Civil War Music

Updated: February 28, 2011

With the Southern states’ secession from the Union in 1860–61, excitement spread through the Appalachian region as young men reported for induction into the Union and Confederate armies amid a festive atmosphere.

With the Southern states’ secession from the Union in 1860–61, excitement spread through the Appalachian region as young men reported for induction into the Union and Confederate armies amid a festive atmosphere. Impromptu dances and parties were common, and music could be heard at all hours. This was a time of great patriotism, confidence, and excitement, and the tunes written and played by new recruits reflected that enthusiasm.

When the call came for companies to leave their com- munities for the army camps, feelings of uncertainty, apprehension, and resolve increased. Many “leaving home” songs were composed during this period, including “The Southern Soldier,” one of the more popular songs among Appalachian soldiers who fought for the Confederacy. “I’ll place my knapsack on my back, / my rifle on my shoulder,” it begins. “I’ll march away to the firing line, / and kill that Yankee soldier.”

Music was an important part of everyday life for soldiers in both armies, as many young men brought fiddles, banjos, concertinas, and whistles with them. As they became part of the larger armies, the men of Appalachia were exposed to unfamiliar music, including the martial music performed by drum and fife corps and military brass bands. Appalachian soldiers sometimes heard familiar tunes such as “Listen to the Mockingbird” played with different instrumentation. They were also exposed to the music of men from different ethnic backgrounds as well as to tunes popular in other regions and states. Similarly, Appalachian soldiers introduced comrades not familiar with the region to the musical traditions of Appalachia.

In the course of the war, music publishing houses were established in numerous cities in both the South and the North. Although few of these publishing companies were located in Appalachia, musicians and soldiers from the region learned new compositions such as “Dixie,” “John Brown’s Body,” “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” and several versions of “Wait for the Wagon.”

The war began in earnest on July 21, 1861, at Manassas, Virginia, where Confederate soldiers routed the Union forces, inspiring happy tunes in Southern homes and in the camps. Songs celebrating the Southern victory and the Confederacy’s seemingly bright prospects were written and sung with gusto; one of the most popular of these was “Flight of Doodles.” At the same time, Appalachians loyal to the Union expressed their somber attitude with songs of patriotism and resolve such as “May God Save the Union.” The period from the battle of Manassas until the spring of 1862 was the “civil” time of the war. Many Southerners and Northerners alike still hoped for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. This mood was documented in several songs popular during this period (both outside and within Appalachia), including “The Compromise Song.”

The battle of Shiloh on April 6–7, 1862, however, destroyed any prospect for an early end to the war. Many songs were written as the true cost of the war became clear. “Brother Green” is an Appalachian song describing the death of a Union soldier. Other songs popular in the region included “Somebody’s Darling,” “The Vacant Chair,” “The Battle of Shiloh Hill,” and “Virginia’s Bloody Soil.”

In Appalachia, as in other regions of the United States, the Civil War proved to be a major inspiration for musical composition. Appalachian Civil War soldiers are remembered for their courage, dedication, and perseverance, and the songs and instrumental tunes composed during the war have made an important contribution to the region’s rich musical heritage.

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MLA Style

"Civil War Music," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2017, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 16 Dec 2017 <http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=52>

APA Style

"Civil War Music." (2017) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved December 16, 2017, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=52

2nd South Carolina String Band