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The Importance of Music During the Civil War

Discussion in 'History & Genealogy' started by Tolkien R.R.J, May 14, 2019.

  1. Tolkien R.R.J

    Tolkien R.R.J Well-Known Member

    United States
    "Music was everywhere..the war catapulted music to a new level"
    -Christian McWhirter Battle Hymns: The Power and Popularity of Music in the Civil War

    "Gentlemen if we'de had your songs we'd whipped you out of your boots"
    -Confederate officer to Yankees at the end of the war quoted in the music maker The Untold Civil War National Geographic

    In 1850's America Musical instruments were becoming common among Americans and changes in society such as trains were bringing music from distant parts of the country throughout America. The 1850's-60's was Americas first musical boom. Music was at every kind of event of the time period. People would randomly sing in groups in outdoor meetings and rallies. Music was used to raise money, or to entertain. Music fast became "The most profitable printed medium in America." Musical schools and concerts became widely popular. During the civil war music exploded in America with over 2,000 songs created during the civil war, more than any other period in American history. By the end of the war more music had been created, played, and sung than during all our other wars combined, And “More of the music of the era has endured than from any other period in our history." The civil war was called by author Christian Mcwhirter "The first war fought to music" and Kenneth Bernard referred to the civil war as a "musical war." The civil war produced "The first American folk music with discernible features that can be considered unique to America."

    Music in civilian life during the war

    Music was coming into its own on the home front. The past few decades had brought music central to the daily life of a civilian, the war only increased it's popularity and power. It was normal for family's to gather after dinner and together sing songs bringing the family closer. Outdoor gatherings of people singing at random were not uncommon. Singing at political rallies was a common event. Music played a central role in the political war between Lincoln and McClellan in the 1864 elections. In cities during the war music was everywhere at all times. One Northerner said “War songs were part of everyone's meat and drink.” Civilians sang farewell song to the solders at each town they passed and the soldiers would return the favor. Music helped shape the political opinion on the home front. Northern abolitionist used the war as a opportunity to make the war about slavery and to persuade public opinion of their cause with songs such as “John browns body” and “We wait beneath the furnace blast.” Music played a vital role in the perception of the war for civilians. Every victory or defeat was transferred though music.

    Musical wars on the home front

    Musical battles often occurred between southern woman and northern occupants. In a act of defiance against the occupants, southern woman would sing from open windows pro south songs and the soldiers would reply with pro north songs. Union soldiers often played pro north music as they entered a southern town. A usual custom of the day would be for a group to gather outside of someones house to sing songs to the owners, who would call out requests. Because of this custom often northern bands would enjoy when they could play for a southern lady pro north patriotic songs. The lady due to custom and politeness would often have to endure listing to pro north songs. The union men enjoyed this very much as they knew on the inside she hated every tune they played. In occupied New Orleans this musical war hit its height. When first occupied, southerners would sing The Bonnie Blue Flag anytime and everywhere union soldiers walked by. It became so disruptive that general Butler started fining citizens for singing. He throw some in jail and imprisoned music publishers and distributors in New Orleans.

    Slaves and music

    Music was central to the life of a slave. During work the slaves often sang the entire time to pass the day. Observers noticed how slaves seems to sing not matter when, where, or what they were doing. Slaves often sang spiritual and Biblical songs centered around Moses and the Exodus. Slaves that favored the south would sing the bonnie blue flag to union soldiers as they passed by or hang Abe Lincoln by the sour apple tree. All music but especially black spirituals drastically declined with the end of the war and freedom. Many both north and south regretted, not that slavery was over, but the loss of a unique theme of music that died with the end of the war.

    Music in a soldiers life

    I don’t believe we can have an army without music.”
    -Robert E Lee

    There was always music”
    -Burke Davis Jeb Stuart the Last Cavalier Burford Books 1957

    Camp Life

    We have music for everything, music telling us when to get up, music telling us when to go to bed, when to get breakfast, when to eat dinner, when to clean the streets, when to drill, when to stop drilling, when to go to church on the Sabbath, and when to come back”
    -NewYork officer in a letter to his father

    We almost forgot that we were soldiers, in our admiration of the music”
    -A Rhode Island solider

    A solders life was almost entirely structured by music, During a soldiers life military announcements, events, drills, wake up, report to roll call, sick call, signal lights out, and meals were all centered around music. A New Hampshire Sargent said “Much of the genuine romance of camp life was associated with the routine calls.” In part solders joined the army because of music. Military bands played at recruitment rallies and patriotic songs were a great incentive to inspire soldiers to enlist. In camp life music provided a out for soldiers from the horrors of battle, It helped them cope with homesickness, loss of friends, defeats, and the boredom and repetitiveness of camp life. It also helped them celebrate their cause, victories, generals, build relationships, and in the case of the south form a country identity. It helped them remember times past while at home and simply entertained. “Enlisted men wrote, learned, and performed songs to entertain themselves. Soldiers sang on almost any occasion.” Many solders brought from home their musical instruments and would perform favorite tunes. Popular among them were fiddles, banjos and guitars. In the south due to lack of brass and industry to create the instruments often heavily favored these instruments. Some soldiers would use anything avalibel such as pots and pans to create music. “Civil war solders were highly musical.” With no recorded music, often Multiple versions of a song would go around, each solider or author adapting the lyrics to their own liking. Performers and audience would all play a role in a songs lyrics as it went through multiple versions. A union officer said “What would an army be without music...I dont believe men could be kept together without it.”

    Music was truly central to all events of a soldiers life. In civil war diaries, letters and memoirs music was often spoken of as a major part of a soldiers life, often quoting songs in letters home. While wounded and in hospitals men often said music was "Better than rations or medicine." Wounded union men who were in a hospital, many having limbs being amputated, cried out “The battle cry of freedom” one man in particular sang the song with a smile on his face, than passed away. Even when punishing deserters, the south would play Yankee doddle.

    Religious music was long dominant before the civil war and only became more so as the conflict progressed”
    -Christian McWhirter Battle Hymns: The Power and Popularity of Music in the Civil War

    Biblical hymns were popular and enjoyed by both sides. A 1st Virginia solider said “Every evening.. for miles around you hear thousands of voices singing hymns.” But popular songs such as “The battle cry of freedom” “Battle hymn of the republic” “John browns body” “Dixie land” or “The Bonnie blue flag were more specific to each side. Neither side followed each others copy write laws and Both sides enjoyed remaking each others popular songs into songs that supported their side. So northerners would enjoy remaking Dixie with new lyrics. The south would remake battle hymn of the republic among others. However with dixie's land it was written in 1859 and was popular all over America, only after it was adopted by the confederacy as the unofficial anthem, did its popularity drop in the north. Early in the war even some union bands played the song.

    Some soldiers enjoyed music more than others. Confederate general Jeb Stuarts was one who did very much enjoy music. Stuart was known to even sing while in battle. Stuart had his own elite band that followed him wherever he went and they played every night concerts for the men. One soldier said “There were songs in the air wherever Stuart went.” an Australian observer said “Stuarts camp is always one of the jolliest: as the general is very found of music and singing”

    On The March

    Music was vital on the march for soldiers. A NY newspaper said “Music is the life and soul of the march.” It could “Make a man who was just about dead, bruce up, throw his chest out, and take the step as if he had received a new lease on life.” A New Hampshire solider said once music the stopped, men dropped all along the road side during a march. Even in 1907 and advanced in age, a group of veterans in Toledo were about to walk in a parade. Than cold rain started to pour down, the men “Showed sighs of wavering and disintegrating” until one member started singing one of the old war songs “It seemed to have a magical effect” and the men marched on in the rain. During marches the men would be highly symbolic and selective of the songs played as well. Union men when marching through Harpers Ferry sang john browns body with “particular zest.” When Lee invaded into Maryland the first time once confederates hit Maryland soil they started to sing “Maryland my Maryland”. Jackson's men worn from a long forced march through the night with no shoes, tattered clothing, poor diet heavy recent causalities and exhaustion, nonetheless arrived to the battlefield cheerfully singing with the band splaying Dixie.

    Such inspiring soul stirring music I never heard as the volume of harmony rolled and thundered through that little valve in the forest. It seemed to put new life into men and animals. We felt ready for anything”
    -William T Prague

    Armies functioned as modern concerts tours passing different communities while singing their favorite songs, this spread music through the country. Songs were previously, generally local- the war united and brought music from far lands. Some song writers performed for armies with the goal to spread the song all over and its popularity.

    "Soldiers became not only musics most enthusiastic customers but its most effective distributors"
    -Christian McWhirter Battle Hymns: The Power and Popularity of Music in the Civil War

    Music in the war

    "All history proves that music is as indispensable to warfare as money; and money has been called the sinews of war. Music is the soul "
    -The New York Herald 1862

    "Music has done its share, and more than its share, in winning this war".
    -Union general
    Phillip Sheridan

    Given the importance of music in the American civil war Both sides regulated that every regiment have its own band. The most important use of music was in battle. In the noise and chaos of battle Drums or fifes were used to communicate orders and troop movements. Cavalry used bugles to sound the different calls in camp and on the march. “The bugler was considered a cavalry regiment's musician.” Cavalrymen became so familiar with their own musician and his bugle calls, that they could often distinguish his calls from that of another regiment. Like the cavalry, artillery units also used bugles in camp and on the battlefield. One could tell who was camped where by the sounds of drums or bugles being played."

    Music was used in battle to boost morale. Future president Rutherford B Hayes said it was “Better than food and clothing to give spirit to men.” Whole songs were sometimes played during battles. At Williamsburg union general Heintzelman line was buckling, so he sent every band he could muster and positioned them behind the lines to play patriotic music and “This inspired new life into all. The men collected and began to cheer... inspired them with fresh vigor to perform new deeds of valor.” At Gettysburg Behind pickets charge bands played The Bonnie blue flag- the federals waiting on the other side played the star spangled banner. The survivors of the disastrous Picketts charge returned under the tune Nearer My God to Thee. At the Battle of Five Forks, Union musicians under orders from Sheridan played Stephen Foster's minstrel song Nelly Bly while being shot at on the front lines. It was said that music was the equivalent of "a thousand men" on one's side.” To rally broken units at Chancellorsville General Jeb Stuart rode up and down the line singing “old Joe Hooker wont you come out of the wilderness” it rallied the men. At Shiloh on day 2 John Cockerill of the 15th infantry said of the music played from the union gunboats “how inspiring that music was...even the poor wounded men lying on the shore seemed to be lifted up, and every solider received an impetus.”

    Star spangled banner sounded sweeter than I had ever herd, and filled my soul with felling I could not decribe or forget”
    -Union solider

    George Root produced more songs during the civil war than any, including songs that boosted northern morale. President Abraham Lincoln said in a letter to Root "You have done more than a hundred generals and a thousand orators” the song the battle cry of freedom was said to “Put as much spirit and cheer into the army as a victory” during siege at Vicksburg. “Soldiers could march faster, endure hardship longer, or fight better if the rights song was played at the right time.” One soldier said “I can fight with ten times the spirit”
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  2. Tolkien R.R.J

    Tolkien R.R.J Well-Known Member

    United States
    Battle of the Bands

    During the war bands would play songs on both sides usually at night or in times of peace. This would result in contest between the two bands and also requests would be yelled across lines when only one band was playing.

    "Musical duels between the two sides were common, as they heard each other as the music traveled across the countryside. The night before the battle of Stones River bands from both sides dueled with separate songs, until both sides started playing Home Swtt Home at which time soldiers on both sides started singing together as one.[A similar situation occurred in Fredricksburg in the winter of 1862–3. On a cold afternoon a Union band started playing Northern patriotic tunes; a Southern band responded by playing Southern patriotic tunes. This back and forth continued into the night, until at the end both sides played Home! Sweet Home!simultaneously, to the cheers of both sides' forces. In a third instance, in the spring of 1863, the opposing armies were on the opposite sides of the Rappahannock in Virginia, when the different sides played their patriotic tunes, and at taps one side played Home! Sweet Home!, and the other joined in, creating "cheers" from both sides that echoed throughout the hilly countryside"

    “The Confederate bands were not idle, for as soon as a Federal band would cease playing, some of the Southern bands would take up the refrain, and as the notes, especially Dixie, would be wafted over the water and hills, the "blue coats" would shout, sing, and dance-hats and caps went up, flags waved in the breeze-so delighted were they at the sight and sound of Dixie. The whole presented more the spectacle of a holiday procession, or a gala day, rather than the prelude to the most sanguinary battle of modern times. Two or three evenings previous to the Federal attempt to cross, I was with General Barksdale, and we were attracted by one or more of the enemy's bands playing at their end of the railroad bridge. A number of their officers and a crowd of their men were about the band cheering their national airs, the "Star Spangled Banner," "Hail Columbia," and others, once so dear to us all. It seemed as if they expected some response from us, but none was given until, finally, they struck up "Dixie," and then both sides cheered, with much laughter."

    A similar incident occurred after the Battle of Fredericksburg but of a much different tone. A Northern band on the east side of the river played a series of patriotic Union songs. After a while, Confederates on the other side shouted over requests for Southern songs. The band obliged, finally ending with "Home Sweet Home". With men crying on both sides. One of the solider said "Only in america,could a song unite a country under these circumstances". At Kennshaw moutain- union soldiers agreed to stop fighting if the confederates allowed a famous Georgia solider to play the cornet for them. At Yorktown a Dixie vs star spangled banner contest was fought. At Chattanooga and the wilderness bands positioned close to enemy lines or ships to annoy. Sometimes led to fire from the other side.

    Uniting America

    During the war music helped unite enemies, after the war it help to unite a country. After the surrender of lee President Lincoln was asked what song the band should play, he said dixie, the tune he had always loved.

    As we had captured the rebel army, we had also captured the rebel tune. That tune is now Federal property...good to show the rebels that, with us in power, they will be free to hear it again."
    -Abraham Lincoln
  3. Gracia Singh

    Gracia Singh Newbie Supporter

    United States
    Yes. I have noticed that many great, classical American Protestant hymns have the distinctive sound of an 1860's battle song. Definitely.
  4. Silverback

    Silverback Well-Known Member

    United States
    I'm sure it was, music is usually a moral booster. Additionally, singing on the march, or while running is a great conditioning tool.
  5. Lavaduder

    Lavaduder New Member

    United States
    INFO DUMP! My personal favorites are Dixie, battle cry of freedom, stonewall jackson's way, TRAMP! TRAMP! TRAMP!, we'll fight for uncle sam, and of course The Battle Hymn of the Republic.