I recently had the honor of giving a presentation about Civil War music. This is always fun, as most everyone has heard of at least one song presented. I received the greatest participation when I started singing “Dixie,” (of course!) otherwise known as “Dixie’s Land.”
The list of songs created during the War Between the States is almost endless. As Ken Burns said in his documentary, “it was a singing war.” On many occasions, the Confederates and Yankees would find themselves camped on opposite sides of a river, where they would exchange songs. Inevitably, the bantering led to “Home Sweet Home.” When the song ended, quiet remorse followed.
The Civil War spawned such great songwriters and composers as Stephen Foster, (“Camptown Races,” “Beautiful Dreamer,” “Genie With the Light Brown Hair,” and “Oh! Susanna,”) as well as Henry Clay Work and Daniel Emmett. Songs ranged from patriotic compositions to marching songs, melodies about political figures to spirituals. Music was an important release for soldiers, who carried along their harmonicas, banjos, drums, jaw harps, guitars, and violins. Many made their own instruments out of bones, cigar boxes, tree branches, or whatever else they could find. Songs were sometimes taken from old traditional melodies, and several variations of a song were frequently invented with new lyrics written for whatever occasion presented itself.