Battle Hymns

Battle Hymns: The Power and Popularity of Music in the Civil War

CHRISTIAN McWHIRTER
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 336
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9780807882627_mcwhirter
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  • Book Info
    Battle Hymns
    Book Description:

    Music was everywhere during the Civil War. Tunes could be heard ringing out from parlor pianos, thundering at political rallies, and setting the rhythms of military and domestic life. With literacy still limited, music was an important vehicle for communicating ideas about the war, and it had a lasting impact in the decades that followed. Drawing on an array of published and archival sources, Christian McWhirter analyzes the myriad ways music influenced popular culture in the years surrounding the war and discusses its deep resonance for both whites and blacks, South and North.Though published songs of the time have long been catalogued and appreciated, McWhirter is the first to explore what Americans actually said and did with these pieces. By gauging the popularity of the most prominent songs and examining how Americans used them, McWhirter returns music to its central place in American life during the nation's greatest crisis. The result is a portrait of a war fought to music.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0186-1
    Subjects: History, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)

    The Civil War was the first American war fought to music, or so I assumed when I began researching this book. Popular depictions of the war are loaded with references to popular songs: Scarlett O’Hara frequently encounters and sometimes performs sentimental and patriotic numbers in Margaret Mitchell’sGone With the Wind; Michael Shaara uses the popular antebellum ballad “Kathleen Mavourneen” as a symbol of fratricidal strife inThe Killer Angels; black soldiers in the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts gather for a “shout” the night before they attack Fort Wagner inGlory; and Ken Burns’s monumental documentary,The Civil War, effectively uses many...

  5. CHAPTER 1 PART OF EVERYONE’S MEAT AND DRINK: POPULAR MUSIC AND THE CIVIL WAR
    (pp. 7-31)

    On January 17, 1862, the Hutchinson family performed for a large crowd of Union soldiers at Fairfax Courthouse, Virginia. The concert was originally intended for the First New Jersey Regiment, but members of other outfits squeezed into the local seminary to see the show. The Hutchinsons had been performing since the 1840s and often used their music to promote evangelical reform movements, such as temperance, women’s rights, and abolitionism. As they entered the camps of the Army of the Potomac, John W. Hutchinson and his family were similarly motivated. By singing to the soldiers, they hoped not only to deter...

  6. CHAPTER 2 JOHN BROWNS AND BATTLE CRIES: THE PATRIOTIC SONGS OF THE UNION
    (pp. 32-58)

    Despite the abundance of sentimental songs produced during the war, patriotic pieces enjoyed greater popularity. Although few were successful, those that became favorites remained so throughout the conflict. Of course, there were already several popular American anthems in 1861, and neither northerners nor southerners forgot them—although some tried. In fact, the war’s new patriotic songs largely reflected each region’s devotion to the nation’s traditional numbers. Southerners rejected the old anthems, and songwriters were encouraged to create new ones that better represented the character and ideology of the Confederacy. Northerners had no such need for musical independence, and their patriotic...

  7. CHAPTER 3 GAY DECEIBERS AND BONNIE BLUE FLAGS: THE ANTHEMS OF THE CONFEDERACY
    (pp. 59-82)

    Although most northerners were content with patriotic songs, Confederates wanted anthems. The patriotic songs of the 1860s were expressions of loyalty and dedication, placed within the context of the Civil War. An anthem was a broad nationalistic statement—defining a people’s goals and beliefs. Confederates sought such songs as they cast aside the traditional odes of the Union. They needed resounding numbers that embodied their new nation, both ideologically and emotionally.

    However, these anthems had to be written under wartime conditions that greatly affected their content and distribution. With northern ships blockading southern ports and northern armies occupying southern towns,...

  8. CHAPTER 4 WORDS WERE AS WEAPONS: MUSIC ON THE HOME FRONT
    (pp. 83-110)

    Few aspects of the Civil War demonstrate the importance and dynamism of its music better than the ways songs were utilized on the home front. Civilians wrote, purchased, learned, and performed a wide variety of songs that connected them with the conflict raging inside and outside of their communities. These pieces provided information about the war and helped people express their thoughts and feelings. There were songs that promoted ethnic groups, protested government policies, and endorsed presidential candidates, among other purposes. Although few pieces had the widespread appeal of “Dixie” or “Home, Sweet Home,” they nevertheless had some resonance—even...

  9. CHAPTER 5 A WONDERFUL AND INSPIRING INFLUENCE: MUSIC IN THE ARMIES
    (pp. 111-136)

    Music was a quintessential part of soldier life. Like civilians, enlisted men wrote, learned, and performed songs to entertain themselves and influence those around them. However, music was even more important in the armies. Bugles and snare drums issued orders; soldiers sang on almost any occasion; and the sounds of banjos or fiddles wafted out from every bivouac. Civil War armies also had an unprecedented number of brass bands. Embracing the romanticism of war, many regiments hired professional bands or created amateur ones to accompany them to the front. With so many sources of music, it became omnipresent. As General...

  10. CHAPTER 6 THE CHOKED VOICE OF A RACE, AT LAST UNLOOSED: AFRICAN AMERICANS AND CIVIL WAR MUSIC
    (pp. 137-163)

    Although Civil War soldiers and civilians used music effectively and often, no one better understood its power than African Americans. With widespread illiteracy a fact of slave life, oral transmission of information was vital. Blacks knew that plain talk about freedom and equality would surely meet with harsh disapproval or worse from white listeners, but song lyrics, couched in religious imagery, were acceptable and even endearing to whites. With the onset of the war, African Americans shifted into life as contrabands, soldiers, and, eventually, free citizens and gradually abandoned the coded language in their songs to express themselves more directly....

  11. CHAPTER 7 FRESH STRAINS FOR FRESH DEVELOPMENTS: THE END OF THE WAR AND ITS MUSIC
    (pp. 164-182)

    The final months of the Civil War inspired a renewed enthusiasm for music. Soldiers and civilians created and performed songs that anticipated the end of the war and tried to define what it had meant. This was especially so among northerners and African Americans, who made music one of the primary ways to celebrate the destruction of the Confederacy and the end of slavery. Many of the songs sung earlier in the war gained added resonance as they were transformed from statements of purpose to declarations of victory. John Brown’s body had marched on to victory and preserved the Union...

  12. CHAPTER 8 VETERANS, MEMORIALISTS, AND THE KING: THE REVIVAL AND LEGACY OF CIVIL WAR MUSIC
    (pp. 183-211)

    By 1971 Elvis Presley had been performing music professionally for fifteen years and was widely regarded as one of rock-and-roll’s seminal figures. He was about to begin a brief stint in Las Vegas after touring almost constantly since his televised 1968 comeback special. During that time, Presley’s set-lists had increasingly featured covers of gospel, blues, and country songs. He now decided to add another number to his repertoire—one that would become a permanent fixture in his stage shows until his death in 1977.¹

    The new song was a huge success in Las Vegas and was released as a single...

  13. CONCLUSION: THE SINGING ELEMENT
    (pp. 212-214)

    The same year Whitman published the ninth edition ofLeaves of Grass, which included this ode to America’s various professions and music, theJournal of American Folklorefeatured an article entitled “Folk Songs of the Civil War.” The author, Alfred M. Williams, began by noting, “Of collections and criticisms of the songs and poetry of the civil war in this country there is no lack. Newspaper files and popular song-books have been ransacked.” Yet, he was dismayed that these collections frequently gave precedence to what he termed as “polite literature” and observed, “If popular songs . . . have been...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 215-258)
  15. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 259-300)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 301-321)