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Music's Impact in the Civil War
Transcript of Music's Impact in the Civil War
Believe it or not, music played a big role in the Civil War. During the time period, music was growing in popularity, so this translated into the war. It had different impacts for each of the Union and Confederate sides, but there were also many similarities.
Music in Camp
Many soldiers from both sides brought instruments from home to play, and while in camp they would play and sing different songs to pass the time and keep their morale high.
On the Battlefield
Almost every regiment in either army had a band, and at times they would actually play songs on the battlefield to rally their soldiers. It's been documented that this happened at the Battle of Williamsburg and Pickett's Charge. When they weren't playing, the bands would often fall to the back lines and assist the surgeons.
Union and Confederacy
While some aspects of music were similar for both sides, there were some differences between the music of the Union and the Confederacy.
Songs of the Union
The Union didn't have an official song, but some popular songs they sang were the Battle Cry of Freedom and the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
George F. Root
George F. Root wrote more songs about the Civil War than anyone else. He was the composer of Union songs like "The Battle Cry of Freedom" as well as the first song ever written for the Civil War, "The First Gun is Fired." Abraham Lincoln once told him in a letter, "You have done more than a hundred generals and a thousand orators."
The Musical War
Military bands often consisted of drums, which were important to send signals to soldiers on and off the battlefield, accompanied by fifers. Fifes are high-pitched wind instruments that are played similarly to piccolos. Cavalries, however, used bugles. Later on, brass bands started forming in the military.
Every infantry, cavalry, and artillery company was required to have 2 musicians, making a 24-person band for each regiment. By December 1861, one out of every 41 soldiers was a musician. However, in July of 1862, the bands were disassembled because some believed soldiers were more important than musicians.
Union Regiment Bands
Most Union regiments found ways of getting their bands back, though, for few of the actual soldiers shared this belief that the bands were unimportant. Union General Phillip Sheridan gave his cavalry bands the best equipment. He said later, "Music has done its share, and more than its share, in winning this war."
John Clem was one of the most famous Union drummers. This is because he joined the 22nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment as a drummer boy at age 9. There is a legend that, while he played at the Battle of Shiloh, shrapnel smashed through his drum and knocked him out. His comrades saved him from the battlefield and gave him the name "Johnny Shiloh." This has since been proven untrue, but he did fight for the Union well into adulthood.
The official Confederate anthem was "God Save the South", but songs like "Dixie" and "The Bonnie Blue Flag" were more popular.
The Confederate song "The Bonnie Blue Flag" was banned by Union General Benjamin Butler. He destroyed printed copies and everyone he heard singing or whistling it was fined.
Because all of the good instrument makers were in the North, the Confederacy didn't have the highest-quality instruments. However, music was just as important to them as it was to the Union. It helped foster the feeling of identity that is so important for a young nation.
Each side came in contact with each other's music often, and they sometimes wrote parodies of the other side's songs. Another way they interacted was when the bands from both sides, Union and Confederate, often heard each other playing across the countryside. They began participating in "musical duels," each taking turns playing louder and more passionately, trying to out-play the other side. The night before the Battle of Stones River, both bands together played a neutral song "Home! Sweet Home!" and soldiers from both sides joined in singing.
During the Civil War era, slaves had their own songs, too. As more and more fled north and had more contact with more people, slave folk music became more popular.
-The famous Confederate General Robert E. Lee himself said, "I don't think we could have had an army without music." Why do you think he, and others, felt this way?
-Abraham Lincoln, on one of his last days of life, asked a Northern band to play the Confederate song "Dixie", saying he'd always liked the tune. What did this act symbolize?