Friday, July 2, 2021

Blogging Through the Alphabet: M is for Music

Blogging Through the Alphabet: M is for Music floral background with A Mom's Quest to Teach logo

Music plays an important role in history and how we study the past. We can learn much from listening to the music of different time periods, examining the music that was considered popular, and studying the instruments that were popular. The time period of the American Civil War is no different. There were songs that were primarily sung by Union soldiers and ones sung by Confederate soldiers. There were songs that helped inspire the population as well as those that provided comfort for those back home.

To meet the needs and desires of the soldiers and civilians during the American Civil War, songwriters and composers produced a variety of materials, including: 

  • Patriotic songs 
  • Comic songs
  • Satires
  • Protest songs
  • Marching songs
  • Parlor songs
  • Drinking songs 
  • Abolitionist songs
  • Spirituals
  • Minstrels 
  • Sentimental songs 
To help bring these songs to life, some famous singers toured, and important publishing houses made sure the music found its way to families and soldiers alike. The songs helped the nation during the American Civil War and bring history to life today.

Blogging Through the Alphabet: M is for Music; Civil War Cannon in background

Music in the United States before the American Civil War was still mostly from overseas. With the Civil War, America began to find its own voice. This musical voice produced around 10,000 songs. Of these thousands of songs, there are a few that are widely known as well as others that really set the mood of the Civil War. 

Some of the most popular songs were copied, plagiarized, or bootlegged. Others used the same music and merely changed the lyrics. One example is The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Words were written by Julia War Howe, which you may know: 

"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on"

These were set to the same tune also used by the following songs: John Brown's Body, The President's Proclamation by Edna Dean Proctor, and The Marching Song of the First Arkansas Regiment with words ascribed to Captain Lindley Miller. 

Another song – one from the Confederacy – Dixie's Land with words and music by Daniel D. Emmett, which is well known for the lyrics: 

"I wish I was in the land of cotton,
Old times dar am not forgotten" 

This song has also had different versions written both in the South and the North. There were several Northern parodies, but there is little evidence they were as popular as the Southern song. 

Sampling of Songs

In closing, I want to share several of my favorite songs of the American Civil War period: 
  • The Homespun Dress – words ascribed to Carrie Bell Sinclair – music "Bonnie Blue Flag" 
  • Weeping, Sad and Lonely (When This Cruel War is Over) – words by Charles C. Sawyer – music by Henry Tucker 
    • Charles Carroll Sawyer was one of the most successful Civil War song writers. This song was popular in both the North and the South.
  • Goober Peas 
    • This anonymous song was referencing peanuts. There is no evidence that the song was actually published during the American Civil War, but it shed light on the shortness of rations of the Confederate soldiers. 
  • Grafted into the Army – words and music by Henry C. Work
    • With the Conscription Act signed into law on March 3, 1863, all able-bodied males between the ages of twenty and forty-five would be subject to the draft. There was also a way to avoid the draft by finding a substitute draftee or paying $300 to the government. 

Lyrics to Just Before the Battle, Mother printed on a background of a Civil War Monument

Other good songs to listen to: 
  • Hard Times Come Again No More 
  • Annie Laurie
  • Just Before the Battle, Mother
  • Richmond is a Hard Road to Travel 
  • The Vacant Chair 


  1. There is an important connection between music and memory. It is amazing how much we remember that we sing.

    1. So very true! We are actually using a musical program in our homeschool to help our children memorize a variety of subjects and topics.

  2. Folk music, the music of a land and its people, is one of my very favorite genres and it was the bulk of the music I taught when I taught public school music for K-5. I adore how much history you can learn from the music of a people.

  3. how interesting. I need to look up some of those and give a listen. (hoping they'd be on youtube).

  4. Music is so powerful. It can change our mood in an instant in good and bad ways. It doesn't surprise me too much to learn that music was a comfort and told stories of the war, but I hadn't really ever thought about it until reading this! Thanks for sharing!