“Scotland’s Burning” is one of our favorite rounds this year. I went looking for some history to the song, and I came across this letter by “B. Jones” (3rd Virginia Infantry), written during the American Civil War in 1863:

But let me tell you of a little incident that has really taken place in our camp lately–one of the little comedies, not altogether innocent, but wholly harmless, that are occasionally happening and which serve as safety-valves to let off the superfluous steam engendered by the life of confinement and idleness in camp.
One of the songs that were being sung quite frequently, almost nightly in fact, by our religious choir was that somewhat eccentric refrain:“Scotland’s burning! Scotland’s burning!
Cast on water! Cast on water!”

and so some of the prankish set among our boys conceived the idea of turning a little joke on the men in Sergeant Ponds tent. As a few of the tents had been fixed up with rude dirt chimneys for fireplaces, and Sergeant Ponds was one of these, it gave the boys a fine chance to play their game. And so one night, one of the smallest among the men, with a bucket of water in hand, was lifted up by a big, strong fellow to the top of the little stick chimney. And just as the choir rang out the alarm,
“Scotland’s burning!
Cast on water!”

the little fellow on the chimney cast his bucket of water down upon the fire inside, which deluged the whole fireplace, put out the fire, and scattered the embers in every direction. Of course, too, it put a sudden stop to the song, and sent the men quickly out of the tent after the offenders. But not in time to discover who they were. Before they were fairly out of the tent, the boys had gained their own bunks, and were enjoying the fun at a distance. The choir soon saw the joke, and, as they could do no more, submitted quietly. But it is presumed that nothing more will be heard of “Scotland’s burning” for some time. …


[ found at: www.civilwarhome.com | cited source: The Blue and The Gray by Henry Steele Commanger ]