(Presented on April 25, 2013 by Jennifer L. Beddoe)
The music of the War Between the States background celebrates lofty political ideals; union and states’ rights. It commemorates heroes and martyrs. It glimpses human dramas behind the fighting lines; the wife urges her husband to battle; the mother weeps for her son; the dying soldier clings to memories of home.
Music inspired by the War Between the States ranges from stirring band parade music to piano fantasies for concert audiences. It identified and fixed images of meaning for citizens who were seeing their world changed by circumstances beyond their imagination. The songs had a singable melody, words repeated, and an uncomplicated piano arrangement.
On the home front, music was a mixture of Negro spirituals, gospel tunes, minstrel and folk songs, transmitted orally rather than in print. Both sides borrowed music and changed the lyrics to express an opposing point of view. Individual soldiers carried their homemade instruments, banjos, and violins. When darkness settled over the battlefield and soldiers bedded down, music and voices blended from both Union and Confederate camps.
The song “Dixie” written by Daniel Emmett in 1860 became the unofficial anthem of the Confederate States. This tune’s minstrel-show origins created a strong association of “Dixie” with the Old South. Today some view the song as offensive and racist while others see it as a legitimate part of Southern heritage.
Its words were taken up by the people, sung among the streets and soon carried to the battlefield where it became the great inspirational song of the Confederate Army. Today it is most often associated with those parts of the Southern United States where Old South traditions and legacies of the Confederacy live most strongly and are most widely celebrated and remembered.
I noticed that the music could be put into one of three categories. Love songs – either for a girlfriend/boyfriend, mother/son or soldier for his home – Stories from the field – either about a battle or just about life as a soldier and Inspirational songs.
One of the most famous folk love ballads is “Aura Lee.” The lyricist was W.W. Fosdick and the composer was G.R.Poulton. This song was very popular with the Union soldiers as well as the confederate soldiers. Many nights, both sides would be camped so close to each other, they could hear the other side singing. Sometimes one side or the other would begin singing songs. Then the other side would pick it up. Before long they were singing and harmonizing together. They knew that tomorrow they would be aiming their guns at each other and death would again prevail. For a few brief moments, there was camaraderie as thoughts of home and sweethearts pushed away the horrors of war.
“Lorena” was another popular sentimental ballads sung around the campfire of the Confederate Army. It became identified with the Southern cause and “Hundreds of Southern girls were named for the song’s heroine.” The Reverend H.D.L. Webster moved to Zanesville, Ohio. He fell in love with Eleanor Blockson. She was in love with him and expected to marry him. Her father threatened to disinherit her if she married a poor preacher. She returned his ring and he left town. To get over his heartbreak, he wrote a poem, which he called “Lorena,” rearranging the letters of her name to avoid embarrassing her.
Music, reflecting moods and emotions, shows through in “The South I Love Thee More”. The writer embraces the South with its change and sorrow and calls it “Sacred” and loves it more.
“Take Your Gun and Go, John” was often sung by families at home. Singing was important to those left behind. Mothers and Fathers, sweethearts and wives, passed the long evenings at home singing songs about longing and being apart, waiting for their boy to return. The second verse refers to family shame if John had not enlisted for the Cause.
The first battle of the War Between the States was fought at Bethel, Virginia on June 10, 1861. The fame of this battle is remembered in the song,” The Battle at Bethel,” sung to the tune of Dixie.
The German Christmas carol “Oh Tannenbaum” provided the tune for “Maryland, My Maryland.“ It was adopted as the state song of Maryland in 1939. On April 19, 1861, soldiers of the 6th Massachusetts Infantry passed through Baltimore, Maryland, on their way to Washington, D.C. A pro-secession mob attacked them, and the first blood of the War Between the Stats was shed. Although the lyrics to this fervently Southern Song suggest that Maryland was on the verge of joining the Confederacy, she remained loyal to the Union. A great relief as far as Abraham Lincoln was concerned, for a Confederate Maryland would have proved a thorn in the Union’s side.
The “Flight of Doodles” is also known as “Root Hog or Die” because it was sung to the tune of a popular minstrel melody of the same name. This song commemorates the smashing Confederate victory at the Battle of First Manassas on July 21, 1861. The title refers to the mad dash of the “Yankee Doodles” back to the safety of Washington following their defeat.
The term “root hog or die” is an old country expression meaning that one must often”work like the devil under terrible conditions” in order to survive-or as Emma Dusenberry of Arkansas put it,”All of us have got to work to make our own living. Hogs have to root in the woods or starve, and you have to work or starve.”
An example of daily camp life on the Front is the song,”Goober Peas.” “Soldiering can be a very dull job,” Says BellWiley in his Life of Johnny Reb. One way of passing the time, when not on the march or at drill, was to get together around the campfire and enjoy some informal singing. This delightful Confederate song has a simplicity with that spirit of song making and rhyme that lets the mind forget the orders, the dust, and the blistering feet.
“Ridin A Raid” describes Stonewall watching his Rebels and encouraging them to fight for honor and right; a fighting song.
John Williamson Palmer was a physician, poet, playwright, and newspaper correspondent who wrote “Stonewall Jackson’s Way” during the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. The song was quickly put to music by and unknown composer and sung by Jackson’s men during the right remaining months of the General’s life. The line” pay off Ashby’s score” refers to General Turner Ashby, Jackson’s cavalry chief during his famous Valley campaign, who was killed by the Union troops while fighting a rear-guard action near Harrisonburg, Virginia, June 6, 1862.
A second song written by Captain G.W. Alexander, “The Southern Soldier” described the daily life of the foot soldier and was also sung to the tune”The Boy With the Auburn Hair.” It was a favorite camp song and reminded the soldiers of home.
Inspirational Camp Songs
Excluding “Dixie”, the most popular song in the South and with the Confederate army was “The Bonnie Blue Flag” written by Harry Macarthy. It was first presented by Marion Macarthy, sister of the author and “Arkansas comedian,” at the Varieties Theatre in New Orleans for one of Harry’s Personation Acts. Troops enroute to Virginia sang it at the New Orleans Academy of Music in September, 1861. The flag was displayed at the Mississippi Convention of January 9, 1861 which passed the act of secession, and the delegates chanted the new air. The words tell the story of secession and reveal the “temperament of the states at war and invite other states to join in. The song fans the Flames of War.
Brander Matthews tells us when General Butler was in command of New Orleans, he “made it very profitable by fining every man, woman, or child who sang, whistled, or played it on any instrument $25.00, besides arresting the publisher, destroying the sheet music and fining him $500.00.
The success of the “Bonnie Blue Flag” in the South soon invited parody from the North. While a prisoner of war in Selma, Alabama, Col. J.L. Geddes of the Eighth Iowa Infantry wrote,” The Bonnie Blue Flag with the Stripes and Stars”. It was sung by members of his regiment in answer to the Southern song.
“The Flag of Secession” is a song written in1862 celebrating the secession of the Southern states from the Union. The song is sung to the tune of “The Star Spangled Banner,” the national anthem of the United States. The author of the song is unknown.
“Richmond Is A Hard Road to Travel” takes you into the heart and soul of the soldier, expressing his mood and emotions.
Another camp song that cheered the heart and dispelled the gloom was the “Upidee Song.” It had a rousing chorus.
As the war progressed, the songs changed temperament, rhythm and mood. “We Conquer or Die” by James Pierpoint describes the war drum beating, prepare for the fight.”
“The Wearing of the Grey” describes the torment of the southern soul where justice and perfect rest are found alone in heaven with God’s Blessings. The melodies have gone from bright marching songs to a heavy hearted beat.
The War Between the States lasted for four long years. During these years, numerous songs and ballads were composed. While many documents and artifacts of the War Between the States have not survived, most of the music has survived.
“Oh, I’m a Good Old Rebel” was written by Major Innes Randolph, Confederate States of America. The words give a musical legacy of the War and the attitude of the soldier towards the future.
O, I’m a good old Rebel,
Now that’s just what I am,
For this “Fair Land of Freedom”
I do not care at all;
I’m glad I fit against it –
I only wish we’d won,
And I don’t want no pardon
For anything I done.
I hates the Constitution,
This Great Republic too,
I hates the Freedman’s Buro,
In uniforms of blue;
I hates the nasty eagle,
With all his brags and fuss,
The lyin’, thievin’ Yankees,
I hates ‘em wuss and wuss.
I hates the Yankee nation
And everything they do,
I hates the Declaration
Of Independence too;
I hates the glorious Union –
‘Tis dripping with our blood –
I hates their striped banner,
I fit it all I could.
I followed old mass’ Robert
For four year, near about,
Got wounded in three places
And starved at Pint Lookout;
I cotch the rheumatism
A campin’ in the snow,
But I killed a chance of Yankees,
I’d like to kill some mo’.
Three hundred thousand Yankees
Is stiff in Southern dust;
We got three hundred thousand
Before they conquered us;
They died of Southern fever
And Southern steel and shot,
I wish they was three million
Instead of what we got.
I can’t take up my musket
And fight ‘em now no more,
But I ain’t going to love ‘em,
Now that is sarten sure;
And I don’t want no pardon
For what I was and am,
I won’t be reconstructed
And I don’t care a damn.