Songs of the Civil War 1860-65

John Brown's song, by J. H. Johnson of Philadelphia, from LC
The music of the Civil War came from the popular song of antebllum America, the urban sheet music publishers, the minstrel shows, regimental bands, camp songs of the Second Awakening, and the spirituals of African Americans. New instruments such as valve horns contributed to a shift in band music from woodwinds to more robust brass. Adolphe Sax in Paris invented a new line of instruments known as saxhorns used by bands. The Richter harmonica and the new Hohner model mass-produced after 1856 in Germany put music in the pockets of soldiers on the move. The single piece iron frame piano of Jonas Chickering in Boston and of the Steinway Company in New York caused an increase in sales from 9000 per year in 1851 to 21,000 in 1860. Sheet music publishers led by Root & Cady in Chicago and Blackmar in New Orleans increased production to 5000 titles per year in the 1850s and lowered prices to 35 cents per song sheet. Music was promoted by new organizations such as the New York Philharmonic, founded in 1842 as the first permanent orchestral society, as well as the continuing popularity of the opera and the minstrel show. For the first time, many Americans heard authentic African American music from the former slaves in the South. Missionaries at Beaufort SC described the ring dances and shouts of the contraband and freedmen liberated by Union army. White and black soldiers sang the hymns and spirituals that passed from South to North in letters and newspapers and sheet music. Songs such as "I Will Overcome" would have a wide impact on American culture long after the Civil War. Religious songs from the camp meetings of the Second Awakening and from the abolitionist crusade such as "Amazing Grace" remained popular during the war years. When the Hutchinson family sang the abolitionist Furnace Blast for Lincoln at the White House Jan. 7, 1862, some tried to suppress such controversial music, but Lincoln loved all kinds of music and allowed it. He listened to the marches of the Marine band, went to the opera in downtown theaters, invited to the White House the 9-year-old pianist Teresa Carreno, Barnum's midget Commodore Nutt, soprano Meda Blanchard, and the recitals of Larooqua, the "aboriginal Jenny Lind."

It was the war itself that was the greatest influence on the music of the era. The opening shots fired by John Brown at Harper's Ferry produced one of the most popular songs, "John Brown's Body," with music by William Steffe of South Carolina from a revival hymn. When Julia Ward Howe heard soldiers singing this song in Washington DC in Dec. 1861, she wrote new lyrics published in the Atlantic Monthly of Feb. 1862 for the song that became the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." During the secession crisis, southerners sang Dixie written by Daniel Decatur Emmett of New York for a northern minstrel show. When South Carolina seceded, Harry Macarthy wrote words fot a traditional Irish melody that became the Bonnie Blue Flag. After the Baltimore riots in April 1861, George F. Root wrote "Maryland, My Maryland" that became the state song in 1939. When Lincoln called for 300,000 volunteers on July 1, 1862, Root wrote "Battle Cry of Freedom" that was sung after the Seven Days battle by the repeatedly-defeated Union troops.
Secession March, by Thomas J. Caufield, from LC
Lincoln's call also inspired "We Are Coming Father Abraham" published as a poem July 16, 1862, by the NY Evening Post, and set to sheet music by L. O. Emerson that sold 2 million copies during the war. Another best-seller was one of Lincoln's favorite songs, "Listen to the Mocking Bird," written in 1855 by African American street musician Richard Milburn, sung by Union soldiers during the Peninsula campaign, and favored by Gen. Phil Kearney who gave whiskey to his band and told them to play as long as the musicians could see their instruments. Every regiment had its band with fife and drums. Marching songs like "Goober Peas" and "Wait for the Wagon" kept soldiers going through dust and rain. Musicians in these bands were paid $17 per month, more than private's pay, and the Union by 1865 would buy for its armies 32,000 drums and 21,000 bugles and 15,000 trumpets. The minimum age for soldiers was 18, but younger boys could become drummers, as did Willie Johnston, age 11, the youngest recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in the Seven Days battle. Willie's friend in the 3rd Vermont, Julian Scott, age 15, also received the Medal of Honor, and later became a well-known artist of Civil War scenes. The most famous drummer boy in the war was Johnny Clem who joined the 22nd Michigan at age 9, became known as Johnny Shiloh after losing his drum to an artillery shell in 1862, and shot a Confederate colonel off his horse at Chickamauga. Gen. Daniel Butterfield wrote a new "tatoo" for his bugler, including "Taps" at Harrison's landing in July 1862. Butterfield's brigade band was the largest in the North, with 120 members, while the official U. S. Marine Band under Francis Scala had 32 members.