SHORTLY AFTER THE ELECTION to the presidency of Republican Abraham Lincoln in 1860, South Carolina's legislature convened and unanimously adopted the "Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union." It reads,

  A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man … hostile to slavery. … [The Republican Party] has announced that…a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States. The guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.  

Following the Declaration, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas joined South Carolina in seceding from the United States. They formed a new union—the Confederate States of America—in February 1861 and were later joined by Virginia. War broke out between the North and South on April 12 when the Confederacy attacked Fort Sumter, located on an island outside of Charleston, South Carolina. The American Civil War raged for the next four years.

By the time the South surrendered in the village of Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865, the war had devastated communities, claimed the lives of over 600,000 soldiers (some estimates exceed 800,000), and left an additional 1 million wounded. The destruction and bloodshed were unlike any prior conflict on American soil. The war's impacts touched every American and all industries. Musicologist James A. Davis emphasizes that the influence on the arts was unprecedented in the United States:

  The Civil War provided unprecedented creative impetus to all cultural commodities in the United States. From the righteously defended principles that precipitated the war to repeated feats of bravery by common soldiers, the means and motivations of this conflict offered an inexhaustible source of topics, events, and noteworthy individuals for artistic inspiration. The inconceivable death toll was by itself enough to traumatize the nation as a whole and to instigate a communal reorientation toward the proper honoring of the dead, a prickly process during and after the war in which the arts played a substantial role. (The Arts and Culture of the American Civil War, p. 2)  

The Civil War was the second war (following the Crimean War) to be photographed, and the first in which photographers captured images of the dead and wounded on battlefields. The images produced by photographers Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, and others were exhibited in the North and reproduced in periodicals such as Harper's Weekly, bringing the war into American's homes. As musicologist Richard Leppert notes, "The cultural discourse that developed from the new medium of photography helped to establish the cultural foundation for songs of grief, lamentation, and remembrance produced in quite astounding numbers throughout the war years and on both sides of the conflict" (p. 27).

According to Charles Hamm, "When the Civil War broke out in 1861 the American sheet-music industry was ready, artistically and technologically, to capitalize on it" (Hamm, Civil War Songbook, p. vi). Indeed, the American music industry had matured. During the antebellum period America's expanding manufacturing capacity had assured a steady supply of mass-produced pianos and a growing middle class with enough disposable income to acquire instruments and sheet music for their parlors. By the time of the war, the sheet music industry was capable of producing and disseminating thousands of songs that helped Americans grapple with the effects of the war while also lining the pockets of publishers and songwriters.

Since most publishers were in the North, upward of 10,000 war-related songs were published there, while only around 900 were issued in the South. Families waiting and laboring at home sang these songs to console their losses and boost morale during long years of deprivation. Parlors were filled with patriotic songs, recruitment songs, songs about politicians and military leaders, songs for or against enslavement, songs in the minstrel style mocking African Americans, emancipation songs, and more. One interesting subset of war music was the "battle piece," most often a solo piece for piano that musically mimicked the sounds of war to commemorate important victories or lament significant defeats.

Although northern and southern politicians and officers at the time were exclusively white, the Civil War was not fought by whites alone. Early in the war, many free Blacks and escaped slaves joined the Union Army. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which enabled the freeing of the slaves in Union-occupied rebel territories beginning in 1863, contained a clause allowing for the conscription of Black soldiers, leading to an increase in the number of African American units that participated in major battles in the war. Many others served in elected office or in political appointments during Reconstruction.

By the end of the conflict African Americans comprised about ten percent of the Union army, and these soldiers went on to play a significant part in American life, particularly in the West, where the "Buffalo soldiers," as they came to be called, defended settlers after the Civil War's conclusion.

Songs were not only important to those who remained at home but also for soldiers in camp, on the march, and in battle. Soldiers on both sides of the conflict sang to rally their courage when heading into battle and to endure long stretches of boredom and homesickness between those intense episodes of terror. Every regiment had a band. Bands and the drum corps played music to keep marches moving along, and their buglers sounded reveille, taps, and battle orders. Bands also played music for entertainment and to arouse patriotic feelings, provide soldiers with a sense that their cause was noble, and mediate between different communities by helping to bridge the divides between soldiers and civilians and even between North and South. Indeed, northerners and southerners intermingled at social events such as balls, especially during winter encampment.

Salem Brass BandSince regiments were segregated, there were both white bands and Black bands. Some were better than others, but all played a vital role in soldiers' lives. Among the more renowned bands were the regiments that came from regions inhabited by Moravians, who brought a rich musical tradition from Europe to their communities in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Salem, North Carolina. The Salem Brass Band became the company band of the 26th North Carolina Regiment, one of the most renowned bands of the Civil War era.

Native American tribes were affected by the war in differing ways. While individual Native Americans fought on both sides, the Cherokee Nation of the Oklahoma Indian Territory was bitterly divided over whether to establish a formal allegiance with the North or South. They briefly entered into an alliance with the Confederacy, although it was later rescinded. The war forced many Americans westward, where settlers, defended by the US military, often clashed with Native Americans. On November 29, 1864, colonel John Chivington led his militia in the slaughter of about 700 Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians, an event now known as the Sand Creek Massacre. Two years later Crazy Horse led his Sioux warriors in the Fetterman Massacre, in which the warriors killed more than eighty soldiers in Captain William J. Fetterman's company, which was positioned to defend settlers on the controversial Bozeman Trail.

Each side in the Civil War believed it was fighting for freedom and good and expressed unabashed patriotism with religious fervor. Given such strong feelings, it was natural that music, a medium well suited for expressing emotions and establishing or reinforcing individual and communal identity, played an important role in helping people cope with the four-year ordeal. The war divided families, sometimes pitting brother against brother, and strained or fractured established communities. Music helped people negotiate social realignments and provided many with a sense of community in a war-torn age.

Music was also present during Reconstruction after the war to encourage reconciliation and aid in the reshaping of society. For many, music provided a welcome diversion in these years. But for many others, it was central to defining a new, postwar identity.

Before the war, one song more than any other contributed to the escalation of tensions between sides. When abolitionist John Brown was hanged for raiding the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry to steal arms for a slave revolt in 1859, his willingness to sacrifice his life shocked many Northern citizens into adopting an antislavery position. People all over the North began singing "John Brown's Body" as a tribute and rallying cry. Southerners were stunned that Northerners would make a martyr out of an outlaw. The song became a symbol of what had become an irreconcilable rift between the two regions.

After the war began many songs became strictly identified with one side or the other, revealing the wide divergence between the two sides. "Marching Through Georgia" celebrated the "jubilee" of releasing slaves and prisoners of war on General William Tecumseh Sherman's victorious march through Atlanta to the Georgia coast. For decades after the war, Southerners despised the song, which to them celebrated looting, pillaging, and destruction of their land.

Most songwriters and publishers were in the North, so the South did not have the same capacity for promptly issuing new marching and rallying songs. However, the South quickly appropriated "Dixie's Land (Dixie)," written in New York for the pre-war minstrel stage, as its own. In fact it was played as a southern anthem as early as February 1861 at the inauguration of Jefferson Davis. Soon after the war broke out, entertainer Harry McCarthy put new words to a traditional Irish tune to create "The Bonnie Blue Flag," which quickly swept through the South and became its unofficial national anthem.

Favorite songs among Confederate troops included nonmilitary ballads such as "Lorena" and "Aura Lee." "Aura Lee" was the bestselling of all the sheet music released by music publishers that sprang up in the South during the war. It remained popular for over a century. Elvis Presley revived the tune as "Love Me Tender" in the 1950s.

Both sides claimed to be fighting for freedom, which allowed many of the songs of the war to be sung by northerners and southerners alike. "The Battle Cry of Freedom" needed just a few adaptations to serve Confederate troops as well as it served its original purpose as a rallying and recruiting song for the Union. Partisan songs, including "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Dixie's Land," became the object of parodies, allowing the opposite sides to benefit from the rousing tunes without having to believe in the lyrics. Still, a southern major who listened to a northern officer sing some of the North's songs after the war admitted, "Gentlemen, if we'd had your songs, we'd have licked you out of your boots" (Ward, p. 104).

"Dixie's Land" became one of the first spoils of war to be reappropriated by the Union. After the South's surrender, President Lincoln, in good humor, informally addressed the crowd gathered around the White House:

  I have always thought "Dixie" one of the best tunes I ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted … that we fairly captured it. I presented the question to the Attorney General and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is our lawful prize. I now request the band to favor me with its performance. (Ward, pp. 382–83)  

Music played an important role in military recruitment, especially prior to the draft. One of the most enduring Union recruitment songs is George F. Root's "The Battle Cry of Freedom." Root was living in Chicago on July 2, 1862, when Lincoln called for 300,000 men to volunteer for the Union Army. The brothers Jules G. and Frank Lumbard, popular musicians in the Midwest, asked him to write a recruitment song in response to Lincoln's call. Root quickly obliged so they could perform the song at a rally on July 26. According to historian Christian McWhirter, the song became an unofficial anthem for the North. Beginning with their July 26 performance, the Lumbards performed it regularly, perhaps most notably on a series of concerts for Ulysses S. Grant's troops during the Vicksburg campaign in the summer of 1863. It was also popularized on concert tours by the Hutchinsons and the concert pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk (for more on the Hutchinsons, see Unit 3). By war's end, it sold as many as 750,000 copies of sheet music.

Another response to Lincoln's call of July 2 was James Sloane Gibbons's poem "We Are Coming Father Abra'am." After being set to music by Luther O. Emerson, Stephen Foster, and others, two million copies of the various versions of the song were sold.

A northern recruit felt the civilian pressure to volunteer, writing in his diary, "If a fellow wants to go with a girl now he had better enlist. The girls sing 'I am Bound to be a Soldier's Wife or Die an Old Maid'" (Sutherland, p. 3). Southern belles sang the similar "Song of the Southern Volunteers."

At the beginning of the war the armies of both the North and the South consisted only of volunteers, but as both sides experienced heavy losses and as it became clear the war would not reach a quick end, both armies instated drafts for the first time in American history. The Confederates were first. In 1862 they required all able-bodied men between eighteen and thirty-five years of age to serve three years. In 1864 the law was extended to draft men ages seventeen to fifty. The Union began to draft white men between twenty and forty-five in 1863.

The drafts were controversial. In the North a draftee could buy a substitute for $300. The Confederacy exempted those who owned twenty or more slaves and allowed wealthy men to hire a replacement. A saying in the South went that it was a "rich man's war, poor man's fight." In a war in which about one in four soldiers were killed, passions were especially high about exemptions. Songs were written in both the North and South to protest conscription. In "How Are You Exempt?" northern songwriter Frank Wilder questioned exemptions granted for fraudulent medical conditions. "When This Cruel Draft Is Over" took the tune of one of the most famous songs against the war from the era—"When This Cruel War Is Over"—and transformed it into a protest of the North's conscription practices. In the South, songs such as "The Valiant Conscript" and "The Conscript's Lament" voiced similar concerns.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee once stated, "I don't believe we can have an army without music." Indeed music was an integral part of every soldier's life, just as it had been back home before the war. Historian Daniel Sutherland explains,

  Music proved to be the single most important means of warding off homesickness, buoying spirits, combating boredom, and relieving the weariness of a campaign. Soldiers whistled and sang while performing mindless chores around the camp. They joined in rollicking—sometimes ribald—route step choruses as they tramped through the countryside. (Sutherland, pp. 13–14)  

Music publishers printed thousands of pocket-sized lyric books, called songsters, so soldiers and sailors could carry lyrics to the most popular songs of the day. Sing-alongs around evening campfires were accompanied by harmonica, banjo, guitar, and fiddle, and occasionally dancing. Military leaders used music as a morale booster. In September 1862 Lee ordered the Confederate troops to sing "Maryland, My Maryland" while marching through the border state to incite citizens to rise up against the Union. Most people, however, could not hear the "serenade" as they huddled fearfully behind closed doors (Ward, p. 151).

The sound of soldiers singing and marching was also a source of artistic inspiration for civilians. On a trip to Washington in 1861, abolitionist Julia Ward Howe heard soldiers marching through the streets and singing "John Brown's Body." She later recalled, "As I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind" (Ward, p. 104). She got up and wrote "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" to the tune of "John Brown's Body."

Singing hymns was an important expression of faith in both armies, and favorites included "Rock of Ages" and "Amazing Grace" (see VAT Unit 3). Religious songs were especially popular among the Union Army's former slaves, who believed they were fighting a holy war to free their race. According to historian Daniel E. Sutherland,

  Many former slaves … shared the feelings of a Louisiana recruit who insisted, "'Fore I would be a slave 'gain, I would fight till de last drop of blood was gone. I has 'cluded to fight for my liberty." Consequently, fervent prayer meetings and hymn sings became routine parts of Negro camp life. The black soldier's favorite hymns, including "What Makes Old Satan Follow Me So," "Hold Your Light On Canaan's Shore," and "Wrestling Jacob," expressed his determination to fight for his people." (Sutherland, p. 18)  

Non-political songs about experiences common to everyone in the war were adopted by both sides and sung beside campfires and home-fires alike. Songs such as "All Quiet Along the Potomac" and "Tenting Tonight" refer to places or activities involved in the war but make no explicit reference to the war or political sides. Both sides used humor to lighten the load of four years away from families, accompanied by hunger, disease, and violence. The time-honored soldier's aversion to military fare was immortalized in several songs. P. Nutt, Esq. is alleged to have composed the classic Confederate "Goober Peas," an ode to peanuts, which saw many Georgians through lean times during the war. Union soldiers parodied Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More" (see VAT Unit 3) as "Hard Crackers Come Again No More" to express their desire never again to eat hard tack, the staple served at every meal, even if moldy or infested.

Just as songs were important in soldiers' personal lives, music was also an important component of reconnaissance and tactical deception. Following victories at Fort Henry in Kentucky and Fort Donelson in Tennessee, troops led by General Ulysses S. Grant pushed deeper into the South and took respite at a church named Shiloh, where they were besieged by Confederate soldiers. After enduring great losses in the first day of the Battle of Shiloh, reinforcements helped Grant push back the enemy, which retreated to Corinth, Mississippi. Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard decided to withdraw from the region. While evacuating his troops he ordered musicians to perform from many different locations to deceive the Union soldiers into thinking that his forces were larger and stronger than they were. The ruse worked long enough to dissuade Union forces from attacking, allowing Beauregard's soldiers to escape (Davis, "Musical Reconnaissance," pp. 7981).

Beauregard was not the only general aware that music could give away troops' locations. For this reason silence was often demanded. Ahead of the Battle of Resaca, for example, Sherman commanded that music and other noisy activities be discontinued (Davis, "Musical Reconnaissance," p. 88).

While music was sometimes forbidden for tactical purposes, at other times it was forbidden because of its power to induce homesickness."Weeping, Sad, and Lonely; or When this Cruel War is Over" was thought to be so morale-sapping that several generals prohibited their troops from singing the song. Generals banned other songs for political reasons. For example, General Ben Butler banned unofficial Confederate national anthem "The Bonnie Blue Flag" in occupied New Orleans by arresting its publisher and issuing a fine of $25 to anyone who sang it.

The "brother-against-brother" irony of a divided nation created some remarkable musical experiences. Time and again stories were told of opposing regimental bands "dueling" across the lines, taking turns playing patriotic songs, and ending the unusual concert by playing together a mutual favorite such as "Home Sweet Home." Troops from both sides would join voices in the night to sing favorite ballads and sentimental songs around their respective campfires. They would then slaughter each other on the battlefield the next day.

Whereas printers aimed many songsters at soldiers and sailors, the target audience for sheet music was civilians who would perform the music in their parlors. Many of these songs did not address the war directly, but expressed the range of common emotions civilians experienced during wartime. Songs such as "Somebody's Darling" deal with the general issue of separation from loved ones. Some songs written before the war, such as "Hard Times Come Again No More" see (VAT Unit 3) and "Home Sweet Home," took on new meanings in the context of the war.

Just as he succeeded as a composer of rousing, patriotic songs, George F. Root also excelled as a writer of sentimental ballads. "Just Before the Battle, Mother" is from the point of view of a soldier who thinks of his family at home as he and his comrades prepare for battle, knowing that he might never see his loved ones again. As Leppert writes,

  The staying power of … Root['s] ballads develops from the affective pull of heartfelt lyrics evoking intimate human relationships in the face of absence and loss, and hence of endless longing, combined with simple folklike, diatonic melodies simply harmonized. Further, the appealing sincerity of the whole—seemingly guileless—depends on the twin combination of textual narrative and musical evocation bearing a distinct similarity to the genre of lullaby, thus invoking the tightest of all human bonds, that between the mother and child (p. 42).  

Jeff in Petticoats coverThe war introduced civilians to an entirely new vocabulary of military and political terms. Henry Clay Work wrote "Grafted into the Army" from the viewpoint of the mother of a draftee lamenting her young son's "grafting," despite the fact that he was barely as tall as a general's "forequarters." Both sides engaged in bitter political satires. For example, the farcical musical play King Linkum the First, by John Hill Hewitt, protested what many in the South viewed as Yankee imperialism in denying states' rights. Likewise, the song "Jeff in Petticoats" mocked Confederate president Jefferson Davis, who tried to avoid capture at the end of the war by fleeing in his wife's clothes.

African Americans had their own oral traditions of music that sustained them from enslavement through emancipation. Their songs featured syncopated rhythms and call-and-response patterns, two musical practices common in West African musical traditions, a similarity that suggests that these conventions survived the slave trade's transatlantic journey. Some minstrel songs made use of these musical features, but they had not yet entered the mainstream of American popular music as they would at the end of the nineteenth century. Many slave songs known as spirituals survived the period of enslavement and became a beloved part of American music. These songs include "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore," (see VAT Unit 2) "Jericho," "Jacob's Ladder," and many others.

Many spirituals express a longing for release from the harsh realities of earthly life, but many also served practical, earthly purposes. "Steal Away," for example, signaled a secret slave meeting or escape attempt. By the 1850s the Underground Railroad was in full swing and some songs have been said to contain encoded directions for escaping slaves on the run. "Follow the Drinking Gourd" (see VAT Unit 6) supposedly refers to the Big Dipper, which points to the North Star, as a guide to freedom, and other lyrics in the song indicate which rivers to cross or follow "to carry you to freedom." "Go Down Moses" (see VAT Unit 3) was a secret tribute to escaped slave Harriet Tubman (nicknamed "Moses"), who made trip after trip into the South to organize groups of slaves and lead them North to freedom.

The Emancipation Proclamation—the "Jubilee" celebrated in so many songs—officially took effect on January 1, 1863, but it became a reality only gradually as Union soldiers advanced through the South. Freed slaves who joined the Northern army would march into battle singing "No More Auction Block For Me," "Free At Last," and similar songs.

Enslaved people composed songs communally. In 1862 abolitionist James Miller McKim gave an address in Philadelphia about his encounters with slave music. He said,

  I asked one of these blacks … where they got these songs. "Dey make 'em, sah!" "How do they make them?" … "I'll tell you, it's dis way. My master call me up, and order me a short peck of corn and a hundred lash. My friends see it, and is sorry for me. When dey come to de praise-meeting dat night dey sing about it. Some's very good singers and know how; and dey work it in—work it in, you know, till they get it right; and dat's de way!" (Slave Songs, p. 173).  

McKim's address speaks to the growing interest among abolitionists in the humanity of enslaved people. Indeed, music was an important tool that abolitionists used to build support for their movement. Three abolitionists from the North, William Francis Allen, Charles Pickard Ware, and Lucy McKim Garrison, traveled throughout slave states collecting slave songs, which they wrote and lectured about and published in the monumental 1867 collection Slave Songs of the United States.

In addition to Slave Songs and similar publications, spirituals were popularized by performing groups such as the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The group was founded in 1871 to give concerts to raise money for Fisk College in Nashville, where all the members were students. Under the direction of white directors, they sang arrangements of traditional Black spirituals to audiences throughout the North and Europe. Other groups soon imitated them by forming Black choirs and minstrel groups.

With the exception of a few folk tunes such as "Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye" and "I'm a Good Old Rebel," in which a Confederate veteran pledges never to be reconstructed, the vast majority of postwar music did not reflect the pain of the Reconstruction Period. After the outpouring of expressive music during the war, the lack of music about a devastated southern landscape and economy, newly freed African Americans struggling to scratch out a living as sharecroppers, or disabled veterans trying to start over again is telling. Escapism was the order of the day. New sheet music tended toward novelty songs, such as "The Man on the Flying Trapeze" and sentimental ballads, such as "Grandfather's Clock" and "Silver Threads Among the Gold."

Granfather's Clock by Henry Clay WorkDespite emancipation and a costly, brutal war to make it reality, the image of African Americans in popular theater and sheet music was not liberated in the least. The postwar minstrel stage featured caricatures of Blacks more unflattering than ever, but now they were often played by Black performers as well as whites in blackface. Strangely enough, songs of nostalgia for the old South were written not only by southerners but also by northern Republicans—"The Old Home Ain't What It Used To Be" by Charles White—or by Blacks—"Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," by James Bland (see VAT Unit 5), the first commercially successful Black American songwriter.

Although new popular music went on to explore other topics during Reconstruction, Civil War songs retained their popularity for generations. In 1905 the Chapple Publishing Company asked Americans to nominate their favorite songs for Heart Songs, a songbook of tunes "dear to the American people." They received 20,000 responses, and one-quarter of the songs published in the 1909 collection originated nearly a half century before during the brief four-year span of the Civil War.

 

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