The Vacant Chair

words by Henry Washburn, music by George F. Root - 1861

The Vacant Chair was written to commemorate the death of John William Grout, an 18-year-old second lieutenant of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry who was killed in the Battle of Ball's Bluff. This is also the only battle in history in which a sitting U.S. Senator, Edward Dickinson Baker, was killed. The battle, which was really a disaster of miscommunication and inexperience, occurred on October 21, 1861. Grout's body was found on November 5th, having floated down the Potomac nearly 35 miles to Washington. It was a sad Thanksgiving that year for Grout's family, and Henry S. Washburn wrote this poem to commemorate the day. George F. Root wrote the most popular setting of the poem, and the song became a huge favorite at home and with the troops, both North and South.

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