top of page
mountain background only.png

Tune History

Knoxville Old Time logo

The Stories Behind Your Favorite Tunes


Bonaparte Crossing The Rhine

The Most Played Old Time Tune Ever?

Napoleon Bonaparte (1768-1821) was/is a very famous guy - in fact, there is even a new movie about him, released November 22, 2023 . The one time ruler of almost all of Europe has become imbedded in our culture and here are some quotes attributed to Napoleon that you can throw out at your next opportunity. Real estate deals were not his strong point, as he sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States in 1803 for $15 million, or about $340 million in today’s money - the same amount as the asking price of this really nice house currently for sale in Bel Air, California.

One of the best known "Bony" tunes in Old Time circles is Bonaparte Crossing The Rhine. It is so common that it is usually referred to as just "Bonaparte". It is played so often that it now generates parody titles, such as “Bonaparte Crossing The Street” and “Bonaparte Mowing The Lawn”. Still, you are expected to know this tune.

Here is more history from the Traditional Tune Archive.

Countless tunes and songs have been written about Napoleon (originally spelled Buonoparte, by the way). The Caledonian March was taken from this melody in the early 1800’s, and is a clear predecessor to today's version. 

More imortantly for Old Time music, he was always crossing or returning from some geographical point or another. Old Time music benefits from several “Bony'' tunes.

The Session says there are 23 names for this melody. How many can you name? Check yourself against this list from The Fiddler’s Companion

Bonaparte Crossing The Alps

Bonaparte Crossing The Rocky Mountains

Bonaparte In A Knapsack

Bonaparte In The Mexican Restaurant

Bonaparte's Advance

Bonaparte’s Charge

Bonaparte's Defeat

Bonapart(e)'s Expedition

Bonaparte’s Grand March

Bonaparte's March (5 Different Versions)

Bonaparte's March Into Russia

Bonaparte’s Petit Dance

Bonaparte's Retreat (6 Versions)

Bonaparte's Return

Bonaparte’s Return From Moscow

Too easy? How about these: Battle Call Of The Fianna, The Battle Of Waterloo, Bonnie’s, Cead Suí Do Mhag Uidhir, Fare Thee Well Sweet Killaloe, Hot Asphalt, Johnny Get Up, Let Mr. Maguire Sit Down, Listowell, Mick Maguire, Mr. Maguire, The Old Cuckoo, Rohallion, Shermans March, The Star Of Columbia, and Sweet Killaloe.

The earlier estimate of 23 names for this tune seems to be a little short.

The melody itself seems to be “of great antiquity” and has its origins in the British Isles- well before Napoleon was seen crossing the Rhine with a knapsack to get to a Mexican restaurant, then crossing both the Rocky Mountains and the Alps while returning from Moscow - only to advance, retreat, charge, then ultimately - be defeated.

Spencer and Rains The Caledonian March

Bonaparte Crossing The Rhine

The Fuzzy Mountain String Band (1972)

Bonaparte Crossing The RhineThe Dry Branch Fire Squad
00:00 / 02:19
bottom of page