Henry Clay Work was born in Middletown, Connecticut on October 1, 1832 the son of an abolitionist. Like his father, Work too was also an active abolitionist and Union supporter. His home became a stop on the underground railway, and was instrumental in the escape of several thousand slaves seeking freedom.
Clay, a self-taught musician, was trained as a printer and began a career setting musical type. In 1853, working as a printer in Chicago, his first song was published, We Are Coming, Sister Mary. The song would become a staple in the Christy Minstrels over the next 10 years. In 1857, Work met and married Sarah Parker and the couple had four children, Waldo, Willie, Ellen and Clara.
During the Civil War, Work composed several popular songs including Kingdom Coming!, Grafted Into the Army, Babylon is Fallen, Brave Boys Are They, Little Major, The Song of a Thousand Years, God Save the Nation, Wake Nicodemus, Marching Through Georgia (later adopted as Princeton Universitys football fight song), Come Home Father, The Lost Letter and The Ship That Never Returned.
Works nephew wrote in the biography of his uncle, Songs of Henry Clay Work: Know the songs of a country, and you will know its history for the true feeling of a people speaks through what they sing. During a period of great stress,the popular songs of the day invariably give the most accurate expression of the popular mind. What the people of the North thought and felt before and during the Civil War is clearly mirrored by the song writers of the period, among whom the name of Henry…