell to his sweetheart, giving her a golden leaf to remember him by. He loses an arm in battle, but friends tell him him one arm is enough to hold her. When he returns home, however, he finds her dead and buried; he is heartbroken


The similarity to "The Girl I Left in Sunny Tennessee" is obvious, but the words and tune are different, and there are plot elements here that aren't in that song, so I separate them. Meanwhile, I'd give long odds this dates from just after the Civil War. - PJS

It's easy to see why Paul thinks so (I would have guessed the same thing had I not seen a recent article by Lyle Lofgren about the piece), but in fact this -- like "The Girl I Left in Sunny Tennessee" -- dates from soon after the Spanish-American War. (Lofgren points out that there is a reference to the soldier taking a "transport" back home, strengthening the ties to 1898.) Presumably the latter war re-inspired this sort of tear-jerker, even though the casualties were less than in the Civil War. Mostly because the war was shorter; the troops were often as ill-clothed, ill-fed, and ill-cared-for as they had been a third of a century earlier. - RBW



  1. Rorrer, p. 84, "Goodbye Mary Dear" (1 text)
  2. Roud #12394
  3. BI, RcGoMaDe