"Beautiful Dreamer," Stephen Foster’s last song, was published posthumously a hundred and fifty years ago this month. On March 4, 1864, the Confederacy adopted the Stars and Bars as its official flag, and Sherman began planning his March to the Sea. Foster had died two months earlier, on January 13th, in New York City. Penniless, sick, and alone, having sold even the clothes off his back for liquor, he fell while shaving in a flophouse on the Bowery, gouged his head, and died days later, in Bellevue Hospital. He was thirty-eight years old.
His songs, wildly popular in the antebellum U.S., and, remarkably, wildly popular still, gave us some of the most powerful iconography of the South.