Homer drew upon his experience of the war to create his first oil paintings, many of them scenes of camp life that illuminate the physical and psychological plight of ordinary soldiers. He received national acclaim for these early works, both for the strength of his technique and the candor of his subjects.
This picture, exhibited in New York in 1863, was enthusiastically admired and quickly sold. The title refers to the song frequently played by the Union regimental band, a piece that no doubt inspired homesickness and longing in the infantry men who listened to it.
But the title also refers to the soldiers' present "home," shown with all of its domestic details—a small pot on a smoky fire, hard biscuits on a tin plate—that Homer, who did the cooking and washing when he was on the front, knew intimately, and that, with surely intended irony, was
far from "sweet."