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Battle Hymns

Music and the American Civil War

Christian McWhirter

Publication Year: 2012

In “Liberty’s Great Auxiliary,” Christian McWhirter explores the role of music in Civil War America. McWhirter explains that although music was a significant part of American culture in the antebellum period, the explosion of amateur and professional music during the Civil War was unparalleled, and its popularization during the war had a lasting impact throughout the decades that followed. Drawing on an extensive array of published and archival resources, McWhirter examines how music influenced the popular culture surrounding and supporting the war and makes broad statements about the place Civil War music in American society, north and south (and with attention to the music of African Americans). Finally, McWhirter goes on to examine a resurgence of popularity of Civil War songs during the late nineteenth century and discusses the implications of their continued resonance in the twentieth century.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Series: Civil War America


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

It is worth noting, here at the outset, the indispensability of online resources to this study. Because music is rarely included in indexes and finding aids, searchable databases were critical. A great deal of my research, particularly my examination of periodicals and newspapers, heavily leaned on online sources. ...

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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’s Gone With the Wind; ...

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1. Part of Everyone’s Meat and Drink: Popular Music and the Civil War

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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. ...

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2. John Browns and Battle Cries: The Patriotic Songs of the Union

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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 ...

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3. Gay Deceibers and Bonnie Blue Flags: The Anthems of the Confederacy

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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. ...

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4. Words Were as Weapons: Music on the Home Front

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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. ...

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5. A Wonderful and Inspiring Influence: Music in the Armies

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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; ...

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6. The Choked Voice of a Race, at Last Unloosed: African Americans and Civil War Music

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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, ...

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7. Fresh Strains for Fresh Developments: The End of the War and Its Music

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pp. 164-185

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 ...

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8. Veterans, Memorialists, and the King: The Revival and Legacy of Civil War Music

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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. ...

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Conclusion: The Singing Element

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pp. 212-214

The same year Whitman published the ninth edition of Leaves of Grass, which included this ode to America’s various professions and music, the Journal of American Folklore featured 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 ...


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pp. 215-258


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pp. 259-300


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pp. 301-321

E-ISBN-13: 9781469601861
E-ISBN-10: 1469601869
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807835500
Print-ISBN-10: 0807835501

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Civil War America
Series Editor Byline: Series Editors: Peter S. Carmichael, Gettysburg College; Gary W. Gallagher, University of Virginia; Caroline E. Janney, Purdue University; and Aaron Sheehan-Dean, West Virginia University See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 780371018
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Battle Hymns

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Music and the war.
  • Patriotic music -- United States -- History and criticism.
  • Music -- Social aspects -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
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